Professional Teams Form eSports Union, Make Excessive Demands

With numbers often comes power. That's at least the logic behind the creation of the latest union featuring several of Europe's most prominent and recognisable (but not all) professional gaming teams. But in a letter sent to eSports organisers, and since released to the public, the union has outlined some demands that seem a little detached from reality.

The union features the following teams: EnVyUs, Titan, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Fnatic, Team SoloMid, Virtus.pro, Cloud9, CLG, Team Liquid and Natus Vincere (of which Cloud9 and Virtus.pro's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams will be attending the $55,555 invitational tournament in Melbourne's Crown Casino this weekend).

There are a few notable absences on the list — no Evil Genuises, for instance, and the lack of any major Chinese teams or organisations, which vastly weakens the union's bargaining power if any great worldwide change is to be made in Dota 2 (given their size, international standing and influence in the wider Asian area).

But it's still a collection of teams worth keeping an eye on, especially since the team owners — keep in mind this is a union for the teams, not the players themselves — want to increase the "professional connection" between leagues, organisers and themselves.

"All things listed in this e-mail applied from 1st of January 2016. This e-mail includes representatives of ESL, Dreamhack, Starladder, Faceit, PGL, MLG, CEVO, Joindota, Dotacinema, One Game Agency (DotaPit & CounterPit), ESEA, ESWC, Dreamz Media, BTS, Fragbite, Gfinity," the letter, written by Na'Vi chief executive Alexander Kokhanovskyy and reprinted on e-Frag, reads.

Now this is all well and good; it's perfectly normal for those with aligning interests to band together to maximise their influence or standing. And even the principle of refusing to attend tournaments does hold some merit — although what follows may be a little much.

"We will decline all Dota 2 and CS:GO pure online events (without LAN Finals) invitations," the letter, which outlines the union's attendance policy for 2016, states. "The one and only exception will be US teams in CS:GO due to lack of LAN events. But they will set a minimum amount of prize money around 30.000$ USD for 1-2 months League and 10.000$ for 3-4 days event."

Online tournaments are defined as showmatches — although sponsor events, for obvious reasons, are an exception — or online events run over 1 or 2 days with a small handful of teams playing. The union also plans to boycott online leagues running over 2 to 3 months, and names events like the XMG Captains Draft, GOCL and Dotapit.

Up to that point, the demands seem kind of reasonable. eSports, after all, has grown to the point where those attending should get some guarantees on the conditions they are competing in. But what follows is a little, shall we say, ahead of its time.

"The minimum amount of prize money for CS:GO will be 75.000$ excluding travel support; the minimum amount of prize money for Dota2 will be 100.000$ including in-game tickets, but excluding travel support."

Travel support is what you'd expect — paid transfers, airfares and accommodation. But there are a few stipulations as well:

Travel support should be completely separated from prize money

Tournaments should provide a full travel support for Dota2 and CS:GO players + manager/coach, 6 in total.

Tournaments should provide a full travel support for Hearthstone players

Tournaments should provide a partly-covered travel support for Heroes of the storm players + manager/coach, 6 in total

Tournaments will have such options:
Option A: Paying for tickets (economy or higher with convenient connections and layover time) and hotels (4 stars or higher) prior to the event
Option B: Sending a travel support payment 7 days after event ends. Payment depends on the team origin region:
EU/CIS - US should be 12000$ or 2000$ per player in HS, 6000$ per HotS team EU - EU should be 4000$ or 650$ per player in HS, 2000$ per HotS team CIS - CIS should be 3000$ or 500$ per player in HS, 1500$ per HotS team US - US should be 6000$ or 1000$ per player in HS, 3000$ per HotS team EU - CIS should be 6000$ or 1000$ per player in HS, 3000$ per HotS team  

Option C: Combination of both

To grease the wheels, the union's members are prepared to offer their time and services to produce media reports and promotional activities after each event. I'm pretty sure teams are required to take part in promotional activities anyway; it's usually part of the terms and conditions. But here's the list of what the teams involved would provide:

Media reports by teams
To increase overall value of events as well as media reach we are glad to do promo activities and provide media reports after each event. Each report will include:
- Website news about event (link, screenshot, news views or/and daily unique visitors during news date) - Social media posts (matches, updates, info, etc.) in FB, VK, Twitter with hash-tag #teamonevent, i.e. #naviondhs15 (link, screenshot, posts views, likes, shares and comments) - Embedding tournament live broadcasting on website and social media (link, screenshot, website major stats during those days, social media posts views, likes, shares and comments) - Event promo video, i.e. highlights from online stages (if any - link, views, likes) - Event coverage on website (optional)

As the famous infomercial goes, however, there's more. The union would also like a full media report that comes with event visitors, broadcasting languages and studio, broadcasting stats and geo-stats. Transfers from the airport should be covered at events, teams shouldn't have to play more than one best-of-three and one best-of-five a day, and separate lounge and bathroom areas should be provided for the players to separate them from the crowd when they want.

