Former Overwatch pro and coach Thomas “Morte” Kerbusch has partnered with sports labor attorney Ellen Zavian to push towards unionizing, according to a report from Liz Mullen in Sports Business Journal. Meanwhile, the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pro scene is also forming a players association, thanks to the efforts of Scott “SirScoots” Smith, a longtime esports veteran who competed in his youth and later became a team owner and esports broadcaster. Smith has tapped lawyer Michael Doi to help form the Counter-Strike Professional Players Association (CSPPA).
“Every day I sign another guy,” Smith said. “I would say 70 or so have signed an official membership document that they are for the players association, are behind the players association, they want to be in the players association.”
According to the SBJ, Smith’s efforts will not result in a formal union; players are signing membership letters but not authorization cards, which would be required by U.S. law to recognize the group as a union. Mullen also reports that tournament organizers have already begun to inquire with the organization about players’ desired working conditions.
Meanwhile, the efforts in the Overwatch scene could result in an actual grassroots union, a first for esports. Zavian also told the SBJ that she was working with players from other games as well, but would not provide details, nor would she clarify whether the association would be organizing players by league, team, or game publisher. “I wish I could tell you that, but then that’s sort of revealing our strategy. But the laws are pretty clear on how you can recognize a union and we will be following the legal structure that is in place in the U.S.,” Zavian said.
Zavian explicitly compared her esports organizing efforts to traditional sports models like the NFL Players Association or the MLB Players Association, telling Mullen that, “I don’t see this PA (players association) as any different than any other PA just because it’s esports. So this isn’t something that will be a lighthearted step. This will be a big step.”
The MLBPA is the most successful players’ union in sports history, but it had its own rocky beginnings when the owners convinced the players to bring in an owner-controlled judge as an advisor. MLB also offered funds to the union in its early days, but those funds came with a hefty side of meddling in the election of the players association’s executive director. The modern-day esports version of this story may end up happening with Riot Games, which announced a plan to form a so-called “players association” for the pros who compete in their game League of Legends. It’s not really a union, since Riot’s funding it.
At the time, Chris Greeley of Riot league operations told Compete that “at some point in the future if the players decided that they want to unionize and register with the NLRB, they will have the option to forgo Riot funding and self-fund. It is our expectation and our hope that that happens at some point in the future, but in the meantime this association is designed to give the players a seat at the table.” League of Legends players have since selected sports lawyer Hal Biagas to run the association; Biagas formerly worked at the National Basketball Players Association. He did not comment on the Journal’s question about whether the League pros would be voting to unionize.
As for the budding Overwatch union, Zavian and Kerbusch intend to unveil more details about their efforts in the coming months, telling Compete that they “look forward to reaching out back to you when we are able to share our progress.”
Compete is Deadspin and Kotaku’s joint site dedicated to competitive gaming.