On October 3, professional Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players took an important step in protecting their interests in the growing business of eSports: unionization.
The eSports audience has grown rapidly in recent years, and eSports as an industry has had to mature quickly to keep pace with millions of new viewers and growing revenues that research firm Newzoo estimates will hit $765 million in 2018. eSports players can make as much as six figures from sponsorship deals, monetized Twitch streams, and prize money.
In a letter sent to the ESL, ESEA, DreamHack, and other major eSports tournament organizers, players have outlined conditions that insure they get their fair share of the latter.
The letter was written by Alexander Kokhanovskyy, the CEO of the Ukrainian eSports team Na'vi. Major teams including Team Liquid, Vitrus.pro, Fnatic, and Ninjas in Pyjamas signed the letter, which has been published in full at the eSports news site e-frag.net. Kokhanovskyy didn't respond to our requests for comment
Ulrich Schulze, ESL's vice president of pro gaming, said ESL isn't concerned about eSports pros unionizing.
"Obviously people like to think of unions as something that is preventing them from doing their work," Schulze told Motherboard. "They think of player lockouts in the NFL and NBA and all that stuff. We actually like the idea. For us it's good that the players and teams start thinking about what they collectively want and that they have a discussion about this so we don't have to have that discussion individually with every one of them."
As Schulze explains it, ESL wants to know what players are expecting of the company's events, and it'll be easier to work with one body that represents all players than to respond to individual grievances players make via social media.
Schulze also said that based on his initial impressions, none of the requests in the letter sound outrageous.
For now, the letter speaks for players in only two games, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, who want a minimum cash prize pool for participating in tournaments, clear payment process, help with travel expenses, a maximum number of matches they're willing to player per day, and more.
One clause that caught my eye was that players wanted a dedicated bathroom they didn't have to share with fans.
Keep in mind that eSports players are mostly teens or in their early 20s
"That might sound like a small thing, but if you have to go to a public bathroom at a big event and there's 50 people asking for autographs, that's pretty distracting," Schulze said.
The letter seems like it's more aimed at disorganized organizations that blatantly mistreated players in the past. As an example, Schulze named the Gaming Paradise event in Slovenia, where computers weren't powerful enough to run the games, and where players' passports were confiscated by the police after event organizers failed to pay for their rooms.
An organized players' union can raise the bar for event organizers to prevent such oversights.
"It will be challenging for them," Schulze said. "A union isn't something you just set up. There will be a learning process. What they sent is a starting point, they have their business interests, and they need to think about how to present it."
It's also important to note that while many teams are signed on the letter, e-frag.net reported that many individual players weren't even aware that these demands were being made on their behalf.
Keep in mind that eSports players are mostly teens or in their early 20s, and that there's a lot of new money floating around in every direction. Whether it's horrendously organizes events like Gaming Paradise, or team managers who disappear into thin air while owing players thousands of dollars, there needs to be some kind of organized effort to protect eSports players and their interests.
Even if this current initiative fails, Schulze agrees that it's something that will have to happen as eSports continues to grows.
"It's inevitable," he said.