It's ideally the kind of thing you would expect as minimum for sporting events. And for major tournaments like The International, the League of Legends world championships, Dreamhack events sponsored by Valve or final events for third-party organisers like ESL One Cologne, most of this comes as part of the package.

But it's beyond the financial means of a lot of other tournaments to throw up minimum prize pools of that size along with all the other trimmings. eSports has certainly come a long way, but it hasn't come that far, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Online cups — smaller weekly tournaments, ones that help fill in the void between major tournaments — can't afford to hold LAN tournaments if they're only throwing up a prize pool of one or two thousand dollars. But they're absolutely critical in sustaining the activity of the community and they also provide useful practice for players.

The demands are a tad lopsided as well. Na'Vi's Dota 2 team hasn't been enjoying the best run of form since their heydays at previous International tournaments, but their CS:GO squad is still a respectable force internationally.

In the context of CS:GO, the demands make sense. In the context of Na'Vi's Dota 2 team, the demands are far less logical. It's a thinly veiled attempt to cut the team's expenses by pushing costs onto the organisers, costs that not every third-party organiser will be able to meet.

Richard Lewis tweeted that some of the players were entirely unaware that the team owners were using them as leverage, with clauses about the chairs and tables to be used at tournaments. It's also worth questioning whether players actually benefit by not being permitted to compete in smaller online events.

It'll be interesting to see how much traction the union actually gets in the coming year. I have a sneaking suspicion that they might have to concede, particularly when it comes to Dota 2, on some of their demands. And I wouldn't be surprised if the players pushed their owners to be a little more lenient on the online events they play in — especially after most of this was arranged without, it seems, their knowledge or backing.


Comments

    Evil Genius's exclusion seems fairly obvious. They are under the Good Games Agency umbrella which also handles player advocacy/management.

    There's also been talk for the last year about players forming their own union. I know that Puppey from Team Secret was a huge advocate for it. Considering this is a union of teams, it feels more like KeSPA than something in favour of the players. Essentially keeping the brands strong instead of representing the needs of the players.

    What I'd love to see is true player advocacy. Something independent of the teams that they play for, much like you see in professional sports.

      Eventually it'll just be players represented by agents. You're already seeing player agency manifest a little in the way Hiko's career has transformed, and when more players realise the power of their personal brand -- and how to build and maintain it independently of teams -- it'll force teams to take moves like this even faster to shore up their own power base.

        Moonduck, essentially a coalition of Dota broadcasters, is apparently going to do some player agency... stuff. I haven't seen anything solid from them.

        There are a few players with a strong personal brand, for example Dendi can effectively negotiate whatever he wants with Na'Vi. What I think is more important for players is to realise their collective value. An independent talent manager could run rampant over the esports scene if they sign even a handful of the right players, assuming they're spread out across a few teams.

      I know people complain about KeSPA, but draconian as it was, KeSPA was at least (mostly) well managed, and is still around, whereas other leagues like eSF folded.

    Jesse Cox did a video recently about his Heroes team Stellar Lotus and the really dickish way other team staff treated him, one even going so far as to say he didn't belong in pro e-sports and wasn't welcome there. Alongside that, everything else I've heard about the management side of high end pro teams is that many of them are either complete douchebags or majorly socially stunted. With that in mind these demands aren't really surprising, for most of them it's very much a no-holds-barred money game.

    A group of eSports teams and their owners getting together is NOT a union. It's a lobbying group.

      Explain how they're not a union.

        If the players were directly involved, it'd be a union. Unions are meant to be about those working at the coalface, not the people that employ them.

          Fair point. It would be interesting to see what input the players themselves have had into it.

            Well, considering apparently some players weren't even aware this was happening, I'm not sure.

    I don't know of any event/sporting event that offers travel support to the teams, maybe I'm wrong but I thought it would be up to the players/club to sort that out.

      It's more common than you think.

      Quite a lot of tournaments pay for teams/players to attend, covering at least some amount of travel expenses. After all, big teams draw the big crowds. I think Shadowloo Showdown (an Aussie fighting game tournament) also paid players to travel as a means of establishing themselves as a major tournament.

      Major sporting leagues also pay for their teams to travel (to an extent). It's just one of those things that don't get talked about too often.

      Edit: Travel support is an issue here because there have been issues lately with tournaments like Gaming Paradise where promises were made to compensate teams and then everything fell apart in spectacular fashion. There have also been issues with prize payouts, so having something explicitly spelled out is pretty valuable for everyone involved.

      Last edited 06/10/15 5:00 pm

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