The Vancouver Titans and their players have mutually agreed to part ways, following weeks of rumors about a falling out between management and the team. The Titans are expected to pick up a new squad, indicating that they released the team due to some sort of dispute between management and the players. Although COVID-19 was involved, it seems that there were underlying issues with how management and players were getting along even before the pandemic.
In the open letter to Titans fans, Tim Holloway explained that “the organization and the team have been dealing with a very complicated situation which included sensitive information and player confidentiality made even more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Regardless of what the nature of their falling out was, an entire team leaving mid-season is a catastrophic failure for a professional esports organization, especially when that team almost won the championship in 2019. The entire situation is further evidence that despite popular belief, companies and management don’t have all the power. The Titan’s current chaos should be a warning sign to esports organizations to step up and support their players, or lose them to people who will.
The players have the power. After all, their skills are your product. If you fail to support them, talented players can just leave for grassier fields.
The tension between the players and their organizations
Numerous high profile disputes between management and esports athletes have come up over the past few years. Professional Fortnite player Turner “Tfue” Fenney and his former organization, the FaZe clan, have been involved in an extended legal dispute for nearly a year now. According to their lawsuit, Tfue is claiming that FaZe enforced an exploitative contract and detailed a series of abuses which he claims FaZe to be guilty of. Regardless of who is right legally speaking, FaZe fucked up by getting into a dispute with one of their star players to begin with.
Labor relations in esports are not great, in any sense of the word.
The problems are especially bad in smaller esports like Super Smash Brothers. Alexander Lee detailed the exploitation of underpaid esports players in an article back in February.
“Astoundingly, players—the group that creates the fundamental value of esports—form one of the industry’s most frequently exploited cohorts. Though competitors in top-tier titles such as League of Legends receive salaries and benefits, their counterparts in less prominent esports are often relegated to independent contractor status. . . [the] dependence on freelance income makes competing in smaller esports like Melee an exhausting and stressful endeavor. Traditional athletes practice to improve at their sport, to win; esports competitors practice, at least in part, to attract subscribers and pay the bills.”Alexander Lee on the exploitation of Smash players
Even in the high tier competitions, players are often treated poorly by management. Look no further than the Titans, who dropped Sang-beom “Bumper” Park in 2019 even after he successfully led them to one of the best OWL seasons ever. Bumper was part of the original Runaway lineup too, the same line up who has decided to leave the Titans. I am sure there were multiple issues driving the Titan player’s discontentment, but I am also sure they weren’t happy that management decided to cut Bumper from the line up when he played really well. Mistreating players has consequences.
I am sure that FaZe would have made more money by treating Tfue fairly to begin with. I am sure that more Super Smash professionals would be able to flourish if they had organizations able and willing to pay them and give them benefits. It’s honestly ridiculous to expect talented players to stick around if there is no long term plan in place to keep them happy. People don’t want to work for companies that make them unhappy, it’s not that complicated.
Treat your workers well or lose them
The former Titans players are championship caliber. They will have no issues finding new teams if they want them, because they are some of the best players in the world. The Titans organization on the other hand is stuck shopping for a brand new squad and hoping they can be championship caliber. They should have supported their team better. Even if it is hard to do, managing player needs is your job.
To be clear, I am not claiming to be some sort of expert in the Titan’s situation. I am not trying to oversimplify the situation.
All I am trying to say is that esports as a space takes the players for granted, but the players actually have all the power. They generate value. This market is expanding, and the owners don’t control the players. The players decide who they will work with and what game they will play. If organizations want to succeed they need to learn how to court talent and keep them happy through good pay, excellent support, sustainable competitive schedule, and fair treatment.
Even without poor labor relations, esports is a very difficult space to keep players. Sinatraa, the Overwatch League MVP, left Overwatch to play VALORANT, and that was purely because he was not enjoying Overwatch itself anymore. North American Contenders rosters have been released enmasse over the past few months due to COVID-19 and Blizzard’s abysmal promotion of tier 2 Overwatch.
If you add any level of abuse or dysfunction as an organization on top of the already long list of vulnerabilities for players, you are asking for a team disaster just like the Titan’s.
- No, they should have worked on pleasing the players a bit more. 50%, 6 votes6 votes 50%6 votes - 50% of all votes
- Yes, it's not worth the drama. 50%, 6 votes6 votes 50%6 votes - 50% of all votes