There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about the formation of a players’ union. Pros who were frustrated by tournaments not paying out in a timely fashion have discussed the idea on social media. A players’ union could also advocate for tournament accommodation standards. A union, or even agents hired to represent players, could help protect their interests, regulate salaries, and assist with trades.
In 2013, a team playing under the name Speed Gaming.int ran into major managerial drama. The players involved are now well-known: EternalEnvy, SingSing, bOne7, Aui_2000 and pieliedie. Just before the team was scheduled to play at MLG Columbus, the CEO of Speed Gaming, Marco Fernandez, called out the team’s investor and accused him of withholding player salaries. This was posted amid other surfacing allegations aimed at Fernandez himself, including withholding funds, threatening a player, and generally not doing his job as a manager. Allegedly Fernandez accused the team of losing games on purpose and not trying hard enough, which is laughable as Speed Gaming went on to win at MLG. The fact that the players were unable to do anything about it until it blew up is a good example of why some kind of players’ advocate agency is something to consider.
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In a more recent example, on February 16th a thread surfaced on Reddit regarding Team Secret’s alleged mishandling of funds. Evany, who was manager of Team Secret for several months after its inception in 2014, claimed she had not received any payout from the team. According to Evany, it was agreed upon that she receive a salary as well as compensation for travel and board at LAN events. Several ex-Secret players allegedly have not been paid as well. You can read Evany’s original tweet here. As of this article’s writing, no statement has been released from the Team Secret organization.
I certainly don’t want to draw any conclusions until the other side of the story comes out, but what we can learn from the fact that this situation allegedly exists in the first place is this: it may be expedient for teams to hire a dedicated financial manager to handle things like salaries, taxes, and payout. Teams have had issues receiving their prize money from tournaments in addition to figuring out how those earnings are taxed, especially when receiving international payouts. Managing day to day operations of a team (like booking flights and organizing scrims) requires different skills compared to navigating US tax laws. It seems like handling payouts to individual players, paying salaries and processing reimbursements is a new level of complexity for team admins to deal with. Hiring someone who specializes in financial dealings could solve most of these issues. An additional hire means that teams either need more money from their sponsors or need to divide up their prize money for an additional person. Esports primarily employs younger people. Shelling out a few thousand dollars out of pocket is not always an easy thing to do especially when one is only 24 or 25 years old and doesn’t have a decade of savings to draw upon. It seems like a worthwhile investment to ensure that employees get paid on time as they deserve.
No matter what the outcome of Team Secret’s issues, it certainly seems like hiring a dedicated finance manager is a good business decision to consider. Players may also want to start seriously talking about representation as a way to circumvent many of these things from happening in the first place. If eSports wants to be taken seriously, we have to treat our players and personnel right and make sure they get an actual wage instead of empty promises.