Coaches Perspective: Salaries – Show Them the Money!

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So I don’t really write, and not sure how poorly this may end up being received, but I wanted to at least attempt spending a little bit of time talking about the recent public salary issue. I think it’s a great start to the bigger discussion regarding players, teams, and the scene in general that is starting to happen. Plus, it hits pretty close to home: I lost my job at CLG due in no small part (though not entirely) to a conversation I had with players about their careers/contracts/etc. I know I’ve been basically mute on the vast majority of stuff that’s happened in the scene the last few weeks, but this is a topic I feel I can bring meaningful value to since I have at the very least an educational understanding of sports contracts and, for the most part, no real dog in this fight (so to speak).

I'll never not find a reason to use this picture. Matt you look fabulous.

So let’s start off with my release at CLG. I hope I’m able to explain this tactfully, to give context without taking focus away from the reason its relevant, and to especially circumvent the “well all this is great, but why did CLG release this guy?” comments. I’ve had a lot of interesting discussions regarding my time at CLG with people in & outside of the scene and it most succinctly boils down to this: I wasn’t happy working for CLG (the org – not the players) and CLG wasn’t happy having me as an employee. You could “chicken vs egg” that statement all day to no avail but I think that is the most fair assessment without having to drudge up the laundry list of who-did-what-to-who. However, I freaking loved that team. And there lies the crux of the biggest issue: my chief concern was with the player’s interests, not the organization’s. As a Head Coach I had responsibilities to both, but I answer to the organization only. By even being present during discussions of salaries, contracts, et al – and certainly by giving advice to players in any form – I failed in my responsibility to CLG and was punished for it. I figure there’s no way to start this discussion in earnest without being willing to explain at least that much, but now that it’s out of the way:

Salary – what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

I think by discussing public salaries we are focusing on one small part of a much larger picture – the contract itself. Salary often takes up a handful of lines in a 10+ page contract. Of course salary itself is important, and I have no doubts a public salary “database” would be a huge boon to players in their contract negotiations but it is all but useless without context. Marty Strenczewilk, owner of Splyce, wrote some good stuff about context here. My perspective is this: salary doesn’t mean much if the rest of the agreement it is founded upon is unreliable to one party.

Think for a moment about most of the “drama” that ends up coming to the surface surrounding player deals. How often is it actually the base salary? Most of the issues that spring immediately to mind, including MYM’s ill advised house threat, Coast’s sell off to NRG, and H2K-Svenskeren-TSM’s tug-of-war, have little to do with base salary. Often these are the result of players who have few protections, are lacking resources, and thus end up at an inherent disadvantage at the negotiating table.

I’m sure there are teams out there “doing the right thing” and setting good examples with the way they treat their employee relationships (which is what a contract is). Fnatic, TSM, and C9 seem like frontrunners here of the endemic (old guard) organizations – and God bless Ember (IMT too), PR stunt or not – but I don’t know for certain about any of their private operations. I do know that a lot of the things I’ve seen and heard from players and other employees of organizations are that contracts are often lopsided to the detriment of the player. I hate knowing that, and can’t wait for a magical union of players to save the day, so I’m going to try to be part of the solution of empowering players to improve their future contracts, and I’m going to start with this sage advice:

Delete the Gym, Hit the Facebook, HIRE A LAWYER!

Do not press Google, do not collect $skrilla recommendations. Start here assuming NA, which is the only region I’m likely to ever speak about. There’s nothing more to it. If, for whatever reason, anyone in this scene seriously cannot afford it, is afraid, or “does not have the time” my Twitter DMs are always open and my e-mail is public. I am not a rich man but I’m fortunate enough to be financially stable, and if anyone (pro, amateur, player, coach, whatever) honestly has no where else to turn I will find a way to help pay for or somehow find a lawyer to at least review an agreement.

Barring a Lawyer

I know a lot of players still wont take that advice because its been given to them over and over again. I’m also certainly not a lawyer. I do, however, have a basic classroom understanding of sports contracts from college and I know this: if there is anything the community should be clamoring to have public to help players it should be contracts as a whole. I hate to be “that guy” but – you guessed it – traditional sports do it (at least in NA).

