In the midst of its many controversies, Riot Games has slowly stirred the “we need labor organization” pot. Thankfully, in the company’s realm of esports, it did provide an outlet for players to express their concerns. However, it may not surprise you that this Riot-sanctioned organization, known as the North American League Championship Series Players Association (or the NA LCS Players Association for short, or NALCSPA for short-short) has only really done five things publicly in its 18-month existence. The fifth thing was this past week.
This needs to start off with a quick explainer: esports has never really taken its own politics seriously. I don’t mean “worldwide politics,” like the POTUS getting impeached, per se. I mean things in the realm of contracts, associations, unions, who-hires-who, all that. It’s fun and games until someone gets hurt. Then there’s a rally for better conditions, then it dies down.
There’s some traction by agencies and larger players to get a damn lawyer before you sign contracts. Still, most organization attempts have simmered out, whether due to international boundaries or just plain old busy esports schedules.
So when Riot announced that they’d sanction a players’ association in mid-2017, it got side-eyed. The NA LCS Players Association [sic] — technically a non-union affiliation, by the way — would comprise of players in the North American League Championship Series, which is now just the “League Championship Series.”
Players, again, historically didn’t take these things seriously. Old interviews at that time of announcement (which have been nuked even in archive form, thanks to the instability of esports media) show generally confused or indifferent reactions. Basically, fans and staff serious about labor organizations were left worried about intentions: a fox builds a sheep farm, in a few words. These were especially high stakes as LoL’s international viewership rose, and Riot collected more sponsors for its new franchise programs.
As details unfurled, though, it turned out it’d be partially headed by Hal Biagas, who used to work on the NBA Players’ Association before becoming a player agent. Biagas acts as an executive director for the NA LCS Players Association now, and appears to continue that work to this day. There’s some degree of optimism with that, given that the NBA work involved an actual union, even if LoL’s isn’t.
A Historic First Meeting
Back in the present, there’s some good news: They had a meeting! And it was the first time they met with executives from Riot and from the teams being represented!
It’s the first publicly-announced meeting since the founding meeting in early June 2018. That’s just over 18 months ago. And this is pretty much the fifth public motion they’ve made since their foundation. Meetings have been kept relatively secret, if any have taken place, so for them to tweet this at all is a surprise.
“Today the NALCSPA had a historic first meeting with executives from Riot and all 10 LCS teams,” a tweet from the official NALCS Players Association read. “We are all excited about the prospects for positive change.”
Today the NALCSPA had a historic first meeting with executives from Riot and all 10 LCS teams. We are all excited about the prospects for positive change. pic.twitter.com/5BrXuTaj6D
— NALCS Players Association (@NALCSPA) December 19, 2019
The tweet shows Darshan Upadhyaya, the President of the Association, and Vice President Greyson “Goldenglue” Glimer standing with the Association’s executive director Biagas.
Good news is, Darshan had some positive words to say. “Glad we laid the groundwork and excited for future meetings,” he said in a quote-tweet of this image. “There are a lot of issues to solve but it is important to take it one step at a time.” At the very least, it sounds like they got something done.
And Darshan seems like a good advocate; whenever a change pops up through the Players’ Association, which is twice now (more on that later), he’s given much of the credit for the push. It implies he’s actually doing much of the work, even if it’s rarely visible. Plus, he helped out at a Charleys Philly Steaks on Black Friday, sharing his respect for service workers.
On the other hand, there’s no word on what they actually discussed. Nor is there word on which Riot executives they actually met. And to a fault, maybe, there should be some privacy for what was discussed! Maybe there are some situations we, as the public, don’t need to know about regarding players’ personal ventures into esports! But us lefty labor types would like to know where to send our letters of demand and/or support. And we’d like to know where Bjergsen is going to stand as a dual team co-owner player.
Speaking of progress, again, only three other things have been accomplished since the founding meeting and election. One is the replacement of Alfonso Aguirre Rodriguez, known as “Mithy,” with Glimer as the Vice President of the association.
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The other two are genuinely decent rule changes pushed by the Players Association, with efforts, again, spearheaded by Darshan. The most prominent one took place in January last year, when several players were released from rosters with no time to find new organizations. (Yes, these leagues have roster lock dates.) As a result, a grace period of 72 hours for player sign-ons was added on for any players dropped within 48 hours of the deadline.
The other rule change was regarding streaming rights. In October, the NA LCS Players’ Association announced that players would be allowed to stream on the “tournament realm,” or tournament server. The change allows players to combine high-level scrimmaging or solo-queue practice with their streaming and personal branding otherwise.
The extremely minimal change is unsurprising given we’re working with Riot Games itself here. Which may possibly violate state law by funding a union if a single employee gets involved within the Association. The same Riot that had to settle for $10 million in a gender discrimination lawsuit they lost involving the State of California. Which fired no less than two employees that spoke out against sexist critics. And that hasn’t managed to have its employees found a union, especially given those workers most visible around labor cases departed soon after.
Hopefully, the optimism by Darshan is actually warranted, and we’ll be seeing more positive change for players in the future.
Disclaimer: Both Fanbyte and Riot Games are owned by Tencent. However, we have full editorial independence from Riot, and a Riot exec still hasn’t been fired for sexual assault.