Players Union – Good in Theory

In our last article, we discussed the volatility of a pro gaming career ranging from poor tournament structure and plans to basic game balance and latency. We noted that although these effects are not the final nail towards a player’s career’s coffin, they do play some majoring influences on the mentality of the players, their enjoyment of the game as well as their ultimate future (especially with Blizzard’s World Championship Series being the playing field now). In this article, we aim to consider the idea of a players union; a ‘safety net’ revolving around representing the interests of players and having the support they need throughout their career. While in theory, this idea sounds quintessential towards creating more stability for pro gamers careers, putting it into practice might require more than just organization. Questions such as what would a pro gamer’s association offer, what would be needed to make it successful and is it solvent (financially sound) are amongst the many questions that plague this starting idea and leveling of standard practices.

A couple of months ago, the idea of players unionizing was posted by Evil Geniuses StarCraft II player, Chris ‘HuK’ Loranger. The conversation that ensued seemed optimistic, but little came out of it. This isn’t the first time that unions, in general, have come up in E-Sports : Team Natus Vincere, back in March, pulled out of the Copenhagen Games in view of “disrespectful approach” to create a team association:

Such a disrespectful approach towards the teams causes me to feel an utmost disappointment in modern e-Sports”, says Natus Vincere CEO Alexander “ZeroGravity” Kokhanovsky. I ask all the teams who know me as an individual and trust me as e-Sports functionary to think about the treatment we received this very time. Next week Na`Vi initiates the creation of e-Sports Team Association together with other prominent teams. This organization will drastically change the face of modern e-Sports from the very first day of its creation.”

source: navi-gaming.com

No follow-up on the idea has come up either. The concept of teams or players banding together sounds like a dream come true but nothing has officially materialized. In fact, it took Blizzard Entertainment nearly three years (discounting Brood War times) before creating a form of an association between event organizers across regions. Even this form of event regulating is immensely flawed and detrimental to the growths of these companies. Why does it take so long for any form of representative associations to form and maintain itself for the sake of the groups they aim to support?

Adam Apicella, Operations of Major League Gaming, stated that a player association would create consolidated feedback that would forward event-organizing business as well as enforcing players adhering to standard conduct. However, what it demands from the players as well as those supporting the idea is a lot more crucial to consider than how far an association can reach in terms of influence and control. Below is a concise list of some basic issues a player association faces from its planning to inception:

  • Who will start up an association (who is available to do it)? It is without a doubt that an association would not only be a huge charity of time, but also demand a lot of unbiased perspective from its board of members. Who would be representing and running this association? On what grounds do we establish someone capable of planning and jumpstarting this much-needed org.
  • What are the limits and power of this association? There are many things an association can do, is expected to do and would realistically feel it can achieve. However, there are also many things the scene cannot promise but is expected by most pro gamers. The expectations of treatment of the player’s at events, as a part of a major team and vice-versa would be difficult to uphold and re-enforce. On the opposite end, how would a players union punish a player for not upholding an agreement? Would teams feel comfortably relinquishing that responsibility to a secondary group? When it comes to power and political influence, there is no true line to set, but many gray-zones to discuss and negotiate with all major parties.
  • How would a players union keep and maintain its membership? Because the majority of pro gamers are young male adults, many of them do not apprehend the benefits of a union beyond their own self-benefit. When you are earning below minimum wage and seeking every opportunity to advance yourself; a players union may seem beneficial in the short-run, but demand too much from them in the long-run given the start of this association would be an uphill battle (and require many sacrifices). Either the players union would have an exclusive membership reserved for a small group of the pro gaming population (thus nullifying its relevance and capabilities in political power) or welcome everyone, but be disproportionate in its decisions and enforcement of those (especially when that decision goes against the bottom-majority).

The end-result of a player union would be one that either makes sure the basics are provided for the players (from teams and event accommodations) and the same is expected of them in terms of mannerisms and upholding agreed terms of contract/participation. Because the finances of each event differs so greatly, the common basis of expectancies that a players association can uphold would be rather low, almost redundant in that teams can follow-through themselves and handle each issue on an individual basis. At the start, a players union may be as redundant as foretold here, however in the future we may see the better demand and more rounded services it can offer and follow-up with.

emglogo2 eSports Management Group [LLC.] offers a further middle-man for individual personalities and eSports popular members. Though it is no players union, they offer stronger negotiating power, marketing and content support for a small cut of the client’s earnings.

All in all, a player’s union would be a great asset to establish and improve, but the fundamental adversities it would need to overcome and the amount of constant communication it would have to maintain with players, teams, sponsors, event organizations and game companies might be just too overwhelming currently. I find companies such as the eSports Management Group (LLC.) are a great tool for individual players to rely on for negotiating power and support team to improve their reputability and would like something that for players of all backgrounds and popularity levels. So while there may not be a players union in the near future, a supportive group to back up pro gamers is always in demand and appreciated.