The CSPPA is acting as an agent, raising conflict-of-interest concerns
HLTV.org has obtained evidence showing that members of the Counter-Strike Professional Players' Association (CSPPA) have been doing player representation, sparking outrage not just in Flashpoint but also among ESL Pro League teams.
The CSPPA has found itself at the center of controversy following an article by DBLTAP revealing passages of a June 29 letter sent by Flashpoint parent company B Site to the player association. In it, the LA-based company revealed that it was withholding payment of a previously agreed $165,000 fee relating to the license agreement for players’ intellectual property rights for the first edition of the league due to the CSPPA not honouring all of its obligations.
Among the allegations made in the letter is that the CSPPA has created a conflict of interest as members of its core leadership have been acting as agents, representing some players individually. This, B Site added, contributed to the deal between Heroic and FunPlus Phoenix falling through at the last minute after the players had made "new, severely above-market salary demands" which were "based on advice" from the CSPPA's leadership. On Twitter, the CSPPA promptly responded to the allegations and denied having breached any obligations towards Flashpoint. It also rejected the claim that it operated as an agency in the negotiations between the Heroic roster and FunPlus Phoenix, stressing that “providing advice regarding contracts and other legal matters is a core service of the CSPPA”.
However, HLTV.org has seen evidence that shows that senior CSPPA members were commissioned to represent the Danish players late in the negotiation process. Sources close to the transfer also spoke to HLTV.org anonymously stating that the CSPPA’s interference was one of the reasons why the deal fell through, along with Patrick "es3tag" Hansen suddenly deciding to join Astralis, a decision that left the team without one of its most prized assets. FunPlus Phoenix were forced to hastily pick a new team for Phase 2 of Flashpoint 1, settling for the Bad News Bears roster.
Complaints about the CSPPA being directly involved in negotiations as agents go beyond B Site, however. HLTV.org knows that the owners of several ESL Pro League partner teams have also become exasperated by what they see as a clear conflict of interest and demanded that the issue be resolved as a prerequisite for further cooperation with the CSPPA, the minutes of a recent meeting between senior ESL members and representatives of several organisations show.
One of those owners, Nicolas Maurer of Vitality, told HLTV.org that he believes that the CSPPA’s dual role of player association and agency “affects the possibility to get proper player representation" and can lead to “information being misused”.
"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,” Mr. Maurer added. “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."
Player representation by the CSPPA is done through the Danish Elite Athletes Association (DEF), which receives a percentage of salary and individual sponsorship agreements in return, information obtained shows. The CSPPA told HLTV.org that the DEF has not represented anyone except Astralis' members and coach Danny "zonic" Sørensen, but sources have said that players from a number of other teams have received transfer enquiries from CSPPA members, leaving organisation owners dumbfounded and enraged at the player association's meddling in transfer business.
The DEF, which according to its official website is "a non-governmental and fully independent association of athletes which safeguards the interests of all Danish elite athletes", was heavily involved in the creation of the CSPPA in June 2018 along with broadcast veteran Scott "SirScoots" Smith and a group of players with Astralis member Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth at the helm. As explained in a recent article by Richard Lewis for Dexerto, “a significant part of its [CSPPA’s] infrastructure and influence came from amalgamating with the DEF”. Ties between the CSPPA and the DEF, while not always clear, are undeniable: they are separate legal entities but share the same address and also part of the same core structure. Mads Øland is the CEO of the CSPPA and the director of the DEF, while Michael Døi is the COO of the CSPPA and remains a legal advisor to the DEF after leaving his position as COO of the athletes association in November 2019, according to his LinkedIn page.
In a statement provided to HLTV.org, the CSPPA reiterated that providing agency services "is in line with what many other players’ associations across the world provides for its members." Still, it remains to be seen how this issue, if not addressed, will affect the CSPPA's relationship with ESL and B Site, which host the two biggest leagues in Counter-Strike. The CSPPA is currently in discussions with Flashpoint over a three-year partnership and has reached several agreements with ESL/DreamHack this year, including a framework agreement for the ESL Pro Tour and an Event Minimum Standards.
You can find the complete statement from the CSPPA below:
Facts about DEF-sport and Astralis players
The Danish Elite Athletes Association (DEF-sport) is a Danish players’ association for elite athletes established in 2005. DEF-sport has along with the other Danish players’ associations in sports offered agency services for many years, including since 2017 to the Astralis players in CS:GO.
In 2017 (1 year before CSPPA was founded), DEF-Sport was contacted by the Astralis players, as they needed assistance with regards to their player contracts. Since 2017, DEF-sport has assisted the Astralis players with agency services in line with what DEF-sport offer for other Danish athletes in other sports and what the Danish unions in sport has provided for many years. Providing such agency services is in line with what many other players’ associations across the world provides for its members. DEF-sport is a non-profit and any funds received by DEF-sport on the basis of such agency services are used by the association (according to the decisions of the DEF-sport board of athletes) to provide membership benefits for all members. DEF-Sport currently does not represent any other professional CS:GO players than the Astralis players and the Astralis coach.
Facts about CSPPA and DEF-Sport
The CSPPA is an association set up in Denmark under Danish law to improve the working conditions of CS:GO players worldwide. CSPPA is a non-profit without owners and any profit in the association is solely used to provide membership benefits 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.
During the negotiations between the CSPPA and ESL, DreamHack and EPL member teams regarding the ESL Pro Tour in fall 2019, CSPPA disclosed and explained Mads' and Michaels' involvement in DEF-Sport to ESL and the team representatives present during the negotiations.
Improving the working conditions of players in professional CS:GO is the core goal of the CSPPA. During the last year, the CSPPA has looked to improve working conditions of players by entering into framework agreements with tournament organizers including Flashpoint, ESL and DreamHack. These collective bargaining agreements include certain minimum standards with regards to contracts that teams are encouraged to follow. In addition, the CSPPA currently provides free general advice for members.
Facts about CSPPA's help to the Heroic players
In March 2020, shortly before the start of Flashpoint 1, FunPlus and Heroic were in talks about a transfer of all the Heroic players and the coach to FunPlus. This was reported publicly. Shortly ahead of Flashpoint 1 starting, the players were asked to fly to the United States in order to participate in Flashpoint 1 and were informed that a buyout between Heroic and FunPlus was imminent. At this time, the players had not been presented with individual contracts and were concerned about their situation. On the night before the players travelled to the United States, the Heroic players reached out to the CSPPA, as they felt pressure with respect to their individual contracts was in need of advice and asked for CSPPA to assist. The players were presented with long and complex player contracts which the organizations required to be completed within a very short time frame.
As the work associated with such contracts would require substantial assistance which is outside what the CSPPA can offer to individual players, a management setup with DEF-sport was discussed with those players who did not have existing agency representation. A draft agency agreement for such players was presented by DEF-sport to the players, but was never entered into or effected. CSPPA continued to help the players free of charge, as the players were in a tough and challenging situation. Neither the CSPPA nor DEF-sport have received any payments from the Heroic players in respect of the advice provided.