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CS:GO Weekly: Counter-Strike needs to start anew with players' association

Recent reports indicate members of the Counter-Strike Professional Players Association have acted as agents for individual players, in particular those on Astralis. Photo courtesy of StarLadder

In the past week, the Counter-Strike Professional Players Association has been embroiled in controversy following a letter written by Flashpoint, later released by media outlet DBLTAP, accusing the association of several alleged violations that resulted in a withholding of a $165,000 payment to the player body. The players' association vehemently denied those allegations in a series of posts on Twitter, but further reporting from HLTV showed a potential conflict of interest based on CSPPA executives acting as agents for individual Counter-Strike players, notably the core of Astralis. Flashpoint also alleged that the CSPPA inserted itself into the situation between Heroic and FunPlus Phoenix -- which I can't fault the players for wanting help with -- but that is not the CSPPA's role. It's time to start over.

The CSPPA spawned from good intentions, during a time when players lacked power following the creation of the Professional Esports Association, a body of North American Counter-Strike teams who sought to withdraw their players from the ESL Pro League. Players were furious though -- with then-Team SoloMid captain Sean Gares being fired and several players threatening to boycott, leading to the collapse of that version of the PEA (Flashpoint now has some of the same PEA member teams). But it seems all along that one of the bodies that helped establish the CSPPA, the Danish Elite Athletes Association (DEF), did not separate itself properly from the CSPPA, and up until January, the top two executives of the CSPPA -- CEO Mads Øland and COO Michael Døi -- also worked for DEF.

When the CSPPA first formed, I reached out to several top players about it, asking questions about whether players were funding the organization. According to then-Cloud9 member Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert, they were not, and you can't fault Øland and Døi for needing to make a living by also acting as agents. Rather than ownership of those conflicts of interest this week, we've gotten a lot of excuses.

"The CSPPA is an association set up in Denmark under Danish law to improve the working conditions of CS:GO players worldwide," the organization told HLTV. "CSPPA is a non-profit without owners and any profit in the association is solely used to provide membership benefits to the CSPPA players as decided by the CSPPA board.

"The management of CSPPA currently consists of Mads Øland (CEO) and Michael Døi (COO). Upon joining CSPPA in 2018 (when CSPPA was founded), Mads and Michael served as CEO and COO in DEF-sport. Mads and Michael have worked voluntarily for CSPPA (i.e. with no form of compensation) until 1 January 2020 which was the time on which they were employed by the CSPPA board. Mads and Michael receive no other compensation from CSPPA than their salaries."

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Furthermore, the CSPPA told HLTV that it providing agency services was "in line" with other professional sports associations and unions. Yet, I don't remember the National Basketball Players Association or the National Football League Players Association acting as representation for players. Pro basketball and football players rightly hire outside reputation, independent agents, whose specific job is to negotiate contracts and rights and ensure player career longevity.

The NBPA and the NFLPA do what the CSPPA has done correctly in some cases, negotiating with Flashpoint, ESL, DreamHack and others for a standardized ecosystem for players -- in a system that is wholly inconsistent by nature -- as well as mandate breaks for players for collective player well-being. It shouldn't be negotiating for a small set of players of the same nationality as the organization. That's not fair to the other players, who make confidential disclosures of working conditions and salaries to the CSPPA, nor is it fair to the leagues.

"If someone presents themselves as a player union but is also acting as an agency, that is a conflict of interest and detrimental for everyone, the same way teams can't have equity in the organizations they compete against," Team Vitality CEO Nicolas Maurer told HLTV. "If the player body has a conflict of interest, we all have collectively an issue.

"We feel that player conditions need to be addressed with the players' association. It's not about negotiating salaries but about player conditions and burnout, those are key topics for us. We want to make sure that, if we are to engage with a player union, it shouldn't have a conflict of interest."

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To claim that what the CSPPA has done is OK because other sports associations do so too (which they don't), doesn't make it any better. Like Maurer said, there are benefits here to have players collectively aligned. But having them work against teams as an agent is outlandish.

The CSPPA needs to be restructured, in a player-led manner, or it needs to be abolished. Players -- and I feel like I'm beating the dead horse here, because I've said this about the League of Legends Championship Series Players Association too -- need to take responsibility and self-fund. With as much as Counter-Strike players make in 2020, hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, having even a small fraction of that go toward a collective body isn't that much to ask. Sure, it will be a difficult sell, but if that's not what players want to sacrifice, then they should live with the repercussions of not having player breaks and dealing with difficult team and league policies, like they did pre-2017.

The sacrifice is minimal, but it seems, for whatever reason in esports, that it's a major one. Paying association dues, paying a separate agent, these are all a part of being a professional athlete, something many players enjoy the luxury of being able to call themselves. Yet if they don't act the part, they don't deserve the rewards. Fund the players' association or abolish it.