Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Facts? Bah, i run a team, who needs facts?

Strap yourselves in kids, this is a long ride.  I make no promises about the quality or coherence of this, since i wrote it in about an hour this morning.  Still, i think the points are valid, and there is even more to criticise from the mentioned article but it was getting a bit long, even for my own self-indulgence.

It’s not often that I get annoyed about esports media but… okay, that’s a lie, but the latest piece from IGN’s esports division would make a saint swear.  At least, a saint who knew about esports.  So let’s break it down, quote by uninformed quote.

What prevents the publication of eSports contracts is the lack of collective bargaining between players unions, ownership and the leagues in which players play.

What is this collective bargaining supposed to be; a bunch of players going with their friend to the contract negotiations?  A player’s union would be great, but is probably a long way away and the leagues have no say in this whatsoever.  The likes of GSL and IPL could ban players or teams who renege on their contractual responsibilities, but the chances of that are slime.  Imagine if IPL were put in a position where Idra was breaking the terms of his contract with EG.  Can you really imagine IGN removing one of their star names from the league?  Ideally: yes, realistically: no.

There are many positives to publicizing team contracts. The greatest benefit is the resultant transparency. If the salary and duration of player contracts become public knowledge, it would change the landscape of competitive gaming completely.

This kind of happened in WC3, and basically caused the death of MYM and the shrinking of SK because players felt they deserved higher wages.  There isn’t enough money to go around to pay every half-decent player while the elite would be able to demand far more.  Of course, people so embedded in the SC2 bubble can’t be expected to know that things happen in other esports games, right?

Players violate the terms of their contract all the time, and the general public has no idea.

Yep, fine.  This is a reason for more transparency but lets not forget that teams do the same thing.  There is a noticeable bias in this article, ignoring the fact that teams are also culpable when they enter into a contract.  I suppose this is understandable coming from a team owner but it is important to remember the numerous historical examples of players complaining about not being paid or not receiving prize money.

The biggest benefit of publically accessible contracts would be a universal free agency period. If StarCraft II had a free agency period between December and January when contracts were set to expire and there were not many tournaments, it would be a great opportunity for new teams to form super teams and become power players in the scene. Currently, major paradigm shifts are not possible as teams have to wait throughout the year for numerous player contracts to expire and sign players one at a time.

Holy long sentence, Batman!

Firstly, “super teams” are notoriously bad for competition, as anyone who actually knows about sports would be able to tell you.  Look at Man United’s domination of the Premier League, or Barca and Real’s lockdown on the Spanish league.

Even more ignorance: players can be bought out of a contract.  I’m fairly sure this is true in any line of employment, but it is definitely true in sports and esports (SK bought Delpan’s contract from Fnatic, for example).  This is where transfer fees come from in the first place!  I can’t even believe this mind-boggling lack of knowledge was allowed past the editors: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

To clarify: “major paradigm shifts” are perfectly possible now.  It simply requires a new team with deep pockets to come along and buy the contracts of a bunch of star players – like MYM did in WC3.  The fact that a team owner isn’t aware of this is, frankly, baffling.

Now, granted, the idea of artificially levelling the playing field via a draft period is very American.  I can understand why a baseball fan would support the idea.  But putting every player’s contract up for bidding at an arbitrary point in time (esports leagues run year round, so there is no real “off season” like in traditional sports) would not solve the super team problem.  It would merely create a cycle where the most successful team would be able to outbid other teams for the best players, therefore becoming the most successful team for the new season, therefore having the most money by next season.

The issue of contracts has literally nothing to do with whether or not they are public.  It has everything to do with the ability to enforce them.  Sure, the more vain players might feel bad if his fans know he isn’t honouring his contract, but most players won’t give a shit.  I feel like the author is being unbelievably naïve if he thinks that players will fulfil their stipulated roles just because a bunch of nerds know about them.

Realistically, the problem is a lack of a central governing body.  The reason “free agency” wouldn’t work is because leagues view each other as competitors and there is no unified off-season.  Who is going to organise this draft, for starters?  It works in Baseball because of the MLB.  Similarly, the lack of a governing body means that contracts are very difficult to enforce.  Sure, a legally binding contract can be taken to court but it is usually only beneficial for a player who is seeking unpaid wages.  A team who take a player to court are unlikely to come out ahead unless they have been caused loss of earnings by a player – a pretty unlikely scenario.

Again, this ties into the lack of unification.  Imagine the hypothetical Idra/EG scenario from earlier.  Lets say that IPL does ban Idra from the current season for failing to fulfil his contracts.  NASL now sees a chance to one-up their competitor in terms of star power and allows him to continue playing.  Now IPL have taken the moral high ground but realistically they have just hurt themselves by losing one of their most famous players.

Only under a unified governing body can contracts really mean anything in sport.  The real reason contracts work in other sports is because player punishments are handed out by a body which controls every competition in that country, or even the world, in extreme cases.

Ironically, IGN staff should be well aware of a third option: leagues tying players into contracts directly.  Since CGS was basically a failed precursor to IPL, run by the same media empire, surely they should know about this alternative.  Of course, that league failed miserably, and when a couple of Brazilian players got banned for attending a CS 1.6 LAN that wasn’t run by CGS they simply returned to playing 1.6 in the multitude of other leagues.

This time around, IPL has tried to integrate itself into the community, rather than assimilate the community like CGS did.  But the fact that people who apparently have no idea about esports’ history are allowed to write articles like this for their website is deeply ironic.  Contracts are part of the “legitimizing esports” pie, but a larger part of it is hiring people who can actually do their job.  Or, at least, hiring people who have some idea what they’re talking about.

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