I haven't heard anything about the KeSPA vs GOM conflict since KeSPA seemingly caved last week. For those who have forgotten what happened, KeSPA originally stated that they would not send players to GSL 4 (the one that just started) or GSL 5. A group of GSL players led by Nestea countered by threatening to pull out of the OSL; all but one GSL player pledged to leave. KeSPA then made a statement promising to send players to GSL 5, but that was not enough to placate the GSL players, who continued to hold out. Finally, KeSPA conceded completely and sent 90 players to the GSL 4 prelims (and also allowed Jaedong and by.Sun to compete in Code S). But in this blog I'm going to explain why KeSPA will withdraw its players from the GSL as soon as it feels it can do so without repercussions.
In comments on the situation from TL and reddit, it was interesting that no one was speculating on KeSPA's motives. Or at least they were doing so vaguely. "They want a monopoly on the big name players." "They want to shut out anyone who doesn't dance to their fiddle." Every post that tried to explain KeSPA's actions seemed confusing to me.
So I'm going to try to explain the intent behind KeSPA's actions. By looking at what KeSPA wants and at what assets they have to help them get what they want, we'll be able to see that this conflict between GOM and KeSPA has not gone away and is in danger of splitting the SC2 scene in two in the coming months.
Before we begin, it's important to realize that KeSPA and the Proleague proteams are essentially one and the same. The decision-making body in KeSPA is made up of people from all the different sponsors/owners of proteams.
Let's flash back to 2007. IEG (International Esports Group) was a company sponsoring the proteam eSTRO. One day, KeSPA decided that they, as the administrators of all SC:BW events, owned the rights to broadcast such events. They put the rights up for auction for a three year period. OGN and MBC neglected to bid on those rights (because they did not recognize KeSPA's legitimacy in claiming those rights) and IEG snapped them up. A few months later, IEG started negotiations with MBC/OGN, stating that those two broadcasting companies needed to pay IEG for the rights to run leagues. During this time, KeSPA was strongly supporting IEG in their negotiations. MBC and OGN fought back, refusing IEG's demands outright, and talks broke down repeatedly. But when KeSPA pulled all of their players from the MSL qualifiers, OGN and MBC quickly caved. They simply couldn't run their tournaments without KeSPA players.
So KeSPA wanted money to help offset the cost of running proteams. They used their assets (the players on their proteams) to accomplish the goal of pressuring OGN/MBC to give them money. That statement might make no sense since OGN/MBC were paying IEG, not KeSPA itself. But KeSPA needed OGN/MBC to pay IEG, or broadcasting rights to KeSPA-run leagues would be essentially worthless. It's not like any company would purchase broadcasting rights from KeSPA if they had no guarantee that they'd be able to make the broadcasting companies pay up.
After the fracas in 2007, there was stability in the ESPORTS ecosystem. The broadcasting companies essentially paid KeSPA via IEG, and KeSPA used the money to run the proteam houses. Not a bad system overall, and not a system that casts KeSPA in such a bad light, I think. Running a proteam house is expensive!
But once GOM entered the scene, a wrench was thrown into the mix. GOM started a brand new SC:BW league in 2008 and refused to pay IEG a dime for broadcasting rights. Three teams boycotted the first GOM Classic Starleague: eSTRO, MBCgame HERO, and OGN Sparkyz. It shouldn't be difficult to work out exactly why each of those teams felt that it wasn't in their best interest to participate (recall that eSTRO was sponsored by IEG).
GOM preferred to deal with Blizzard, who they saw as the legitimate holders of Starcraft broadcasting rights. This created a problem for KeSPA. Its players (aka its assets) were being used for the benefit of another corporation without anything in return beyond sponsor exposure. The fact that GOM was not paying IEG meant that the value of KeSPA's broadcasting rights was not increasing. GOM paying Blizzard also set a troubling precedent for that KeSPA desperately hoped OGN and MBC would not follow. So KeSPA teams gradually began withdrawing from the league, citing scheduling issues / overwork for the players. In the third season of the league, SKT1 withdrew. Before the fourth season could start, KT, STX Soul, and Airforce ACE withdrew. Blizzard entered into negotiations with KeSPA to try to save the league, but the talks failed. In late 2009, with only five teams participating, the GSL ceased to be.
Fast forward to 2012. An identical situation is taking place. GOM is not paying IEG (although I'm not sure if IEG has rights to anything but Proleague anymore) and is certainly not paying KeSPA. So KeSPA, naturally, withdrew their players from GSL. Once again, their assets were being used in a way that did not benefit them beyond sponsorship exposure. But this time, they had to back down. They no longer held all the cards. GSL would have survived without KeSPA players, and OGN would have been dealt a crippling blow without half of its Ro16.
In six months, what will the situation be like? If you're a believer in the superiority of KeSPA players, you might expect half of Code S to be made up of them by then. That means the blade that Nestea and co. had at the neck of OGN will be turned on GOM.
Just like in 2007, KeSPA will be able to use their players as leverage in talks with GOM/Blizzard. The threat of withdrawal from GSL will be very real. KeSPA will be able to make new demands from a position of power. And if past relations between Blizzard/GOM and KeSPA are any indication, negotiations will fail and KeSPA will withdraw its players as a result. Last week, KeSPA chose to announce its non-participation in GSL right before the OSL Ro16, leaving them open to a counter-boycott. Next time around, they can choose better timing for their announcement of withdrawal.
So that's my prediction. A counterargument to this blog might be the idea that Blizzard will swoop in and threaten KeSPA with the shutdown of Proleague/OSL in order to convince them to send players to the GSL. However, I believe that this is extremely unlikely. If I were Blizzard, I would treat that kind of threat as a nuclear option -- one to be used as a last resort. A threat of total shutdown might be the cue for KeSPA to switch away from SC2 entirely. I think Blizzard is afraid of that possibility, given SC2's unpopularity in Korea. Blizzard Korea has also been seemingly ineffectual during this whole fiasco. They were caught completely off guard by KeSPA's actions and they did not release a public statement with any substance during the whole affair. Don't expect Blizzard to ride in on a white horse and save GSL in the event that KeSPA withdraws its players.