In its first big test, the NA LCS players association has failed to even register on the radar, as the furor over Cloud9’s treatment of Marcin “Selfie” Wolski rages on.
With the announcement of Academy team rosters coming thick and fast, and pretty much every starting spot in both Europe and North America locked down, a surprising free agency announcement came out as former Tempo Storm mid laner, Selfie, announced his free agency rather unfashionably late. It seemed almost comical for Selfie to announce his free agency only two weeks out from the start of the professional season, and many wondered what had gone wrong.
A few hours later Selfie expanded on his situation, revealing that due to contractual payment issues with the transfer of his contract from the failed NA LCS franchise, Phoenix1, to Cloud9, Selfie was unable to gain free agency from Cloud9 in time to realistically be signed by a team for the Spring split. It seemed as though Selfie had once again fallen into misfortune.
The Silent Issue: Dead contracts
After the announcement of the teams that had been accepted into the NA LCS franchising for 2018, fans were understandably focused on the loss of their favorite organizations. However, a silent issue was not being discussed. As players had been contracted to organizations that had their League of Legends branches essentially liquidated by Riot’s decision to deny their franchise applications, these players would have to have their contracts bought by teams that had been accepted into the LCS. This meant that a firesale of contracts was conducted, with the most publicised purchase of the contract rights to players being Team Liquid’s acquisition of a majority of the contracts previously under Immortals. While Liquid quickly decided which players they would keep and which players they would be selling contract rights, it could have been a potentially sticky situation where Liquid hoarded talent, potentially creating a bubble as teams overpaid for contract rights.
In Selfie’s situation, it seemed as though he was not afforded the same quick transition. After being acquired from Phoenix1, it seemed clear to many that he would take a spot on Cloud9’s academy team. However, he was a noticeable omission from Cloud9’s roster announcement, and many wondered what exactly was transpiring behind the scenes with the talented player.
Selfie reported that a day before Cloud9 announced their LCS and academy rosters, he was informed that he would not be offered a position on the academy roster and instead would be given the option to be a substitute for the academy roster. Selfie also relayed that he hadn’t been in North America since his time with Tempo Storm in July, meaning he was not even offered the chance to compete for the academy spot.
With a contract that ran until 2019, Selfie was faced with the prospect of not playing a single professional game for three splits. He declined the offer, however, due to the aforementioned pay issues, he was unable to secure a release from his contract. And while Cloud9 has yet to offer any reply to Selfie’s transcript of the events that led to his delayed free agency, another party that should have been involved in the issue remained silent as well.
Where’s Wally? Players’ Association Stays Silent
It has been seven months since Riot announced their plans for franchising in the NA LCS, and with it, the plan to enact a players’ association to represent the players in what was the biggest change in the history of North American LoL esports. There were, of course, eyebrows raised at the effectiveness of a players’ union which was linked to the publisher and producer of the game. However, most people decided to forgo these issues as the positives of a developed players’ union outweighed the negatives. A players’ union had often been raised, but until Riot stepped in to jumpstart the project, the talks had always failed to bring about any meaningful progress.
One month after the announcement of the players’ association and it looked like good progress had already been made. The players had voted on a head of the association, and all looked to be going swimmingly. The former counsel for the NBA players association, Hal Biagas seemed like the perfect person to lead the newly formed association.
Players declared they were confident that Biagas’ experience in player unions would help demonstrate the importance of unions to players who had previously displayed lackluster enthusiasm when it came to unions. However, six months on from Biagas’ appointment and almost no new developments have occurred. Players have reported that a few seminars have been organized by the association, with the main focus on their rights and how contract negotiations should be conducted but other than that, the association has been mostly silent.
Where to now?
For now, we wait for Cloud9’s response to Selfie’s claims, whether they even decide to respond that is. It seems unlikely that the Players’ Association can even do anything now as the damage has been done. What seems clear, however, is that with players signing longer contracts and their contracts holding real monetary value, teams could very easily keep players stuck in contracts with no plan to give them play time to show their value to other teams. Whether the players’ association takes note of this issue and works privately to ensure this issue doesn’t occur in the future is the big question.
For now, it looks like the players’ association has earned a fail in their first big test, what comes next could decide its effectiveness in maintaining a balance in the NA LCS, and the perception of unions in esports across the board.
Cloud9 has released an official statement on the issue which can be found here.