a free agent like jaedong is potentially system breaking. he is so valuable to a team's success that the pre-established norms of the wage scale will be shattered. jaedong is a young and proven player in his prime. in real terms, he is the difference between an average team and a potential title contender. put him on a team like KTF or KHAN, these team's already substantial investment would be validated. instead of being good but never good enough to beat the likes of T1 or CJ, these mid-upper tier teams would become instant favorites. these should be teams that stand to reap the greatest value from a jd signing. given the tremendous value of jaedong, even a team like t1 wouldn't be faulted for signing him. that they already have a huge payroll, in relative terms, raises jd's value to them even more. this is because if a strong rival signs jd, t1 will face a high chance of losing. the swing between signing jd and seeing him land on a rival team is especially great for t1 given that they won, and that their investment is already large. given jaedong's acknowledged skill and performance, especially against other top players, we can say that he is the most valuable player of all. but that alone isn't what makes him valuable in cash terms, what makes him valuable is that he is a free agent. teams are given a choice, and with that choice comes potential for gain and loss. as in the situation with t1, jd represents the difference between a successful season and a failed one. jd's relative value is unquestionably high, what remains a mystery is his value in absolute terms. we already have reference points in the salary of other players, but they are not uncolored data. given the shoddy fa structure, it is highly likely that these other players are underpaid. further, esports doesn't seem like a stable business, with the revolving door of sponsors and chaotic shuffling of bodies claiming to be esports authority. to assess jd's fair value, we should do so from the ground up, from the financial situation of the teams and the industry at large.
in a cash flush sport like mlb, what has happened so far can be pretty damning evidence of collusion. despite the appearance of rivalry and competition, owners stand to gain from cooperation. bodies like kespa are organized to not only regulate play, but to sanction who can play, and what leagues count. these controls suggest that whoever in charge of the industry are not zombies. it is reasonable that they would extend the already monopolistic control over labor into the fa market. however, this is esports. although there are nominally two tv channels and many tournaments organized for starcraft, it is not clear how much money the industry is rolling around with. i do not have these figures in front of me, nor will i look for them. as a smell test, however, keep in mind that esports is a business of advertising. the teams are vehicles for the brand of sponsors. thus, outside of the revenue progaming generates alone, the value of team prestige in telecom and other sponsor industries should also be taken into account. things should be simple at this point, right? if we have figures for how much gain a jd represents in the assorted values a progaming team provides, a marketable face, a winning charisma, awareness of franchise name (which are identical to sponsor brand) among lucrative teens and young men etc, then we will get a figure for how much jd's fair value is. in other words, what he produces, and the price a fair market would give him. except, there is barely a market, let alone a fair market.
we can forego the fair value calculation by noting that this is not how players' salaries, or for that matter, progaming sponsor money is determined in reality. to understand why, we can examine the various "drafts" of professional sports and how rookie negotiations go. what matters isn't the fair value of the players, but how much they are willing to sign for. a nascent scene like progaming has no leverage of its own. the players are faced with either signing or not doing anything. a nascent scene like progaming represents two risk-taking sides. the sponsors who invest tentatively, and players who decide that playing games is the way to go. even assuming that, In the Beginning, K_sp_ aka YHWH created a perfectly free market in progaming, the principle of "it only takes one foolish player" will be operative to lower salaries. as long as there are enough players who accept to give their time and live on the teams, there is no reason to raise their treatment on the part of teams. the teams are free to negotiate from a basepoint of their own choosing, until they get the lowest cost possible. this is not a fair tactic. of course, the beginnings of this business is likely to be much more messy.
a useful study to prove this point might be one that analyzes the change in player salaries through the ages, and compare that series with the state of the scene. reasonably, we may expect that as the value of the industry go up, player compensation will go up accordingly. since the top level star contracts are more volatile and subject to special situations, a better measure might be the value of the median contract, or the acknowledged "veteran minimum." a fair measure of the size of the industry might be the ratings numbers for progaming programs on tv. however, keep in mind that the goal of this analysis is to see whether a fair market exists, and anything short of direct correlation would suggest otherwise. this is true even in the case where wages stay high despite a shrinking scene. it is possible that players' compensation are so out of whack and minimal that a shrinking scene still guarantees that they are profitable signings.
