Opinion: Why esports must be wary of franchise models

As esports grows, there are certain conversations that will come up again and again. Things like broadcast rights, conflicts of interest and player rights are all topics that need more discussion before they are resolved, and perhaps the biggest challenge of all is separating the good points from those that are designed to skew the argument in favour of an interested party, which is too often the case.

Esports is fortunate to have people from all over the world involved, even if a lot of the voices in the west have an American accent, and with the franchise question swirling a good starting point is looking at the attitudes that already exist. Most neutral parties have remained fairly neutral, looking at the pros and cons of both sides, with a few like Richard Lewis or Sir Scoots committing to the idea of an open system being best in theory, but understanding of the other half of the conversation.

In short, they want all the thrill of potential success, but none of the penalties that come with failure

Having said that, one of the main problems with the conversation around franchising is how rare neutrality is, and how often the talking heads are clearly motivated by personal interests. Chief among these personally interested money-men is Noah Whinston, who sits there with a grin on his face like a fox advising against the addition of extra security measures around your chicken coop, as there is surely no way your stock could be at risk, but it’s important to trust the viewer to understand why team owners from the states think franchising is ideal.

Now, there are a lot of good points about franchising, and bad ones too, but for the purposes of this argument we are going to boil it down to the most crucial aspect of the way people like Whinston want it run. For them, the most important part, or that which separates the American way from the (far more successful) European football model is protection, specifically from relegation. In short, they want all the thrill of potential success, but none of the penalties that come with failure.

Things like revenue sharing are not in any way related to this protected status, as we can see from the Premier League. No team, be it Manchester United, Man City or Liverpool, is immune from the threat of relegation or even destruction if they mismanage badly enough, and regardless of legacy they need to earn their spot in the league, every single year, through performance. If they do that, the money keeps coming, and lord knows it is a big pile of money the English clubs enjoy.

Now, if you are young-ish, ginger and owner of a number of esports brands, including an Overwatch team, the idea of relegation is scary, and you might even say it discourages risk-taking as the penalties are too high. This history of European sport shows that is emphatically not the case, and in the most successful systems there are parachute payments and other mechanisms in place to ensure even those that fall do at least have a cushion.

We should be aiming for a system similar to that of the Premier League, rather than the NBA

In short, for us, the people who most favour a franchise system at any given time will be from the same group, that being the group that stands to benefit the most, but that is a short term view if applied CSGO. Franchising tomorrow would see the current ‘big’ teams share the money, and lock out all but the most wealthy from joining the elite, at a time when esports and CS has massive room for growth.

For many, the reality is that the US model cannot be judged against others, as it exists in a vacuum and the level of international competition is zero. For that reason, it makes far more sense to us to suggest what works in a nation like the states can be applied to the global market that is esports, even with a limited product like Overwatch. With growth, the crucial factor is space, so everything can expand to maximum potential before such time as we begin to think about protections.

It seems obvious to say, but we should be aiming for a system similar to that of the Premier League, rather than the NBA. The former gives us competition with both victory and defeat on offer, as well as revenue sharing that never become protectionism in the way the German or Spanish leagues have at times. Likewise, the only way a limited, ‘top’ division makes sense in a dynamic, growing area is if getting there is not prohibitively difficult, so things like the OWL, with a set number of teams and huge buy-ins that are not backed by proof of concept, should be avoided like the plague, if they aren’t already.

There will be some who share a different view of course, and we’d love to hear what side of the argument you come down on, but in the long term it seems as though the time is not right for franchises, if it will ever be. Fluctuating values, massive lumps of VC and constant new companies shows just how fast esports is moving, and setting a limit on the number of teams that can be involved, and making them buy in for the privilege, makes no sense to us.

Picture: Kenzi


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