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Why NAVI overpay for players, and what CIS transfer market is like right now – CEO HR Blog

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Hi. My name is Alex Magician Slabukhin, and I’m the CEO of HellRaisers. There was a huge reshuffle in the CIS Dota 2 professional scene in September this year. We’ve already seen a few big transfers, but that’s just the beginning as eventually all teams will undergo certain changes. Often reshuffles baffle players: why did they give up that player, how do all these behind-the-scenes things work, why didn’t they buy that player? I’ll do my best to explain how these processes work to, hopefully, make it easier for you to understand the reasoning behind some of your favorite teams’ decisions.


Why such a vigorous reshuffle

Right now is the perfect moment to build a Dota 2 team. Valve released a compendium this year without The International. Next year the developers plan to add a Battle Pass too, collecting the prize pool this way again. This money can be used for the following: first- double the prize pool of The International, second- distribute the prize pool from the first compendium among DPC tournaments. That’s why it makes sense to make a team now that will improve and confidently compete throughout the season. Perhaps, many organizations will try to sign even two equal and battle-ready teams since when Valve finally announces its plans, there may simply not be enough free agents in the scene, and organizations will have to either pay huge amounts of money to buy players from other teams, or take risks and sign new ones. Our clubs understand that with the current lineups, they may not be able to get far in The International or the Majors, and this is what makes the global reshuffle a logical solution.

Making a competitive roster is hard even right now as there aren’t many players to choose from. Many CIS players join European or American teams, like Fng, while European players don’t seem too eager to join ours. Some become streamers, too. And it’s not just about the salaries and terms that CIS clubs can offer, but rather the competition. The level of play is higher in Europe, and top players want that. Nobody is going to be satisfied with just the salary now, everybody wants to play for a team that wants to compete and win.


Do insiders affect transfers?

I have a mixed opinion on transfer leaks. On one hand, they can benefit the organization. For example, when someone finds out that our player is currently being tested in another club, this can create a certain hype around said player and therefore his price will go up. Moreover, all kinds of transfer rumors bring attention to the team and increase its popularity.

On the other hand, usually a website or an insider that posts the leak is the one who gets all the traffic and views. However, if we keep it all a secret, then the audience will go to our sources and social media. As a result, fans going to our website will also see the ads and possibly even click on them. That’s why leaks can be a double-edged sword.

At some point I was even thinking about posting some interesting information online on purpose. This is how we got my “Insiders” series on YouTube where we share news and information about our transfer market to help people understand what’s going on inside the club.


Why are transfer prices not public?

Let’s imagine this: I’m selling a player to a club, and I’m asking for $5,000, but they only offer me $100. However, I know that the club recently sold its player for $10,000 which makes me believe that the team can in fact afford the price I’m asking for.

I’m going to tell you a story without mentioning any names. I know that both we and NAVI were interested in a player, and we were offered completely different prices. Let’s say, NAVI’s price was a lot higher. From what I understand, NAVI are aware of this, as well as other players. It’s clear that prices for NAVI can be much higher because of the club’s traffic. For example, if NAVI were interested in our player, I know that the club could pay the amount of money I’d be asking for. And when another club, let’s say Khan, wants that player, I know I wouldn’t be able to give them the same offer, since that team simply doesn’t have the ability to pay that much. That’s why I always look at the organization’s budget first.

A similar situation can happen with Virtus.pro: if I were selling them a player, I’d keep in mind that the club has recently bought CS:GO and Rainbow Six Siege teams, which means the organization is able to pay more than the market price. But then again, this is just my subjective opinion, since everything will still go down to how the negotiations go.


Esports buy-out clause

Football has a term called “buy-out clause”, which means a sum of money that needs to be paid to a club if one wants to buy their player without bargaining. It’s usually calculated by a certain formula, and it’s managed by the player’s agent. We don’t have that in esports. In Dota, barely anyone has agents except for a few players. Here, the buy-out clause can be whatever the club wants, and the player won’t bother looking into it either.

I once had a situation where I wanted to buy a player but couldn’t make a deal with the club. Then I asked for the buy-out clause. They sent me a screenshot where it said that it was determined by the club, and the player received a percentage from it. In these cases, the amount of money can be sky-high. Legally, you can somehow prove that that price is much higher than the player’s salary. But in that case you’d have to take legal action, which will take a year or even a year and a half. Everyone can do that, but nobody does.


Gentlemen’s agreement.

Representitatives of CIS clubs once got together to discuss the approach to transfers. We tried to agree upon some prices, a certain formula that would be used to calculate a transfer price to make it so all market participants can understand how much they’d need to pay or ask for a player.

However, we realized that all these things would still be within a gentlemen’s agreement, and everyone would consider the club’s budget during transfers anyway. We simply don’t have a regulatory authority like the UEFA in football that would say how a price should be calculated, how a salary shouldn’t be higher than a certain number and so on. This should be done by Valve, but they aren’t willing to do so.

No one won’t be able to do it for Valve in the near future either. Let’s imagine that the ESF decided to do this, and a club broke some rules during a transfer, then what? The ESF representatives would go to Maincast and say, “This team or player shouldn’t compete in this tournament because they broke the transfer rules”. But Maincast’s tournament would start very soon, and all the contracts with sponsors had already been signed, what would they get from banning that team?

And the studio’s representatives would simply say, “No. What can you do?”. Only Valve can affect this situation. Anyway, certain gentlemen’s agreements are still honored by our clubs. 

I haven’t yet had a situation where someone tried to get our player without letting me know beforehand first. Sometimes players start talking to the other club’s representatives behind the management’s back though. In that case, I just contact that team’s managers, and that problem is solved. Other CEOs have contacted me several times regarding this matter too. All of this is dealt with without any conflicts. Esports is business of course, nobody wants to mess things up with each other, since our industry is pretty small yet, and you may eventually have to work with these people again.


Everybody’s afraid of transfers

However, even despite gentlemen’s agreements, all clubs are somewhat afraid of transfer deals. What usually happens during them? I pay another club that then terminates the contract with the player, and that player signs a new contract with me. And this is when we get certain concerns. One party is worried that as soon as they terminate the agreement, we’ll refuse to pay, and the player will go somewhere else, and we’re concerned that after we give the club the money, the player will not want to sign an agreement with us.

We have our own transfer protocol that protects both parties. That’s what we use in all our deals, and it’s never failed us. We send it to the other club’s lawyers, and when they agree on it, only then the whole transfer process starts. I’m going to be honest, I haven’t had any scandalous transfers or any attempts from other organizations to do something dishonest so far.

I can also say that Aleksei xaoc Kucherov helped me a lot with transfers, explaining all the details of this process, which is something I’m really grateful for.


In conclusion

I want to add that most information about how transfers are made is available to the public. This can help you understand the reasonings behind your favorite clubs’ decisions and let you look at the scene from a different perspective. However, I agree with the idea that many organizations should be more open with their fans and avoid phrases like “we’ll part ways” after a player’s been sold. At the end of the day, esports, just like any media industry, is a gladiatorial arena, and the audience wants a good show. Our task as organizations is to give them that show.


This was the first part of my blog, in the next one I’ll talk about player agreements, and how lineups are formed.