25 players speak out against NA team owners' plan to exclude ESL Pro League

by theScore Staff Dec 21 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Professional Esports Association

The players of Cloud9, Immortals, Counter Logic Gaming, Team Liquid and Team SoloMid have alleged that the Professional eSports Association and the owners of its member teams have conspired to push ESL Pro League out of North America.

In an open letter penned by Scott "SirScoots" Smith and endorsed by all five teams' rosters, the players claim that the PEA sent an ultimatum to ESL, demanding that ESL Pro League either stop operating in North America or face a boycott from the regions' teams. The 25 players named in the letter, who represent the majority of the player members of the association, claim that negotiations between the leagues were held without their knowledge, in spite of the PEA's many promises of transparency since it was founded.

The PEA was announced in September as a team-owned competitive CS:GO league that intends to become the "NBA of esports." Its founding members included the five NA teams named in the letter along with NRG eSports and compLexity Gaming. The first season of the league is set for 2017, with a $1 million annual prize pool.

According to the letter, the players found out about the PEA's intentions to sideline ESL when they sent a letter to the organization asking about rumors that they would not be able to play in the next season of ESL Pro League. They received a response from PEA commissioner Jason Katz on Dec. 8 that "confirmed exactly what we were concerned about."

"The PEA proposed a plan in which EPL would be required to 'vacate' North America, essentially leaving the region in the PEA’s control," the letter says. "As Jason Katz explained to [SirScoots] on December 8th, EPL could either accept the proposal, or the PEA would force us to withdraw from EPL and restrict us to playing in only the PEA league."

The players claim that after hearing team owners' arguments in favor of the strategy, they decided "the PEA’s proposal was not in the best interests of the players or the community," and planned to reject it. The letter says they expressed their disagreement to their owners, but were told in no uncertain terms that they would be forced to abide by PEA rules if the organization went ahead with the boycott of EPL.

"When the PEA and our owners first spoke more openly about their ability to tell us where we can and can’t play, we asked them what gave them the right. Their response was very direct: It’s in your contracts," the letter says. "This came as a shock — our owners had always given us the clear impression that we held the final say when it came to where we competed."

In its initial announcement, the PEA said players would be given an "authoritative voice" in the way the league is run via a rules committee and grievance committee. However, the letter says that the PEA was largely organized by the team owners, and that most players were not aware of it until the day it was announced. The players also claim that although there were three player reps on the rules committee, it was stacked against them by design, with four votes split between owner reps and the owner-backed organizational leadership.

"When our player reps pointed out that this meant we could always be out-voted by the league and the owners, Jason said that it was designed this way intentionally — to help avoid stalemates," the letter says. "He said that the PEA votes should be considered unbiased and that even as Commissioner he would be a trustworthy, unbiased voter."

The players were further frustrated when they learned the PEA and owners conducted negotiations with the ESL without informing them, and declined an offer from EPL organizers to share league revenues with the PEA in return for being allowed to operate in North America.

The letter concludes with a callout to fans and community members to write to the PEA and be vocal about the issue on social media.

"As we have told our owners, we are willing to participate in the PEA’s inaugural season," the letter says. "What we are not okay with is being forced out of EPL — or any other competition, for that matter. We maintain that, as players, we have the right to determine where we can and cannot compete."

You can read the full letter on Medium.

Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore esports who enjoys whiskey, D&D and first-picking Abaddon Slardar Clinkz Medusa Oraclea P90 my Souvenir Negev Discipline Priest. You can follow him on Twitter.

Jeff Fraser is a supervising editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.