NaVi CEO: “We’re without investment right now; we’re breaking even, but are paying our own way” | News
Speaking to Cybersport.ru during the unveiling of Natus Vincere’s new sponsor, OMEN by HP, the team’s CEO, Yevhen Zolotarov compared NaVi’s Dota 2 and CS:GO rosters in terms of player discipline, mentioned the key clauses in the teams’ contracts, and named games in which NaVi may start rosters going forward.
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Your Dota 2 roster is to be reshuffled after The International 2018. Are contracts going to present a problem there? Lil said his was until the end of this year.
We’ve kept our existing contracts with each of the guys. There’s a clause that allows us to bench players while paying them a halved salary. We don’t know how the situation is going to develop; perhaps there’ll be buyers for some of them, or else we’ll want to sell/trade a player. Keeping the current contracts is the most rational thing to do.
What are your org’s priorities when drafting contracts? Is it terms, the option to bench, or something else?
It’s always been evolving. Back before I joined NaVi, there was this story with KuroKy and Puppey, who left the org because of a missing signature somewhere. Then it turned out we had no benching option; then we wrote in the possibility for the guys to get personal sponsors. It’s quite likely the contracts as they are now aren’t in their final shape and the market will demand that we do new things.
A player as a brand ambassador is a challenge for us; it’s a good tool of [growing] player loyalty to NaVi. Everybody wins, I think.
It’s [also] critically important for us to have a list of obligations; even though we’re yet to fine anyone under contractual terms rather than internal agreements within the roster.
Does Lil’s contract include provisions related to his Twitter activities?
No, [his] is a completely standard contract. Lil never said anything he shouldn’t have, either; I just don’t always agree with the form in which he presents his thoughts, but legally speaking, he’s not violated anything.
You’ve mentioned that you allow players to sign personal contracts with sponsors…
With NaVi as the middle man.
Lil has a standard contract, according to Zolotarov
N0thing, formerly of Cloud9, said that American players are being impeded from growing their personal brands. Why are you instead opting to allow it?
The organization owns the players’ media rights and, based on their contracts, we could bar them from having personal sponsors. But those are [new] opportunities for the guys, as well as a chance for us as an agency to give it a try with cases that are outside NaVi’s standard marketing activities. A player as a brand ambassador is a challenge for us; it’s a good tool of [growing] player loyalty to NaVi. Everybody wins, I think. The only condition is the absence of a direct conflict of interest. For instance, we can’t sell one of our players’ personal sponsorship to Red Bull.
Does NaVi’s withdrawal from the Adrenaline Cup have anything to do with it?
No, it’s just because of our schedule. We don’t have sponsor-imposed bans on taking part in tournaments. When we were confirming our invite, I wrote to Monster Energy, and they told me there was no problem.
Zeus is our region’s greatest Counter-Strike media figure; his vlogs get a very large number of views. Is it perhaps frustrating that NaVi aren’t getting anything from it?
No, it’s not frustrating, because every rule has its exceptions. Zeus returned to NaVi while being under certain contracts and obligations, and we didn’t want to interfere with that. But if we bring him a deal or he finds one himself, he’ll get the same conditions as the other guys.
People remember things about each other, they hear things, and it makes putting a roster together more complicated.
You’ve tried an international Dota roster. Is it possible you’ll revisit this idea?
It’s an option that exists. The CIS has a lot of free-agent players, many are writing to us themselves and are interested. But whether we’ll be able to take five separate players and make something work… However, you also have to understand the sort of Dota 2 pro player community we have. An argument in a pub game can be seen as a good reason for people to refuse to play together. People remember things about each other, they hear things, and it makes putting a roster together more complicated. On paper, it’s fairly simple: you determine the roles, look at the stats, and arrange interviews. In reality, though, it’s slightly different.
You’ve said that the most important thing for NaVi is a friendly atmosphere and an absence of conflicts between the players and the management. Does this not get in the way of shaping professional ethics? In other words, players have an understanding that they have to obey the org that’s paying them, they have to forget about any conflicts with those they have to play together with.
What you’re saying is right, but the human factor makes the reality a bit different. They have to forget everything that’s happened in the game, but can they? How seriously are they treating it? Sadly, there are problems.
It’s [also] a question of discipline. In Counter-Strike, we have a strict hierarchy and everything works on a professional level. There may be conflicts after every unsuccessful tournament, every unsuccessful game, but the guys draw the right conclusions, and the consequences aren’t critical.
Ugin, the CS:GO roster manager
So it’s a Dota problem?
I can’t say. It’s probably our Dota problem, a NaVi Dota problem. We’ve kept the same [player] backbone for a long time, we’ve been under external pressure, the guys have had opportunities to draw conclusions based on others’ points of view. It’s quite complicated, and I don’t see a perfect, magic-pill solution for now.
It’s common practice for players to become shareholders of their clubs. SumaiL in Evil Geniuses is an example. Does NaVi have players like that?
No, that’s a pipe dream. After they end their careers, yes, gladly. Some may get a share if they’ve dedicated many years to the org; some may get a position. A new one, or an old one: sports manager, coach or ambassador, it doesn’t matter. But as practice has shown with OG, Astralis and others, any reshuffle breaks the system, and clubs have no answer to that. Where are ppd and Fly’s shares? They got an option plan, though the orgs had to be sold first?
We’re without investment right now; we’re breaking even, but are paying our own way. We need to be tight with our calculations to make it profitable within our business model.
A new esports federation has been started in Ukraine. Are large brands like NaVi interacting with such institutions?
We don’t prohibit individual players from doing so. Some — Yozhyk is one, I think — are already members of that federation. But we can’t be bothered for the moment. If there are any concrete steps or things are made easier with regards to visas, status, and such… So far, it’s been announcements and handing out t-shirts.
We’re looking at Artifact, R6 Siege, and Fortnite. We probably won’t be able to do them all, but some titles will be added.
Artifact is coming soon, and there’s a $100 million prize pool in Fortnite. Are you planning on expanding your range of titles?
“To buy something you don’t need, you have to sell something you don’t need.” [A quote from a popular Soviet-era animated film — Trans.] We’re without investment right now; we’re breaking even, but are paying our own way. We need to be tight with our calculations to make it profitable within our business model. Are we looking at things? Yes, we’re looking at Artifact, R6 Siege, and Fortnite. We probably won’t be able to do them all, but some titles will be added. Fortnite talks big in its announcements, but we’ll have to look at the first few events. It’s hard to call this an esport for now.
We’re satisfied with our PUBG experience, even though that game’s slumped because of Fortnite. They’re very professional guys with a media presence, they’re winning tournaments; we can’t complain. We’ll react to the situation as it develops.
S1mple’s brother [Alexey Kostylev — Ed.] often talks to fans in his vlogs. How much do their opinions influence NaVi’s decision-making?
A difficult question. Any idea, any message [is an influence]; we’re human after all, we’re receptive to information. Some things can be taken as good advice or a recommendation. Feedback is important, [but] I can’t say it’s a 100% influence on our decision-making. There’s a huge number of factors to be considered, some of which regular people have no inkling about. Indirectly, though, fans are an influence.
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