Mired in Controversy, Insight Esports Disbands

In this article: Insight Esports has been a significant host of digital tournaments on MTGMelee, regularly hosting 1ks and 5ks on the platform. Now, the organization is being shut down after lying about corporate sponsorships and running thousands of dollars behind on payouts owed to players.

UPDATE August 20:

UPDATE August 22:

Twitter user Michael Grabusky has taken it upon himself to track as many of Insight Esports’ payouts as possible, and confirm with participants whether they have received their payouts or not. As of August 22, he has been able to either confirm or deny 31% of the promised payouts since the organization was launched. Out of the data collected thus far, Grabusky found that only 16.7% of the earned prize money has been paid out.

MTGMelee and the Rise of Online MTG Arena Tournaments

With the rapid spreading of the pandemic that took hold of the globe in early 2020, virtually all gatherings and events had to cancelled in the United States and many other countries across the world. This of course meant that competitive Magic: The Gathering tournaments all had to be either cancelled or shifted online.

Just as nationwide quarantines began to take place in the United States, a group of experienced Magic players and event organizers were launching their new platform, MTGMelee.com. MTGMelee was created with the purpose of providing a solid, easy-to-use platform for Swiss-style tournaments using the Magic Arena client.

The MTGMelee platform was quickly met with great success. According to their “About” page, the website racked up close to 20,000 users in just six short months as competitive Magic players sought ways to continue playing in tournaments with shortage of paper events. The site partnered with major event organizers including Red Bull Untapped, Star City Games, and even Wizards of the Coast themselves.

Later that year, a new organizer calling themselves Insight Esports began hosting events on the platform as a small, independent organization that would host Magic tournaments through MTGMelee and MTGO. It’s not clear exactly when Insight was founded, but their Twitter account has existed since October of 2020, and the first tournament recorded on MTGmelee was a Brawl event in January of 2021.

Insight Esports: A Small Organization with Big Goals

Anyone with experience in the field will tell you that running tournaments for Magic, or any game for that matter, is a massive and risky undertaking. Even in the online space, where organizers don’t have to worry about renting and maintaining a physical location for their events, Magic tournaments are costly to host and typically operate at a loss even with entry fees- at least at first, while the organizer builds their reputation and their brand among players.

Insight Esports’ experienced a rapid rise in popularity among players as MTGMelee took off around them. They started offering prize pools of $1,000 as early as January of 2021, less than a month after the Brawl tournament and only a few months after the organization’s supposed founding. Some of the earliest promotional images that were posted on their Twitter include the logos of major corporations such as Chipotle and Razer, implying that they were sponsoring the events.

This image was posted by @InsightEsportsCA on Twitter on January 27, 2020. It now seems Insight may never have had partnerships with some of these organizations.

Insight continued to host events and gain clout in the MTG competitive sphere over the following months, hosting regular $1k and $5k prize pool tournaments. Hundreds of players played in their events, ranging from Arena amateurs who were just starting to get into competitive play, to well-known streamers, content creators, and even members of the Rivals League and Magic Pro League. We have even covered their tournaments, sometimes extensively, here at MTGA Zone.

Delinquent Payments, Allegations Against Staff, and Lies About Sponsorships

In August, issues with the Insight Esports organization started to come to a head as players took to social media claiming, that Insight had not payed them their due prize money. As more and more players came forward, allegations that the entire operation is a “scam” and even a “pyramid scheme” have become widespread.

Players estimate that Insight may owe as much as $17,000 in delinquent prize money.

The situation for the organization became worse rapidly, as players and social media users investigated and discovered that Insight Esports was never actually sponsored or partnered with Chipotle in any way.

Emails to Chipotle support show the company has no partnership with Insight Esports.

Apparently, well-known streamer Jana Amari also leveled accusations of inappropriate conduct against a staff member at Insight, Robert Santana. On August 17, Insight Esports published an official response to the various allegations against their organization on their Twitter account.

Insight owner David Davila addresses the allegations against staff and issues with his organization. Read the full post here.

In the response, titled “Addressing the Issues,” Insight Esports owner David Davila made a number of promises and apologies. He claimed that every player who has been affected by the late payments will receive 5% extra on their payments, and that the organization would not host another event until all of the late payments have been caught up. The apology seemed to ring hollow to many players, however, and the unraveling of the organization continued.

Two days later, on August 17, popular content creator Jim Davis announced that he would be dropping his sponsorship with Insight, claiming that they owed him $950 personally. Moments later, creator Taalia Vess also announced that she would no longer be participating in any sponsored events from the organization.

Even streamer sandydogmtg, who participated in many of Insight Esports’ tournaments as a regular tournament grinder, posted the following on Twitter apologizing for encouraging anyone to play in the events.

Insight’s Dissolution and the Fallout

After the icy reception to David Davila’s original apology, the organization continued to take a beating on social media and in the Magic community. On August 18, Insight Esports announced via their Discord channel that the organization will be disbanded “once [its] commitments are fulfilled.” Davila states that he had hoped to rebuild trust in the community and continue hosting events once the payments had been caught up, but says “it has become apparent that this is not possible.”

Although Insight Esports will cease to exist, fallout from the organization’s mismanagement are likely to have an impact on MTG tournaments for some time to come. Davila stands by his claim that all of Insight’s players will receive the prize money they are owed, but only time will tell if he is able to follow through, or if the whole situation was an engineered “scam” as some believe. Meanwhile, some players are looking to MTGMelee for answers on how this was allowed to happen, and what the platform intends to do to prevent tournament hosts from behaving similarly in the future. Well-known MTG content creator HowlingMines stated on August 18 that he will no longer play in any MTGMelee events until they at least make a statement about how this scenario could be prevented in the future.

MTGMelee has been silent on the issue thus far, but it seems that for some players, confidence in the platform has been severely shaken. This is a significant development, as Star City Games continues their online tournament series on the MTGMelee platform, and Wizards of the Coast often uses it themselves for pro-level events.

While playing in MTGMelee events that are sanctioned by reputable tournament organizers is almost certainly safe for players, it’s understandable that many are demanding a response from the platform regarding the situation with Insight Esports. Insight appears to have been removed from the site’s tournament organizers page, but as of today on August 19, MTGMelee has not made any official statements concerning the debacle. Trust among players is critically important for tournament hosting organizations, and it remains to be seen whether the MTGMelee team will take any actions in an attempt to rebuild the trust that has been lost.

This story may still be developing, and we will keep you updated on further developments on as they come out.

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Dude from Vermont who likes to play Magic and Escape from Tarkov. Musician, writer, and gamer. Submit feedback or corrections to @Paul on the Discord.

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