- Writers of THESPIKE.GG, a fan site for the video game Valorant, announced they are leaving the site.
- Two writers and a developer said they’re owed over $40,000 by owner Artur Minacov.
- Minacov has been accused of spending thousands on other expenses like “strippers and cocaine.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Two former writers of the news site THESPIKE.GG, which is known for covering a video game called Valorant, have come forward on Twitter in the past week claiming they and others who worked on the site are owed over $40,000 in total back pay from owner Artur Minacov.
Valorant is a shooter video game developed by Riot Games, where players take control of agents with unique abilities, inspired heavily by Valve’s Counter Strike Global Offensive (CSGO), a game released in 2012.
Since the site launched in mid-2020, THESPIKE has become a central hub for fans who want to learn about the stats, matches, and breakdowns of Valorant esports. Though the scene is small, it is growing and the site has amassed nearly 15,000 Twitter followers and a devoted readership. Though the site is still running, it currently has no writers after they departed amid the payment controversy and an interim CEO says that he is still waiting to get paid.
Insider spoke to 3 current and former workers for the company who told their stories.
THESPIKE.GG started off as a promising Valorant fan website despite Minacov’s previous professional issues
Prior to THESPIKE.GG, Minacov had a history of supposed payment issues.
In 2014, Minacov founded OPSkins, a popular skin trading platform for “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” that closed dramatically in 2018. In 2017, Minacov left the company to found EnVision esports, a professional Overwatch team that lasted for one year. The following year, he admitted to Dot Esports to not paying the EnVision esports team thousands of dollars in late payments, though in April 2021, former EnVision player William Hernandez told Dot Esports that “he believes players were ‘eventually’ paid by Minacov.” Hernandez didn’t return Insider’s request for comment.
But any previous allegations didn’t stop the creation of THESPIKE.GG in April 2020 by Minacov and a group of developers and writers passionate about esports. The site, Minacov said on a May 14 Twitter Spaces, where users can host Clubhouse-like discussion rooms, was inspired by HLTV, a decades-old website cataloging the stats, games, and stories of the CSGO esports scene. CSGO esports has evolved into a massive industry, with worldwide competitions watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers and a collective prize pool of tournaments of nearly $22 million in 2019.
According to Minacov in Twitter Spaces, he thought Valorant had similar esports potential and there was a niche in the market. Minacov said he invested $400,000 of his own money on the site with no investors and spent $20,000 a month on servers. When asked for documentation of this, Minacov did not return a request for comment.
Josef Orland, who goes by hex4MT online and is the current interim CEO of THESPIKE.GG, told Insider that he had left his previous job as a “Dev Team Lead in an IT company” after Minacov had promised him a six-month contract to work on the site. He added that he started “coding the site from scratch” and took care of a lot of the day-to-day maintenance, like taking care of servers and checking to see when writers are posting stories.
Soon, others started to join the team. Esports writer Mostafa Hossam said he joined in June 2020 and Shawn “Germanicus” Heerema said he joined in May. Hossam told Insider he was tasked with writing roster moves, match recaps, and “anything to do with Valorant esports” and agreed to a rate of $500 a month without a contract. Heerema received a contract seen by Insider, promising him around $200 per month. Both have work still published on the site.
Things took a turn when Minacov was said to have paid to fly some of the site’s employees to Malta where he reportedly procured ‘cocaine and strippers’
In September of 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Minacov paid to fly a select group of the site’s employees to Malta, according to an employee that asked to remain anonymous, whose identity Insider confirmed. They said that Minacov had procured “cocaine and strippers” and that their “phone and Snapchat were checked at the end of the trip.”
Esports website Upcomer reported that several staff members speaking under the condition of anonymity said that “two strippers were brought into the villa for the first two nights,” Minacov had “passed out half the time from too much drugs and alcohol,” and one former contributor said “cocaine was everywhere.”
Minacov wasn’t just spending money on lavish trips for his employees. He told Dot Esports that he had spent “‘over $400,000 of his own money, different than the money invested in the site, in subscriptions and donations to ‘small streamers in the community.'” He also tweeted in January that he had spent $12,000 on a PC that didn’t work with his games.
-m1nac (@aminacov) January 14, 2021
In the Upcomer article, sources reportedly raised issues with Minacov’s workplace behavior as well. Upcomer reported that Minacov said over Slack, in messages the publications says it reviewed, that “a contractor of Afghani and Indian descent looked ‘like a terrorist'” and he “called a former staff member a “b—- after he did not create a graphic to the CEO’s liking.”
As 2021 continued, Minacov’s funds for his website dwindled and payments weren’t going out, according to Orland, who said he was owed a low five-figure sum, telling Insider that two months into his six-month contract, Minacov said he was “broke” which he believes was “a big lie.”
Hossam told Insider that he hasn’t been paid for his work since November of 2020 and is owed $3,500. Heerema said he is owed a little over $2,000 since he was last paid on January 11, 2021, according to invoices seen by Insider.
Writers of THESPIKE.GG sent an ultimatum to Minacov asking for the money they say they’re owed
On May 12, 2021, Orland sent a group message on Slack, which was viewed by Insider, to Minacov and the rest of the writers.
“Artur M. pay the people what you promised them,” Orland wrote. “Some people are ready to go public with this if there is no action from your end about the matter (and by action I mean actual money transfers and not more promises).”
After no contact or response from Minacov, Hossam and Heerema posted long messages to Twitter on May 14 about the money they say they were owed.
-Mostafa Hossam (@Mostafa_7os) May 14, 2021
-Germanicus (@GermanicusCVIII) May 14, 2021
Minacov responded on Twitter with expletives and vitriol, calling those that questioned him “ignorant” and “hypocrites.” He released a statement that night confirming that he did owe money to the workers and that he “will leave this community that I love.” In an edited version of the statement, he wrote that “dues will be taking care off as soon as I can” and that he was “no longer involved at THESPIKE.GG on any capacity.”
On the May 14 Twitter Spaces, Minacov said he hadn’t paid the writers because the company “ran out of f—ing money” and “financially wise I’ve always been s— at it.”
“I didn’t have my phone for a few weeks and when I got a new phone in a new city I didn’t put Slack on it,” he said.
“We ran out of money, did we do it on purpose not to pay them? No,” Minacov said in the Twitter Space. “But I’m trying to do everything in my power to give them what they are owed.”
It’s unclear where THESPIKE.GG goes from here
Orland announced on Twitter on May 15 that he is taking over as “interim” CEO of the website and that “the ultimate goal is to keep going with the project but the future is not defined yet.” Orland told Insider Minacov’s equity is in the process of being “bought off” and that “the deal will have in place that all the ex/current workers are paid.”
-hex4 🇲🇹 (@hex4MT) May 16, 2021
As of publication, Minacov has not paid THESPIKE.GG contributors, according to those interviewed awaiting payment.
Minacov did not return a request for comment.