The co-founder and CEO of massive fighting game competition the Evolution Championship Series has been placed on administrative leave following allegations of past sexual misconduct, the organization said on Wednesday evening.
The announcement came a few hours after veteran competitor Mikey “Crackpr0n” Pham accused the CEO, Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar, of repeatedly preying on teenage boys at Southern Hills Golfland, which prior to its closure in 2002 was a miniature golf course whose arcade was a popular meeting place for fighting game competition in Southern California.
Pham described multiple instances, taking place in the early 2000s, of Cuellar using gifts of arcade tokens to bribe teenage boys into stripping down to their underwear and jumping into the miniature golf course’s water hazards. He also described a personal incident involving Cuellar in 2001. During a discussion amongst the arcade-goers about penis sizes, Pham volunteered that he was “above average.” Cuellar, he said, bet him $20 that he was not, and asked to see Pham’s genitals in person. Pham did so in the arcade’s restroom, and Cuellar gave him $20, he said. Pham was 17 at the time, and Cuellar would have been either 23 or 24.
It wasn’t until years later that Pham realized that he had been taken advantage of. “I recognize how stupid I was in the situation for not realizing it, even though I also recognize how it’s not my fault for not being able to recognize it,” Pham wrote.
Cuellar has occupied a position of power within the fighting game community for decades. He co-founded what would become the Evolution Championship Series series in 1996 and continues to work as one of its key organizers. Evo, widely regarded as the pinnacle of fighting game competition, consistently broke attendance records year on year. 2020's competition was canceled in favor of a smaller, online tournament due to the covid-19 pandemic.
In light of these allegations, several high-profile members of the fighting game community have announced that they will no longer be participating in Evo Online, including Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, Jachin “SKD” Harte, Dawn “Yohosie” Hosie, Steve “Lord Knight” Barthelemy, and Stephen “Sajam” Lyon.
Evo has said that it will conduct a “third-party investigation” of the situation, but did not provide details. Kotaku has requested comment from Evo and Cuellar, but has not heard back.
Update (07/02/2020, 8:39 p.m. ET): Cuellar has broken his silence with a statement released on Twitter.
“I’m sorry,” Cuellar wrote. “I never meant to hurt anyone. I was young and reckless and did things I’m not proud of. I have been growing and maturing over the past 20 years, but that doesn’t excuse anything. All I have been trying to do is become a better person. Once again, I’m truly sorry.”
Update (07/02/2020, 8:39 p.m. ET): Evo has removed Cuellar as CEO, replacing him with fellow co-founder Tony “Ponder” Cannon.