It's no surprise that major teams receive the vast majority of the sponsorships, prestige, and attention in the esports industry. Every major sport is this way. What team would you rather be on: The New England Patriots or the New York Dragons? However, the issue of academy teams is a little more complex. The more apt question is: would you rather be on the Dragons or the Patriots practice squad? While both squads receive a salary, there are very different career prospects for players on one team or the other. There is more complexity to this analysis then you would at first expect.
Of course, the traditional sports analogy does not apply in an exact manner to esports academy teams. Academy teams are more than a practice squad. An academy team is a "lower tier" team that is run by a larger organization that also houses a "higher tier" team in the same game. These academy teams do more than practice with the professional squad, they enter into tournaments, leagues, and events as well. The players are generally younger and greener than their main squad brethren. There are benefits to both the players and the organization, and cons:
Pros for Players
The players get increased exposure and fame by playing under an established brand. Most players see a huge increase of social media followers and name recognition when they join an academy team.
The players gain contacts inside the industry. This will help with their esports careers, no matter where they end up years down the road.
The players get (relative) stability by playing for an established and well-known organization. These teams are less likely to fold under financial pressure if they've been successful in the industry for a number of years. They are also more likely to pay their player's salaries in a timely fashion, and less inclined to create negative publicity by mistreating their players.
It is likely a pay increase for most of the players joining the organization, since most academy team players were either unsigned or playing for a minor organization prior to joining the academy team.
Pros for Organizations
The team has complete control over what players they would like to pick up, and can choose to fit their given criteria.
Increased exposure for the organization and its sponsors by having multiple teams, especially if the academy team puts up good results itself.
The younger and greener talent is far cheaper than premium stars already established on the scene.
Younger talent has less weight to bring to the bargaining table, and as a result the organization has nearly full control over the contracting period.
If an academy team does well, it can be sold for a premium to the highest bidder, since the players will be locked into a long term contract. This can allow for a great return on investment on both increased exposure and pure cash value. League of Legends academy teams have sold for as much as 2.5 Million.
Cons for Players
Lack of bargaining power. It's likely the largest difference in bargaining position, given the fact that the organization is a major, well established brand, while the player has likely never played for a serious brand in the past.
Strict contract provisions. This goes hand-in-hand with the prior point. Contracts with major teams will likely include stricter provisions on behavior and streaming/media requirements.
Long term contracts with expensive buyout provisions. These organizations are looking out for their bottom line by developing new talent and making top dollar on their transfer. As a result, teams have gone so far as three year player contracts contracts. Considering the average length of an esports career and general velocity of esports in general, this is quite a arduous provision.
Cons for Organizations
Unknown players are risky. They are taking a chance both in terms of the level of skill, consistency, and behavior of their likely young talent.
Cash investment. While the salaries of academy team members may not be as high as those of their star teams, it is still likely a substantial sum.
Potential for negative publicity should one of their academy team players act in a fashion unbecoming of the organization as a whole.
In the balance, it is likely that academy teams are a benefit to the esports industry as a whole, but there will likely be fringe cases where players are left out in the cold due to unfavorable contract provisions with the academy organizations. At the end of the day, the organizations have to recoup their investment on the teams for it to be a financially sound decision, and the team members are the pawns on the metaphorical chess board.
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