It has recently been revealed that James "PhantomL0rd" Varga may have been in a business relationship with the Counter Strike: Global Offensive gambling site CSGOShuffle beyond what he disclosed publicly. Mr. Varga publicly promoted the site without disclosing the possibility of a greater business relationship than simply that of a paid promoter. The news was broken by YouTuber and eSports journalist Richard Lewis who discussed leaked Skype logs in the following video. The logs purport to show a greater degree of business relationship between Mr. Vargas and the CSGOShuffle website than was made public.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY3ltGjUBUo
TechRaptor was provided the logs courtesy of Richard Lewis. Having read through these logs extensively, I can state that I find his analysis to be fair and reasonable considering their content.
Ever since the logs were released and discussed, all involved parties have ceased public communications. The CSGOShuffle website resolves to a blank page. The Twitter has not had any public activity since June 29, 2016, and the Facebook for the site has been inactive for over seven months. Similarly, Mr. Varga has not tweeted or uploaded any YouTube videos to his channel since July 16th. Additionally, PhantomL0rd's Twitch channel was suspended due to Terms of Service violations.
The Skype logs consist of several months of conversations between PhantomL0rd and a Skype user going by the handle of "jorisd33." A WHOIS lookup of the csgoshuffle.com domain shows that it is in the name of a Mr. Duhau Joris, which suggests a strong likelihood that these communications were between PhantomL0rd and the owner of the site's domain.
To start, there are numerous business discussions where Mr. Varga uses "we" when talking about business deals. Although the usage of "we" (and similar terminology) heavily implies at least a partnership of some sort, this alone would not be enough to convince me. However, the context of the conversations do suggest a business relationship. Take this example from the 28th of July, 2015:
The question that comes to mind is why PhantomL0rd would be sending money to the owner of the CSGOShuffle website. Additionally, this snippet shows one of many potential business decisions made by PhantomL0rd (specifically a request that code certification for Alexa stat tracking is implemented). Further conversations throughout the logs discuss additional payments, bank details, and other financial matters that would not be the purview of anyone other than an employee or stakeholder of a business.
On July 30, 2015, the following conversation occurs:
PhantomL0rd makes mention of getting a lawyer to "start the process" and states that it won't be cheap but he will inform "you guys." There's any number of reasons why an online entertainer would need to render the services of a lawyer, but why would he feel the need to inform Joris?
The end of this snippet also shows PhantomL0rd asking for the "%." These conversations are often one-sided and the flow of the conversation implies that Joris (or someone else) is on a voice chat server or communicating through means outside of Skype. There are a few instances of a back and forth reply at certain times where PhantomL0rd will write "%" and Joris will respond with a number in kind. These bits of conversation can be interpreted as Joris sending PhantomL0rd the odds of a current or upcoming bet that he is participating in.
The following section is the whole of conversation that took place on August 7, 2015:
It appears that Joris makes a suggestion about partnering smaller streamers and discusses specific numbers. PhantomL0rd's response is "alright agreed" and he further agrees to starting the program with 3 streamers. He finishes by stating "alright lets start a campaign of sponsorships on a few small streamers."
In this section from August 13, 2015, PhantomL0rd speaks about having a meeting with "John":
PhantomL0rd requests that Joris forward any questions for John to him. Joris responds that he has had good contact with John. This implies that PhantomL0rd is engaging in a business meeting on behalf of CSGOShuffle. This would be an unusual arrangement for someone unless they were involved in the business at a decision-making level.
In the following section from September 17, 2015, an e-mail from Britain is discussed:
This particular conversation talks about the legality of gambling virtual items and how it's apparently been banned in Britain. PhantomL0rd states that the "first order of business" is to block traffic from Great Britain and to move "our servers" out of the United States and to a country where this business would be legal. This again implies a strong business relationship beyond that of a simple promoter. More decision-related conversation occurs shortly after this section on the same day:
PhantomL0rd states that "we're find." (It's reasonable to assume that he meant to write "fine.") He states that if any legal problems result from the operation of CSGOShuffle "we lawyer up and take them head on."
CSGOShuffle encounters a problem with the bots that store items on the 25th and 26th of September 2015:
The bots that the site relies on to transfer items have not had anything moved in over 4 hours. PhantomL0rd appears upset at this development and requests that "Care" is called immediately. He requests that implementation of automation is expedited, ostensibly to prevent similar issues in the future.
On November 24, 2015, PhantomL0rd gives design input on some logos for a rank system:
Furthermore, he discusses researching competing sites and talking to them. He states that CSGO Lotto is "the syndicate site" (referring to Tom "ProSyndicate" Cassell, a relationship we've previously covered) and CSGO Wild is "by the cod faze guys" (likely referring to the Faze Clan).
On December 9th, 2015 PhantomL0rd is apparently streaming but doesn't have any skins available to bet. He requests some from Joris and an argument ensues:
The most notable portion of this passage is the lines "it's not your decision only" and "you just happen to be in control of it." This implies that Care, PhantomL0rd, and Joris are all involved in an employment or ownership capacity with CSGOShuffle but that the domains and business entities may be solely in Joris' name.
On January 12, 2016, PhantomL0rd shares an image with Joris and complains about Steam:
The image is inaccessible. Joris also shares the contact of Drew Holt-Kentwell, the founder and managing director of Catalyst E-Sports Solutions. He's stated as "The previous razer esport head guy" and in my research, I found that Mr. Holt-Kentwell has previously worked for Razer in this capacity. What the sponsorships may have entailed or other related discussions were not elaborated on further in this discussion.
Mr. Holt-Kentwell was one of the people I reached out to for this article and he responded to me with some additional details. He stated that he was interested in contacting PhantomL0rd for general sponsorship opportunities. While he was aware that PhantomL0rd promoted CSGOShuffle, he states that he had no knowledge of any ownership stake on PhantomL0rd's part or anything untoward going on behind the scenes. Mr. Holt-Kentwell's interest appears to have been entirely benign; he was looking to make some sponsorship deals with a popular streamer who was already engaged in promoting a few brands.
The contents of the image may refer to Steam blocking a referral link system for CSGOShuffle. It's discussed on the 15th and 16th of January in our final screenshot from the logs (shortly before they end):
PhantomL0rd asks if it's possible to develop a workaround to Steam's filtering system and Joris replies that it's against Steam's rules. PhantomL0rd states that "we need to play the apology" approach. Joris equates communicating with Steam feels like "talking to a wall," a sentiment that anyone who has ever had to deal with Steam support can agree with. On January 16th, the decision to simply work around the filters is made and agreed upon.
That's the end of our breakdown of the logs. So what story does this tell us, ultimately?
I think it can reasonably be concluded that PhantomL0rd was probably not a simple promoter for CSGOShuffle. In my opinion, he was at the very least a paid employee if not a partial owner regarding the site. The level of input he appears to have exerted exceeds that of someone who is just a promoter for a website.
I reached out to the notable parties involved in this story. I've heard back from Drew Holt-Kentwell as shown above. Chase (just Chase), the PR Director for Twitch.tv, stated that they do not comment on Terms of Service bans. I've also contacted James "PhantomL0rd" Varga and Joris Duchau but have received a reply after several days.
What did you think of my analysis of the leaked CSGOShuffle Logs? Do you think PhantomL0rd partly owned the company or was he simply a promoter who was engaged in the success of his site? Let us know in the comments below!