An Open Letter to the Professional Esports Association, its Member Teams, and the Counter-Strike Community

The Counter-Strike players of Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, Immortals, Team Liquid, and Team SoloMid have jointly decided to publish this letter after recently being told by the PEA and our team owners that we do not have the right to choose where we compete and that they intend to prevent us from playing in ESL Pro League. We have selected Scott “SirScoots” Smith to represent us, and he is posting this letter on our behalf.


As players, we dedicate our lives to the game of Counter-Strike. If you combine the 25 of us who have signed this letter, we have more than 200 years of Counter-Strike experience — that’s a lot of Dust2. While we do feel that we give a lot to the game, there is no doubt that it has rewarded us in return. We are grateful for the opportunity to be professional Counter-Strike players, and we consider ourselves lucky to be able to do what we love for a living.

We acknowledge that our careers as professional players would not be possible without the foundation that supports us. Teams, tournaments, casters, sponsors, journalists, Valve, and of course our community — we appreciate all of your contributions that allow us to do what many can only dream of: commit ourselves to playing the game we love at the highest level in the world.

Of everyone on that list, though, we work the most closely with our owners. Over the course of our time in esports we have developed relationships with them based on friendship, mutual respect, and most importantly trust. We appreciate everything they have done for us, which is exactly why it is so disheartening to be writing this letter. We would much rather not be in a position where we felt like we had to. But we are, so here goes.


When the PEA was announced, our owners and Jason Katz, the PEA’s Commissioner, made it clear to the esports world that it was their goal to empower the players and collaborate with transparency. Andy from TSM said that the PEA had no intention to be exclusive and that it would share strategic decisions with the players. Steve from Liquid said that he wanted to see esports get to a place where the players and teams were aligned. Jack from C9 called us partners. Jason Katz himself said that the players would have a strong voice in every major league decision and that the PEA would make sure it reached agreements with us regarding our overall commitment to the league. He also said that the PEA would have the highest level of transparency in the industry. The PEA’s own press release promised that its management structure would ensure that the players had an authoritative voice in league operations.

Behind the scenes, the promises from the PEA were similar, but the mood among the players was more of openness and healthy skepticism than enthusiasm. This is because, as much as the PEA made it seem like the project was a collaboration, we actually weren’t really involved in its planning at all. Most of the players weren’t even informed of the PEA’s existence by their owners until the night before it was announced. Jason Lake’s celebratory Tweet of a group picture seemed like it was implying that the players and team owners were completely on the same page, but Pimp and hazed, for example, didn’t even know what the PEA was until the night before that photo was taken. Looking back on it, they kind of feel like they were just carted in for a photo op to make the league look good.

In the weeks following the launch, the players’ understanding was that the PEA was something we wouldn’t have to participate in if we didn’t want to. This wasn’t speculation — it was what the PEA was saying publicly and privately. Some of us were directly told that if we weren’t fully comfortable with the PEA, there was no pressure on us to participate and that it would be entirely our decision to make. A few weeks later, we elected the three players who would represent us in the PEA rules committee (n0thing, Hiko, and Pimp), and for most of October and November, we didn’t have much interaction with the PEA. We just focused on competing in our usual run of tournaments. Our understanding of what would be happening over these months was that the PEA and our owners would be working with other tournaments to make sure that their schedules would not be disrupted by the addition of the PEA league. Again, this wasn’t speculation — it was what the PEA said publicly and privately, and what some of us were directly told.

The PEA started hosting rules committee meetings in early November, and our player representatives started developing concerns about its voting structure right from the start. We were told that committee decisions would be decided by a simple majority of seven votes: three belonging to our player reps, two belonging to reps selected by the team owners, and the final two belonging to the PEA itself. The league Commissioner, Jason Katz, would have one of these two PEA votes. 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. He said that the PEA votes should be considered unbiased and that even as Commissioner he would be a trustworthy, unbiased voter. So there we were: the minority vote on the committee that was supposed to give us an “authoritative voice,” reliant on two PEA officials (including the Commissioner himself) to be unbiased in a league that was owned and operated by the team owners. Our player reps, to say the least, were skeptical — but we had no choice but to go with the flow for the time being.

The same week as IEM Oakland, we started seeing more serious reasons for concern about what the PEA was doing. We started hearing rumors that some of us were about to be told we would have to withdraw from the next season of ESL Pro League. We also heard rumors that the PEA and EPL actually had no active or ongoing discussions to ensure that they wouldn’t conflict with each other. This was contrary to what we had been told back in September and October, and it was at this point that we realized we needed help.


A few of us reached out to Scott “SirScoots” Smith, who has been a valuable friend and mentor to many of us over the years. He was happy to help, and was pretty quickly able to confirm that the PEA and EPL hadn’t really talked about working together to make sure there wouldn’t be issues. From what we heard, it seemed that EPL welcomed the discussion, but the PEA was not interested in talking. We decided to ask Scott to represent us more formally in approaching the PEA and our team owners about the situation, and thankfully he accepted. Scott has been in esports for 16 years and has been a consistent advocate for professional Counter-Strike players in that time. He’s outspoken and critical in all directions, and also has experience as a team owner, so we felt he would be a great central voice for us to work through. He now represents all of the 25 players who signed this letter in discussions with the PEA and our team owners, and we hope that our friends from NRG and CompLexity will turn 25 into 35 after they read this.

