So You Want to Make a Union

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Today on Twitter there was once again some great discussion on the glut of tournaments in Smash 4 and the need for an offseason. Some great points were brought up, and a central theme came to light–the notion of a player union in Smash.

I wanted to talk a bit more about the concept of an offseason, it’s need, and why it is not the responsibility of individual players to create their own offseason. Then, I want to create a picture of how, if players wanted to make it happen, a Smash 4 players union might be structured, and how it would accomplish it’s goals.

Protect the Players

First, lets understand the issues with tournament over-saturation. To make a career in Smash, one has to be extremely popular with the fanbase. They also need to be on an esports team earning a salary and getting help with travel/expenses. In order to accomplish those things, players need to do three things. They need to be on stream, active on social media, and high on the PGR. All three of these goals are most efficiently accomplished by attending tournaments. By placing well in tournaments, they get more time on the stream, gain more followers on social, and earn more points for the PGR.

When a player skips a tournament, they are giving up their turn in the conversation. This isn’t a big issue for top stars like Nairo, ANTi, or ESAM, but it’s a major issue for the next tier, or any aspiring pros. A player like Samsora is irrelevant to the average smash fan any weekend he’s not at a tournament. That’s not to say anything bad about Samsora, dude’s awesome. However, it should help explain why players feel a need to attend every event. Even players like ZeRo and Dabuz, who’s persona in the community is built around their tournament success, suffer losses in views and interest when they aren’t actively in front of the fans at tournaments.

Players on teams also have a major responsibility to attend all the tournaments they can. Smash 4 content is notoriously poor in terms of view and share metrics. Only Nairo generates relevant stream numbers where big sponsors are concerned, and most YouTube channels for pros have paltry subscriber counts. Tournaments are where the organization and their sponsors get all of their meaningful awareness in Smash. If there is a tournament on a given weekend and your sponsored player is not there, a competing org is getting all of those eyeballs, and your brand is completely out of the conversation for a full week.

Now, obviously none of this is fair, or even reasonable. Organizations shouldn’t put pressure on their players to attend events, players shouldn’t feel obligated to attend every event. However, this is the reality. Any player who feels this pressure is completely reasonable for feeling it. It takes incredible mental fortitude and personal confidence to be able to miss out on tournaments and not immediately fear for the future of your career.

Therefore, a system in which players are responsible for their own attendance at events is simply not practical. If a player wants to protect their Smash career, it is perfectly natural for them to feel a need to attend everything. We can talk about protecting yourself from burnout all we want, but as said before, this takes incredible mental strength that most people simply don’t have. I know I couldn’t do it if I were trying to make a run at being a pro smash player. I would absolutely feel an obligation to attend every PGR-sanctioned tournament I possibly could.

Making A Union

So, there are essentially only two available solutions to this problem. Either A) a committee of TOs and influencers forms to create a global structure for competitive smash, or B) the players unionize and force change to take place. The two are not mutually exclusive and I believe both would be beneficial in the long run, especially if we never see any direct involvement from Nintendo. I’ve written before about a how a smash committee might function, so let’s focus on structuring a players union for now.

First, we need to address the goals of a union. The purpose of any union is to protect the rights of those in the union, and to work towards creating structures that make the workplace better for them. In the context of Smash, a players union would protect players from harmful practices (unjust bans, TOs not paying out, bad team contracts, etc). It would also represent the interests of the players in matters of competitive structure (rulesets, oversaturation, payout structure, PGR methodology, etc). By uniting, the players would have one strong voice in all matters, and be able to create more influence in the competitive structure of the sport.

Members of the union would be in the conversation about stagelists and rulesets. The union would be able to influence which tournaments mattered for points. They’d be able to demand things like an offseason, or scheduled breaks from competition. With this organized force, they would force other forces within smash to become organized in order to work together to find common ground that works for everyone involved in the sport.

Let’s take the example of an offseason. Let’s say that the union determined that players needed one month out of the year where no tournaments could count for rankings or have significant prize support. The union would discuss and vote on how that would be structured. Representatives would meet with major TOs and the PGR crew to discuss their concerns. Then, then union would issue a statement and create a bylaw for its members. The bylaw would state that all players within the union agree to not attend any tournament during that month that offers a pot bonus over $1000, or awards PGR ranking consideration. If the union remained strong and held to this bylaw, no TO or rankings organization would bother breaking it because their tournament would be guaranteed to fail.

Key Players

For a union to work, it has to have influence within the scene. Therefore, at least 80% of the players on the following list would have to agree to join the union and abide by its decisions:

  • ZeRo
  • Nairo
  • Dabuz
  • Ally
  • Larry Lurr
  • VoiD
  • Mr. R
  • Abadango
  • Komorikiri
  • Kameme
  • MKLeo
  • ANTi
  • Marss
  • Zinoto
  • Tweek
  • Captain Zack
  • Rich Brown
  • ESAM
  • Fatality
  • Fow
  • Locus
  • MVD
  • Ned

These are the players with the most influence in the Smash 4 scene based on their competitive careers, social media, content, and general good standing with influencers in the community. They would also be the players most likely to kill a tournament by refusing to attend, thereby giving the union significant influence in policy.

You would obviously want every PGR player and all other relevant competitors in the union, but these would be the key to the success of the organization. Mew2King and Hungrybox would also be helpful players to have in the union, but as their interests are primarily in Melee, it would be unreasonable to expect them to abide by policy which only benefits Smash 4.

Once the union is established, it would then elect three primary representatives and a chairman. The chairman would be responsible for scheduling meetings of the union, making union announcements, and addressing player concerns/complaints. The three representatives would be responsible for representing player interests with other factions within the smash community. They would meet with rules committees and TOs to discuss best practices and be at the table for negotiations on matters like offseasons and payout structure.

Hurdles

Obviously there are significant challenges that come with creating a players union. Many of the players listed above vehemently disagree on matters within smash. Some actively dislike each other. All of these players would have to agree to set aside these differences and accept the decisions made by the union as a whole, and actively support them. If the union decides to actively avoid a tournament, but ANTi goes and tweets about how dumb it is that the union banned it, the union essentially loses all influence.

This sort of union requires commitment, maturity, communication, and professionalism beyond the normal expectations of any pro gamer. However, I certainly think it is possible. If the players want a unified structure, they want protection from bad practices, and they want to be able to hold the smash community accountable, the best way to do so is to unionize.

There are already community members outside of the top players ready to help, and interested in protecting the rights of the players. Whether it’s a union, a TO committee, or a mix of the two, something needs to change. It is time for us to start thinking of ways to create a sustainable future for smash–one where everyone gets paid what they’re worth and the game can continue to grow.

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