A brief look at CS:GO contracts
Virtus.pro signing two year contracts opens up a whole new sector of CS:GO up for discussion - contracts, and everything that comes with them.
Since the days of the first Counter-Strike teams being signed to contracts a decade or so ago, it has been the custom in our game that each team is contracted one year at a time.
Now Virtus.pro have shaken up the status quo by extending their Polish team's contracts by two years at once, and even given a vague idea of the team's pay scale.
This change in the contract dynamics and the transparency shown by Virtus.pro send a clear message, while the situation has the Poles bearing some risk, but for understandable reasons.
In this short article we take a look at all of the above, and the general situation that has prevailed in professional Counter-Strike for more than a decade.
This roster will be donning Virtus.pro's colors for a while longer
Generally when an organization decides to sign a Counter-Strike team, they offer the entire team contracts that are more or less identical. Often the entire team gets paid the same amount of money, receive the same perks, and have their contracts expiring on the same date.
Though some teams, for example SK and fnatic in Counter-Strike 1.6, have paid their players varying amounts, to my knowledge most teams receive the same amount to keep players happy in the team. It's an understandable way to look at it - you don't want role players chasing frags in order to look better, and to be able to get a higher salary next year - though it is a problem in real sports as well, especially the NBA.
Since professional players' perks are often equal to their share of prize money, it's obvious that part should by all accounts be the same to avoid internal issues within the team. Organizations should also have the players' contracts expire on the same date, as teams are just that - teams - and one player alone being under contract won't help an organization.
These contracts are often signed for six or twelve months, or from whenever they are signed until the end of the on-going year. For established teams renewing their contracts, signing on on an annual basis is usually the standard procedure, and it's hardly ever discussed, as far as I know.
Cloud9's compLexity contracts expired in August
Virtus.pro deciding to sign their aging - yes, it's true Filip "NEO" Kubski and Wiktor "TaZ" Wojtas are starting to get old - Counter-Strike team on for two years is a huge sign of confidence in the game. If they did not believe CS:GO could continue growing for the coming two years, as it has been since the first major a year ago, they would not have signed this team to what they called "possibly the most expensive contracts" in Counter-Strike history.
It's also great for everyone involved that the Russian organization is so transparent about all of this. Though in sports releasing contract details - whether via official means or simply always being accurately leaked - is standard protocol, no one has ever truly known what kind of contracts professional Counter-Strike players are signed to, and it has often been something the fans have been interested in as well.
Though the details of Virtus.pro's contracts are still unknown, simply stating the contracts are possibly the most expensive in Counter-Strike history send a clear message. There have been plenty of well paid teams in the past, and there are right now as well. There is no way Virtus.pro would make such a statement - or that the Poles would allow it - if it weren't at least in the ballpark of being true.
The added transparency may help other teams negotiate their contracts and put pressure on their organizations to pay their teams more - possibly a tactic by the Russian organization, and a clever one at that - thus promoting the entire scene. Transparency more often than not leads to good things, and though the exact numbers do not mean much to us, it would actually be great if teams would be open to sharing at least information such as contract expiring dates with us, so we could create a database of it for those who are interested.
Virtus.pro is betting CS:GO's growth is not done
Naturally you can't sign a team, an aging one at that, to two year contracts without any risk. Though Counter-Strike contracts have been infamously easy to break and I'm not sure if they have ever led to actual law suits - but I hardly doubt it - there's still no reason to take an uncalculated risk by doing something you do not expect to pay off, considering the consequences it could have on the Virtus.pro organization, if they simply ditched the team too early.
There's real risk that Virtus.pro could stop performing within two years. They have been fairly inconsistent for the past twelve months, though they haven't placed outside of the top eight and scored two top four finishes at the majors. Key players could find themselves out of motivation, the older guys could want to quit, and you never know how team dynamics change over time. However, money will help with all of that.
Another risk - one that the Virtus.pro organization clearly isn't afraid of - is that CS:GO could simply stop growing, or see its power in eSports diminish, thus making their team overpaid. It's a realistic concern, though with how well the economics of CS:GO work around the majors being funded by skins and stickers, it doesn't seem too realistic. Which leads us to the other side of the coin, the risk for the Poles who signed on the dotted line.
There does exist a real risk that Counter-Strike will blow up within two years in a way that will make even "the most expensive Counter-Strike contracts of all-time" seem too little. There is a real chance CS:GO will be big enough in a year that the Polish side will be underpaid by then. Of course, terms can always be re-negotiated, and there may be clauses for performance based bonuses for the players. Still, the risk is never fully eliminated; it can only be hedged.
What if this is just the beginning?
Why they did it
Considering the previous risk for the players, one might wonder if it wouldn't have made more sense for the Polish players to negotiate a customary one year contract to guarantee their security for 2015, before looking into years past it. However, there's a lesson to be learned from the history of the team's core, consisting of NEO, TaZ and Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski - and it completely explains their behavior, and help anyone understand why they chose to take a risk in this situation.
Throughout their careers, and this especially applies for the first two, the Poles have struggled to find solid organizations despite constantly being a threat at every event to win, winning multiple major titles dating back as far as 2006, and being one of the teams with the most supporting fan bases around. They've had some bad luck, and they've made some bad choices. However, now they have a strong backing from Virtus.pro, so why risk it?
It may well be that especially in the latter days of their careers, with some players starting their families and possibly at least subconsciously realizing their careers can only extend for so long, they have started to appreciate consistency and security. Wondering whether a paycheck will, or will not, come in on its supposed date, is not a feeling anyone should have to feel. Add in the high variance of payoff durations for tournament winnings, and it actually makes perfect sense for a professional player who lives off of Counter-Strike to secure their salary.
NEO & TaZ have always struggled with organizations
This is another interesting side of Counter-Strike that has never been discussed much and hasn't been very relevant because so little official information has been available.
Hopefully Virtus.pro announcing the contracts with this much detail - a hilarious way to put it considering how little we know, but still a big change - will lead to others following suit.
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