Astralis have officially confirmed that they have maintained a working relationship with Nicolai ‘HUNDEN’ Petersen despite him currently serving a two-year coaching ban for leaking confidential tactics.
The organization says that he has been working with their players to create a series of tutorial materials as an element of a partnership with esports training program Aim Lab, but sources that contacted Dexerto stated that he has actually been working with the team in a role that he would be precluded from doing in an official capacity at events under the conditions of his ESIC ban. Astralis deny these claims.
Astralis found themselves in the middle of a controversy after it was revealed that HUNDEN, who was on course to join the Astralis organization as a coach, had leaked to them “anti-strat material” from his then team, Danish rivals Heroic. The two teams were due to play each other at 2021’s IEM Cologne competition, which, due to what was cited by Heroic as “severe trust issues”, HUNDEN ended up not attending.
These actions saw him receive a two-year ban from operating as a coach in CS:GO by the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) and subject to a lawsuit from Heroic for “breach of contract”. This came after he had already received an eight-month ban for cheating via the use of an in-game spectator bug.
What followed was a war of words between HUNDEN and the Heroic organization, one in which he accused the players of knowing about his cheating. He repeatedly attempted to get players to self-incriminate so he could then pass on this information to ESIC in order to have the players banned. It was revealed that, in cooperation with HUNDEN, the Heroic organization had gone as far to create a non-disclosure agreement that specifically prohibited any talk about cheating the team could have engaged in. In the end, though, the only player to receive any form of sanction was the then OG player Nikolaj ‘niko’ Kristensen.
Many at the time speculated that HUNDEN’s actions were driven by the fact that he was joining Astralis as a replacement for outbound coach Danny ‘zonic’ Sørensen. The ESIC ban ended the viability of that move.
Earlier this year, Dexerto was contacted by several sources that work in the Danish esports scene, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from Astralis, with evidence that HUNDEN was still working with the Astralis organization.
“Once the ban happened, they knew that HUNDEN would need a job and he had shown them loyalty,” one source said. “So they found a way to pay him to work there without him being a coach so they wouldn’t have to say anything. He has been there working with the players and they will give him an official job once his ban is over.”
The source also said that HUNDEN had been seen interacting with players at the Astralis office in what they believed to be a coaching or analytical capacity.
Partnership with Aim Lab
Another source indicated that HUNDEN’s involvement with the organization was set up through strategic partner Aim Lab, with whom Astralis said in November 2021 they would “be co-developing a new tool to help players improve through Aim Lab’s Playerbase platform” and “launch a series of video lessons that will help players improve at CS:GO and other games.”
This, the source said, would give HUNDEN access to the players but in a way that would appear to not be in violation of his ESIC ban.
We contacted Aim Lab to ask if they were aware of HUNDEN’s involvement with the project and they provided Dexerto with the following statement.
“State Space Labs is working on an open video content platform called Playerbase that would allow anyone to create their own gaming content; think like the Patreon of gaming,” Aim Lab said.
“It’s in the early stages, but a number of teams will have content available when the platform launches. Our partners are free to vet and choose their own talent and resources for the production of their content, subject to their compliance with our Terms of Service and community guidelines.”
They added that they do not have a contract with HUNDEN.
Dexerto contacted Astralis to ask if it was true that HUNDEN had been working with the organization. In a lengthy statement, they confirmed that he had been, although they disputed that he had been working in any coaching capacity. They added that the payments were made through Danish production company PIXEL.tv, a company in which Astralis acquired a majority stake earlier this year.
“For the sake of good order, there is nothing clandestine about Mr. Petersen’s involvement in the project, which is a part of our partnership with Aim Lab, as you say,” Astralis said. “ Your information is correct, but as the project and our obligations towards Aim Lab have already been finalized, his work is done and his contract with Pixel TV is set to expire by the end of this month.
“While he was contracted by Pixel TV (in which we hold a majority stake), Mr. Petersen has been in the very open Astralis office on several occasions to discuss the deliveries to our partner. He also worked out of the Pixel TV office, and since everybody in the industry here knows his face, it would be quite a task to keep his presence and work for Pixel on behalf of Astralis a secret… He has not been a part of ‘the Astralis operation’ but worked as a subcontractor under Pixel TV with a specific and limited task. He was offered the contract because he is by far the most qualified for the project.”
When asked why HUNDEN would be interacting with the players, the Astralis representative answered with the following:
“The players are the main “characters” in the content he has developed and instructed, so he has indeed been in contact with them during this project and worked with them. The release of this whole project – including the content – is up to Aim Lab, I would guess it is for release later this year. They work with different contributors from other teams as well.”
Astralis also added that they would never have announced Petersen’s involvement publicly due to the nature of his work stating “we never announce the hiring of temporary contractors. Freelance resources and independent contractors are a part of our day-to-day operation, and so far this year we have worked with more than a dozen different contractors without announcing a single one.”
Despite HUNDEN’s reputation having taken multiple hits in recent years, Astralis wanted to add that they would be happy to have him work in a more direct capacity with their players once his ESIC ban expires on August 24, 2023.
“We would like to comment in general, though, that once Mr. Petersen’s ban has expired, should we have the need, we would not have any second thoughts about offering him a position as an analyst or the like,” Astralis said. “Nor should any other esports organization. He should not be treated any different than any other coach or player who has received a temporary ban. Not during the ban and not after the ban has expired.
“We condemn cheating of any kind and nature and will not accept any of such anywhere in our organization, but we also strongly believe that nobody should be punished beyond their action and any sentence received. It’s simply not the way we believe the world or our industry should work.”
Although there is nothing wrong with banned coaches and players continuing to work within the esports space during a suspension period, the fact that HUNDEN was employed by Astralis after doing all he could to sabotage a local rival organization will certainly raise some ethical questions.
The Danish powerhouse is no stranger to controversy, having found itself at the center of conflict of interest claims due to its relationship with tournament operator BLAST. It also came under fire due to its handling of players in the lead-up to and during the global health crisis.