Capitalism is Ruining Esports
To many, making it in the esports industry is a dream. It’s something we strive our whole lives to do. We put our hearts and souls into our work for even the slightest chance to make it. But often times the journey and destination is filled with exploitation. Team owners who underpay, overwork, and mistreat staff. The esports industry has fallen victim to capitalism’s worst faults and must change if we are to thrive.
The State of Capitalism in Esports
Many esports organizations are built on the exploitation of players and staff. We commonly accept these practices because for many, “you gotta do what you gotta do”. We need to realize this treatment is not normal or acceptable in any way. Our first taste of this was in the old school team houses.
We all remember the coveted “team houses” from back in the day. When you examine the situation, how can this be considered acceptable working conditions at all? You have a whole team of players, upwards of ten people, crammed into a small home, living off of ramen and Chef Boyardee. The kicker for the situation is having the players practice for up to 12 hours a day. Though, for top teams this is not quite the situation anymore, it still builds the foundation for what we deem acceptable and normal in this community. Which feeds into an issue we have seen often, little to no pay.
We’ve seen many of these players roped into contracts at a young age and without pay. How many articles have we seen where owners aren’t paying their players what they are owed? How many teams are we going to see pop up promising to pay “a cut of the winnings”. This is worker exploitation at its peak. Players put in hours of work each and everyday, pay should not be on performance but on the value of their labor. If one goes into an office from 9-5 they expect payment for the hours they gave to the company, this should not differ for esports athletes. If we want to normalize esports, we need to treat their labor with value. But it’s not just the athletes that deal with this.
Staff Aren’t Immune
Though the players are the at the front lines of exploitation, there are plenty of other in this struggle as well. These are the workers behind the scenes, the camera operators, producers, show runners, make up artists, analysts, and coaches . Many organizations operate on minimal to no budget for staffing. Many of these roles are volunteer positions used to progress the org forward, while the owners reap the benefits. Even if the staff are compensated, many of these positions are underpaid and inconsistent. This forces staff into long hours with little pay and under a terrible contact.
How do we solve this?
We need to solve this issue by coming together. Not just with one game, but as a whole community. We need to unionize and we need to democratize these organizations.
Player Unions are something that has been in our minds for a long time now. Every few months we hear pushes for them and discussions around them. Unions are an important aspect of any group of laborers to protect their hard work and dedication to their craft. This is especially important when you have a large majority of these athletes being very young and a lot of times right out of high school. This demographic is ripe for exploitation by those with profit interests in mind. We have seen great strides in North American League of Legends and Counter Strike with the NA LCS Players Association and CSPPA retrospectively. When these athletes can stand together in solidarity, they are able to fight for their best interest, where alone they could not. The Players Association also gives them access to industry veterans who know the ins and outs and can really mentor and prepare them to take on this new space.
Not only should we be pushing for player unions, we should be pushing for esports staff unions as well. Staff behind the scenes are so often forgotten, and that needs to stop. These workers need a voice too. These workers need a support network to get fair contracts and better treatment
Unions are a wonderful piece of infrastructure we can build in this industry, but if we want to progress forward, we need to democratize the teams internally as well..
Democratize the Teams
Teams need to be democratized. The players are the one putting in the long hours to compete, shouldn’t they have a say in who trains them? Shouldn’t they have a say in which sponsors they want to lock in? Shouldn’t they have the voice to stand up and say who should lead their team? Players should have autonomy in their organization. This promotes trust, understanding, and solidarity. If the players have stake in their team, their commitment and drive will show ten fold.
Our Path Forward
This type of treatment of workers is not confined to just esports. If left unchecked this cancer will spread, and soon we will have this rot our scene into large media conglomerates taking control of what should be ours. But this is OUR community. We were here back when tournaments were ran out of our friend’s basement for a $20 prize pool and we’ll be here to the end. As a community we need to stand up and say enough is enough. We are going to unionize, we are gonna speak out, and we are going to take back our autonomy TOGETHER.