TORONTO — Phil Balke, the first pro gamer hired by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, has been suspended for the remainder of the FIFA 19 competitive season for violations of the soccer video game's rules and code of conduct.
Balke, a Toronto native, represents Toronto FC in MLS esports competitions.
"MLSE takes the rules and regulations governing our partner leagues seriously and competitive FIFA is no exception," MLSE said in a brief statement. "We will be further evaluating the situation with Major League Soccer and will provide additional comment at an appropriate time."
Balke, who was 23 when hired by MLSE in February 2018, issued an apology via social media.
"I apologize to everyone who supported me this season and deeply regret my actions," he wrote. "This mistake does not define my career and I will grow from this and will be back next year having leant from my mistake."
Balke apparently fell afoul of publisher EA Sports' rules governing the game's in-game currency, FIFA Coins.
FIFA 19's Ultimate Team mode allows players to buy FIFA Points using real money. The points can then be used to purchase packs of players known as FUT packs. The quality of players inside each pack varies.
You can sell items or players to acquire FIFA Coins "for a fair price" on the transfer market. Coin trading is against the rules.
It appears Balke made an arrangement with someone to sell a player for more than the market value, earning more FIFA Coins that could then be used to get more players.
Ironically, Balke had success in international tournaments which allowed for open rosters — meaning he could choose any player he wants.
But players can graduate to international events by posting top results in so-called Weekend Leagues that serve as open qualifiers. That competition uses rosters built up by players though the marketplace.
Balke is not the first member of a Toronto esports team to fall afoul of the rules.
Se-Hyun (Neko) Park of the Toronto Defiant was suspended for the first three games of the 2019 Overwatch League season for "selling an account and obstructing league office investigation."
The offence occurred before he joined the Toronto team. He was one of seven Overwatch players disciplined in late December.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press