the question naturally arise, if players are underpaid, why wont some team step up and compete the contracts higher. the answer is that, the industry controls both the labor supply and demand. one has to be certified to be a progamer, and collusion remains a distinct possibility. driving up the wage level may be of temporary benefit to a particular team, but there is also the cost of raising the price of progamer labor in general. why risk this when the powers that be can negotiate before hand a strategy to control cost while still getting their players. after all, the players have no say in this matter, especially the minimum wage earners. another thing to consider is that nascent scenes do not often feature smart and efficient managements, or enthusiastic sponsors willing or able to have stable budgets for the teams.
even without such information, we may still do a reverse engineering analysis and get a smell test ballpark of jd's situation.
let's assume that the current investment levels for the various teams are sustainable. (in other words, the sponsors etc find their cost reasonable given their needs) then, t1 paid t amount to win the league, while estro or fox paid a lesser amount f (as in fail) to finish near the rear. then, the value of winning the league is around the neighborhood of the difference between t and f. if jaedong raises, on average, the chance of winning the league by 25% in absolute terms, then we may expect his value to be around 1/4th of the difference in "franchise value" between the winning team and the bottom feeder. this is obviously a raw estimate. given the revenue of the teams' sponsors in their respective industries, it seems that the value of a winning prestige in starcraft is lucrative.
still, these unknowns are on the side of jd's value being higher rather than lower. a hugely conservative estimate would find that in a fair negotiation, with jd properly exercising his leverages and no collusion, he should be expecting a substantial raise. due to lack of figures here, i will not give concrete numbers. not because i don't think jd's fair value is not important knowledge, but because it is really rendered irrelevant given the following rule:
a team that signs jd must pay 2x jd's previous contract to oz.
this is not only a direct monetary cost to jd's potential suitors, it is also hugely in violation of any sort of competitive sense. assuming that the team who gets paid reinvests that money on players (not that safe of an assumption), and that star contracts are often not as efficient as signing emerging talent without the leverage of proven work, this rule directly works against the competitive value of jd in terms of winning games. even a farce of a players' union would not tolerate this hilarious rule, but here we are.
in any case, fans should withhold judgment on whether jaedong is demanding too much etc until the financial situation of the business becomes more clear. given how the fa system is currently setup, and the bare vacuum of power that players have, potential for abuse on the side of management is high. jaedong's parents especially shouldn't be reflexively blamed. the parents are the only source of advice on the players' side. regardless of their wisdom, we can be sure that the parents are at least not out to screw the players.
some additional points.
a common argument in favor of sheepish demands on the part of players is that doing so would be in the best interest of the sport at large, since it minimizes labor friction, an unwanted controversy. however, a conflict arises out of disagreement between two parties, either of which has the power to accept the other's demands and thereby resolve the conflict. if players are guilty of making a fuss, then management is making a fuss too. the question of who is more at fault cannot be answered until we have a fair idea of the business side of things, and players' fair values. further, we have already seen the various organizational devices operating in favor of owners. even if we think player contracts are "what they deserve," the fact that these contracts are forged within a manifestly unfair process is still damning enough.
similarly, it is true that times are tough for advertising. esports teams are advertising vehicles for their sponsors, so their budget won't be that high. this suggests a "make do with less" argument. however, it is also commonly expected that players bear all the costs of this "make do with less" yet still supply the same product. why is this the case? because they don't own the branding and franchises, nor do they have control over the sport. even if it is true that industry-wide belt tightening is a necessity, players should not be expected to have any "duty" of thrift. rather, their choice is constrained by them being dependents. they either accept lower wages or are faced with the prospect of not having contracts. in this respect, they have as much right to choose what to do with their time as the companies do with their money.