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CS:GO league suspended after player revolt

Ownership signals to players that they have power when they organize

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

After publicly expressing distrust in their management, the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players in the Professional eSports Association (PEA) have voted not to compete in that league. In a subsequent statement, the PEA commissioner Jason Katz said the league would suspend operations immediately.

“The PEA today announced that it will suspend plans to operate a CSGO league,” read the statement, sent to Polygon by league commissioner Jason Katz. It cited that decision as “a result of a majority vote by the players of its member teams.”

The PEA was founded just this past September by Team Solomid (TSM), Cloud9, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), Immortals, NRG eSports and compLexity Gaming. The stated goal of the league was to allow both players and owners to receive a 50 percent share of profits, as well as a “suite of financial benefits and services to players, including retirement and investment planning, health insurance and more.”

In late December, veteran eSports player Scott “SirScoots” Smith published an open letter stating that players had questioned the integrity of the ownership of those teams. As the elected representative of 25 PEA players, Smith called out the league and commissioner Katz for leading efforts to disenfranchise players. Their ultimate goal, Smith said, was to force them out of the ESL Pro League (EPL), currently the most lucrative international venue for competitive CSGO play, against their will.

Smith’s open letter concluded that “we might be at the point where eSports as an industry is now just too big for trust alone to reasonably protect everyone’s interests.”

The PEA issued a response over the holiday, citing the enhanced payouts for tournaments compared to the EPL. But it also admitted it had been in the wrong.

“We sympathize with the players’ sentiments around not feeling more included in the decision-making process,” wrote PEA representative Noah Whinston, chief executive officer of Immortals and PEA player relations committee member. “We acknowledge that we could and should have done better. That’s why, in good faith, we’re going to give this decision to them.”

Yesterday the word came that the players in the PEA had voted unanimously “to compete in ESL Pro League (EPL) over the Professional Esports Association (PEA) — a league founded, owned and operated by their team owners.”

Following that announcement, the PEA issued a statement to Polygon stating that they would suspend operations immediately.

This is a seminal moment for CSGO players, and evidence of their ability to collectively negotiate their contracts. It is also a tacit admission by ownership that they consent to a more open and less confrontational strategy going forward. The league appears to have had every right to force the players out of the ESL, either through its own powers or through the clauses embedded into individual player contracts. And yet they rolled over, granted a vote where none had been previously allowed and agreed to accept the outcome.

Stepping outside his role as player representative, Smith himself acknowledges that players should have been more conscientious at the inception of their contracts, and in their negotiations with the PEA.

“I can imagine some of you are saying, ‘Scott, the players are professionals. They’re getting paid a lot of money, and they should know better than to sign documents without understanding what they’re really signing,’” Smith wrote. “What I would say to that is: Actually, I agree with you. The players were naive to sign these contracts based on good faith, non-binding promises from their teams.”

Nevertheless, Smith takes the opportunity to lash out at the what he sees as manipulative practices of individual team owners.

“Does a player being naive completely justify his team owner using potentially disingenuous negotiation tactics?” Smith asks. “Who’s on the worse end of the negotiating table: the guy that has the hidden agenda, or the guy that decides to trust what the other guy is saying?”

The future of the PEA is unknown. They have claimed that oversaturation of CSGO tournaments makes the space less lucrative than it might otherwise be. In the statement issued today they put it very plainly: “Operating a third prominent online league featuring many of the same teams turned out not to be a financially-viable business model.”

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