Interviews with ESL co-founder and WESA interim commissioner leave more questions than answers

by Josh Bury May 17 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of World Esports Association

The World Esports Association's explosion onto the esports scene last week left the community with questions about basically every aspect of the organization, from its membership and structure to its long-term objectives.

In interviews with ESL co-founder Ralf Reichert and WESA interim commissioner Pietro Fringuelli published Tuesday, Gamespot's Rob Crossley attempted to dig into the truth on the fledgling organization, but answers still seemed difficult to come by.

Fringuelli, who has advised professional football leagues such as UEFA, has been appointed interim commissioner for WESA. He told Crossley that the role of commissioner and executive board will be far less influential in the organization than in associations like UEFA and FIFA, and that the member teams will hold the majority of the decision-making power. Unlike traditional sports organizations where the executive has final veto, "here the power is only in the members meeting," he said.

WESA's executive board is composed of Fringuelli as well as two team representatives (currently Hicham Chahine, owner of Ninjas in Pyjamas, and Wouter Sleijffers, CEO of Fnatic), and two representatives of ESL. It is not yet clear how the board will work with the general assembly, and what say it will have in decisions the organization makes. WESA will also have a Player Council, made up of elected players, though it's again unclear what authority this council will have.

Yet, with the power afforded to founding member teams, a major concern is that teams and players could have unfair influences on rules and tournament formats for WESA-sanctioned events, especially given that their revenue funds the organization. Asked directly about team's using the organization to gain a competitive advantage, ESL's Reichert told Crossley that referee rulings would be outside the purview of WESA's members, and implied that the executive board would be involved in decisions about teams' membership applications, to prevent current members from excluding rivals. In terms of funding, he said that teams provide only "a tiny amount" of the organization's revenue, which will primarily come from leagues paying to receive an official sanction.

As far as having influence over tournament formats — and potentially choosing formats which benefit member teams — Reichert said that top teams and players have always some control over formats, and that WESA will merely formalize the relationship between the upper echelon of teams and the leagues they play in.

"In reality those eight teams [that are founding members of WESA], maybe a few more, have always had a say in how things are run," Reichert said. "Because they have the experience, and an informal relationship with the organiser is already there."

He went on to say that the organization's focus on legitimacy means that the current member teams "need to avoid doing things which make them look like they're taking advantage" of being able to set rules and regulations for competitions.

"If we're seen as legitimate as the NFL, we're happy," he said.

According to Reichert, WESA plans to expand its membership beyond its founding teams, and it will be "open" to applications from any team so long as "certain criteria" are met. He said the organization would evaluate each applicant based on their long-term stability and competitive success, which would likely be based on "pro-league results." (It was not clear from the transcript if this was in reference to professional leagues in general, or specifically ESL Pro League, the only league currently sanctioned by WESA.)

Fringuelli said the commissioner himself would have very little power over the organization compared to the member teams.

"The role of the league commissioner is, when the executive board makes a decision and the vote is split 50/50, that's when the commissioner steps in and has a casting vote," he said. The deciding vote would be his sole authority in the organization, he said.

Asked what safeguards are in place to ensure the commissioner remains independent, Fringuelli admitted there currently are none, but said that WESA is in the process of drafting them. One of the major outstanding questions about the organization is how and when a permanent commissioner will be appointed, which the interview did not address.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury wants a player-owned organization to advocate for the rights of the CS:GO chiken. You can find Josh on Twitter.