On December 7th, Scott sent a letter on behalf of the players to the PEA and its team owners, expressing our concerns and seeking clarification about what we had heard. While we didn’t get a response until the next day, we later found out that just hours after receiving our letter, the PEA finally engaged in serious discussions with EPL for the first time. The problem was that none of the scenarios outlined by the PEA in those December 7th discussions involved its teams remaining in EPL. The PEA proposed a plan in which EPL would be required to “vacate” North America, essentially leaving the region in the PEA’s control. As Jason Katz explained to Scott 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. There it was: Jason had confirmed exactly what we were concerned about. One way or another, the PEA and our owners intended to prevent us from playing in EPL.
 
While it was made clear in our letter that we wouldn’t be comfortable being forced out of EPL, some of the PEA owners still scheduled meetings with their players from the 7th to the 9th to try and convince us that their new plan was in our best interests. While we were skeptical, we wanted to hear our owners out, so we attended to listen and voice our concerns. Some of the owners used a presentation document to pitch us, and we asked the PEA for a copy so that we could review it with Scott on our own time, but it felt like we were getting the run-around. One owner told us that Scott should already have a copy. Jason Katz said that he wasn’t aware of the existence of such a document. Another owner told us that he needed Jason’s approval to share a copy with us. Between the 7th and the 9th, we collectively requested a copy of the presentation no less than five times, but we never received one.

Despite this, we did our best to evaluate and discuss the PEA’s plan based on what we remembered from our meetings with Jason Katz and the owners. The clear conclusions we came to were that, for a variety of reasons, the PEA’s proposal was not in the best interests of the players or the community, and that we would decide to remain in EPL. So on December 14th, Scott sent another letter to the PEA relaying our position and requesting a formal written decision. The PEA replied requesting a phone meeting, and we were hesitant, but ultimately agreed to consider it. We explained that it would take some time, because we had players in Atlanta for the Major Qualifier. The next day, we found out that negotiations between the PEA and EPL were already over. It turned out that EPL had actually offered to share league revenues with the PEA as a kind of olive branch gesture, but the PEA had declined.


If you’re wondering how the PEA and our team owners can just force us out of a major competition, you’re wondering the same thing we were about two weeks ago. So, 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. 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 a profession where so much of your income depends on your performance and brand exposure, being able to choose where you play is vital. We expressed our disagreement to the PEA and our owners, and pointed out that what was now happening contradicted just about everything they had said back in September, but they still stuck to their position. As Jason Katz, who had described himself a few months before as a trustworthy and unbiased party, told one group of players: “Things change.”

So, here we are, in a situation where we do not feel we are being treated fairly or offered the level of transparency we should be able to expect. It is in that spirit of openness that we have decided to publish this letter rather than engage in further talks with the PEA behind closed doors. As we have told our owners, we are willing to participate in the PEA’s inaugural season. 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.

We hope that our owners will resolve this situation in a way that allows us to again trust them to look out for our best interests as players. At the same time, though, we realize that we might be at the point where esports as an industry is now just too big for trust alone to reasonably protect everyone’s interests. Either way, you can’t have trust without honesty, and you can’t have honesty without transparency. Our hope is that, by involving the community in this discussion, we can set an example for the kind of respectful, open, transparent dialogue that should be the industry standard.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this letter. If you understand where we’re coming from, and you want to help, the best way to do so is to speak out. Contact the PEA and our team owners — let them know how you feel. Tell your friends and colleagues about what’s going on, and be vocal on Twitter and other social media outlets. If you’re a professional player, whether you’re on a PEA team or not, and whether you play Counter-Strike or any other game: get in touch with us by sending Scott an email. We’d love to add you to the conversation.

Sincerely,

Cloud9:
Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert
Michael “shroud” Grzesiek
Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham
Timothy “autimatic” Ta
Jake “Stewie2k” Yip

Counter Logic Gaming:
Ethan “nahtE” Arnold
James “hazed” Cobb
Stephen “reltuC” Cutler
Kenneth “koosta” Suen
Yassine “Subroza” Taoufik

Immortals:
Ricardo “boltz” Prass
João “felps” Vasconcellos
Henrique “HEN1” Teles
Lucas “LUCAS1” Teles
Lucas “steel” Lopes

Team Liquid:
Nicholas “nitr0” Cannella
Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski
Spencer “Hiko” Martin
Joshua “jdm64” Marzano
Jacob “Pimp” Winneche

Team SoloMid:
Sean “sgares” Gares
Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan
Hunter “SicK” Mims
Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken
Skyler “Relyks” Weaver

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