It’s not often that a Challenger Series forming makes headlines, let alone one without any real ‘star’ talent or famous faces on it, but Ember managed that when they gathered together their ambitious project. In particular, it was Ember’s public declaration of all their player’s salaries that really ‘made their mark.’ By releasing their salaries, at least for a few weeks, Ember became the talk of the town. Should other orgs do this? Some thought against it, and experts in the field were skeptical at the market value of the players for the salaries they were getting. But we’re focusing here on the current implosion of Ember. For more on that, read Luke’s Article at: https://thegamehaus.com/2015/12/29/david-vs-goliath-are-player-salaries-worth-it/
Salaries for references
Gleeb — $57,500 base, $15,000 in bonuses, total comp $72,500
Contractz — $60,000 base, $10,000 in bonuses, total comp $70,000
Goldenglue — $65,000 base, $27,000 in bonuses, total comp $92,000
Solo — $65,000 base, $21,000 in bonuses, total comp $86,000
Benjamin— $60,000 base, $15,000 in bonuses, total comp $75,000
(Signed later) Santorin — $80,000 base, $25,000 in bonuses, total comp $105,000
What we’re more interesting in here is what in the heck happened to Ember. If you’re a fan of the Challenger Series, which is much smaller in viewership than the LCS, you’ll be well aware of the strength of Ember and the other NA CS teams going into the split. Ember were favorites going into the split, alongside Apex, to make it into the promotion tournament, which recently changed to only allow the top two teams into its competition. That’s why it was such an upset when Team Dragon Knights, who engaged in a multi-player trade with LCS side Renegades, took them down 3-1, making it into the finals and into the promotion tournament.
It seemed that a lot of Ember’s dreams had been crushed. They purposefully choose to buy a Challenger Series spot rather than an LCS spot, hoping to work their way up from the bottom into the big leagues. But still, it wasn’t like they were out completely. It was only their first Challenger Series split, and not every team has to go from Challenger formation to LCS in a single split to be successful. Even a single split in the LCS doesn’t do that, just ask CLG (who had multiple seasons… ahem…) But it seemed to be the case for Ember’s investors, who pulled out all financial support for the team upon learning the news.
What’s most striking, though, is that the players seem to be at the less desirable end of this stick, as is usual. Those juicy contracts and salaries? Well, they’re all but gone up in flames. Ember’s organization itself seems to be just as ill-effected too. It’s a sad day overall, and as Thorin rightfully pointed out, the only positivity that could come of this is some repercussions against the investors who left the team high and dry after committing that kind of money. But it’s questionable as to whether that’ll even happen.
What else can we take away from the sad fall of Ember? Well, another point is that organizations need to be realistic, not only in their finances, but also in their aspirations. A slow burn cooks better than a flash in the pan. While it’s an admirable goal to start from Challenger to LCS, if you had the option to buy into LCS, why bother with the stress of going through Challenger? Build the team in the LCS environment, heck, even going 10th place. That still puts you in the same position as if you had gotten second place in the Challenger Series playoffs. It’s a questionable decision on a pragmatic level, which is vital in the early stages of not only a developing scene but also in business in general.
The player salaries, while admirable and something I desire all players to make, seemed slightly insane for the market value of those players. Santorin, in particular, and Goldenglue seemed quite inflated. While both players with LCS experience, it just seems a little much for a Challenger Series squad to be forking over six digits for their Jungler. While it doesn’t seem that that was the reason Ember fell apart, but more from lack of living up to investors’ expectations, one has to wonder if those salaries were more reasonable if investors might’ve seen the longer road as easier to swallow? It’s hard, too, because outside of the signing bonuses, it seems that the players won’t see half of their contracted money anyways.
This also is a harrowing sign for other start up organizations: it’s do or die. I do not think it’s a healthy, sustainable process, but that seems to be the vision that is promoted in esports currently. Short term goals, big showings, flashy plays, lots of Likes and Followers, and other quantifiable gains are more important than the long haul. Ember branded themselves as changing that approach, and while the actual org might believe so, it seems the investors had little faith in that. Money is fickle, and if it does fizzle out that Ember’s investors walk away completely clean, they’re names haven’t even been released to warn fellow teams, it signals that esports is ripe for exploitation by big money.
With the success of NRG, Immortals, Splyce and Echo Fox, I do not think we need to sound the town bells in alarm. But it does point to possibly some gaps in Riot’s dealings with Challenger Series teams. We saw this problem in cases where Challenger Series teams would constantly be picked apart for players by LCS teams, who could bring not only bigger money but also a shot at what every Challenger player dreams of. Riot, hopefully, will move towards action on this situation too, but it’s difficult to see a way to enforce contracts if people with more money can get away without any repercussions. But it is a startling thing, given the (seemingly) wonderful roles that these other start up teams have shown in their regions.
But it’s important to note, too, that some of esports more recognizable franchises, TSM, CLG, and Cloud 9, all started very much from small, ‘grass-root-like’ operations. They grew slowly, and while there were times in all of their histories that were dark, where financial ruin seemed to be just around the bend, they have endured. But that’s over a span of years. The fact that investors were looking for just under half a year for returns on their initial investment? Imagine how that would look for CLG? How many splits of disappointment and heartbreak did I—I mean, did fans, have to endure before they finally got that sweet, sweet moment of victory over long-time rivals TSM. It’s events like that that solidify a team, and while CLG lost ‘fans’ over the Doublelift/Pobelter moves, they’ve come back seemingly just as strong. But this all takes time. Something Ember were not allowed. The recent success of Immortals is one story of instant success, but both NRG and Echo Fox were marred by problems throughout the split.
Ultimately, esports in general is a big experiment, and so many of the problems that traditional sports experienced in their growth, which took decades to become legitimatized, are happening almost back to back in our increasingly faster world. Scandals like this would not happen in traditional sports now, but it very well might have in the early years of certain sports. It’s an important point to make, as Riot, and other developers, need to not only be proactive in their approaches, but reactive to situations like this. How they go about navigating the increasingly murky legal waters may very well make or break the scene. If nothing else, it also sets the stage for how big money and interact with the scene.