RFRSH’s first steps on the esports floor were shaky. The agency that represents Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams Astralis, Heroic, Godsent, and Norse in terms of marketing, media, and commercial relationships, promised transparency early on but delivered late.
The agency’s latest aim at transparency is a blog post that explains “The RFRSH Modell,” and puts its idea of multiple team co-ownerships across. Following this model, the company wants to develop teams over a period of 36 months, including a potential co-ownership within that time frame.
After this process has concluded, which it calls “launch and establishment,” RFRSH promises to sell any shares it might have. The agency compares the process with the MLS, Formula 1, and other franchise-like set-ups, where “the ownership after ‘launch and establishment’ is transferred/sold off to teams, the public or other investors, and RFRSH Entertainment will not own or control the teams/brands.”
One entity holding multiple team ownerships, even only temporarily, rises questions. The most important one is, how does it avoid a potential conflict of interest?
While, up until now, RFRSH only holds shares in Astralis, the agency’s founder Nikolaj Nyholm told HLTV that it is “in the process of establishing the format for player co-ownership for GODSENT, Heroic and Norse,” as well. This could include shares for RFRSH if an agreement with the teams can be reached.
RFRSH doesn’t “see a conflict in multiple team ownership under this model, as each team is and will be its own entity.” The same sentiment was put forward by SK Gaming’s managing director Alexander Müller in August last year, when he was confronted with questions over SK’s majority owner ESforce Holding, which is the parent company to Virtus Pro as well.
The doubts remain. While most fans and pundits agree that the majority of esports players don’t want to risk their career and legacy to something like match-fixing or other fraudulent behaviour, there have been incidents in the past. In Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the iBUYPOWER scandal is the most prominent case.
Speaking with HLTV, Nyholm says that these scandals didn’t occur under the circumstance of multiple team ownership.
“Also, the cases I know of have all occurred outside a constellation like this, and quite obviously any such activity would be considered a breach of contract and handled professionally, just like it surely would by any other pro-teams out there.”
That doesn’t mean that they couldn’t occur with multiple team ownerships too, though. As long as there’s no overreaching body to rule out multiple team ownerships, be it the developer or the tournament organizers, nobody is really able to prevent an organization of having multiple team ownerships.
Coincidentally, esports wannabe governing body WESA, an association formed last year featuring seven of Europe’s biggest esports brands, yesterday announced a new ruleset that will prohibit multiple team ownerships in every WESA sanctioned event in the future, which to date only concerns the ESL Pro League.
WESA does grant 18 months’ time for compliance to organizations with an existing conflict, however, which is basically tailored for SK Gaming and Virtus Pro—the latter being a member of WESA—but also applies for RFRSH’s teams, if they commit to co-ownership.
To be fair, RFRSH at least comes forward and gives actual insights into its business procedures. That’s already more than most esports organizations are willing to share, often covering themselves under the pretext of commercial confidentiality.
Only time will tell if that’s enough to clear up the doubts. For now, multiple team ownerships remain a growing minefield, where one false step may cost dearly.