So I’m going to push for it too. Well, metaphorically, I’m not going to leak private information. This definitely isn’t legal advice. It’s going to hopefully be a series of “if you’re going to be hard headed then at least be well informed” topics. I’ll do my best to lay out what I know of more traditional contracts, organizational processes, and explain them in more practical to esports terms. On that note welcome to..

I’ve Got an Itch 101

You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours

Here is lesson one (its absurdly short & overly simplistic – a real lawyer will probably tear me a new one for dumbing this down so much): most clauses in a contract can be reciprocal or mutual in nature – or otherwise made more fair without completely altering the nature of the agreement. If a player, coach, or other potential employee is offered a contract with either of the following:

  • Non-disparagement (aka, don’t turn into a PR nightmare during your stay / on your way out) and/or
  • Non-disclosure or confidentiality (hush hush clauses)

Then it should be mutual, reciprocal, or otherwise “even” because it costs both sides little. There are certainly more common clauses that the principle of “fairness” can be applied to, but these two are a great litmus test. By which I mean this: the response and reaction of the party you ask for mutual protection under a contract term can tell you a lot about the nature of their intention for the relationship between both parties. That is probably more valuable than the content of the clause itself in many ways. I’d never advise someone to go into a contract negotiation thinking of the other party as the “bad guy” – its a discussion that should lead to an awesome partnership not a Mexican standoff. With that said, if someone responds in an irrational manner to an otherwise reasonable request (mutual protection under a contract term) then the red flag can begin to raise. Or maybe your approach and communication on the subject is awful (worth considering).

Nonetheless for these clauses in many cases the bulk of the work is already done, the clause is there it just needs to be adjusted. There are some nuances that make it slightly more complicated than “it costs nothing” but overall it should not be a deal breaker or confrontational start to getting a better contract. Trust me, there is no salary in the world worth working for someone who wont give you the basic courtesy of the most bare bones of honest, fair agreements. Here’s an amicable (if not silly) approach:

“I totally agree that I shouldn’t say anything negative about the organization [establish a basis of agreement, compliment their awesome idea], what do you think about agreeing to not say anything bad about me as well? [reasonable, well worded request for fairness – not a demand/challenge, opens discussion instead of confrontation, and allows for the other party to reflect on their thoughts before expressing themselves]” <cue cheesy kids show music about friendship>

And that is how we improve – one step at a time! Its a small, tiny step. An olive branch of good faith between an employee and his/her employer. We shouldn’t demonize organizations for looking out for their interests, but we can help to empower those working with orgs to improve their situations and encourage the organizations to “go the extra mile” themselves.

T-That’s it..?

God no. That’s called a start. Possibly a not so modest one if you consider some of the PR debacles prevalent to our industry. I hoped it was also the least controversial. Presumably we can all agree we should look to reduce, as much as possible, the amount of mud-slinging and leaking of private information that happens, right? Seems universally simple. Some things I’d like to cover in the coming days in far more depth:

  • Buyouts – This is probably the most distorted contract principle I’ve seen in esports. Bit of an abusive mess because people can’t seem to “play nice” with each other, but the players are unquestionably at the worst end of it.
  • Healthcare – There are some interesting twists in regards to employee (especially player) healthcare that needs to be addressed and I think some of them can expedite this to the top of orgs “to-do” lists (good for both parties!)
  • Termination – I have plenty of experience here. Seriously though this is like death – no one wants to think about it until its too late. Speaking of death, should also mention his close friend:
  • Taxes – HIRE A LAWYER CPA (oh, never mind that one was easy)
  • Unions, and more..

My final observation will be this: of all the many things that are destructive, detrimental, or simply unfair to esport employees (young players most of all), or actually dangerous to the “long term sustainability” of organizations in our region – I’d consider public salary information and throwing “too much” money at players as some of the least of my concerns.

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Chris Ehrenreich

Attended Clemson University studying Post-Secondary Education, Sports Management & Athletic Leadership. As one of the first coaches in LCS to have a "traditional" sports background I helped lead Counter Logic Gaming to their first NA LCS Championship over their rivals TSM at historic Madison Square Garden.

 

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