Indian esports tournament organizer Skyesports recently launched its own talent management agency called ‘Sky Route.’ The agency seeks to create a platform for esports athletes and content creators within the Indian gaming community. Hyderabad-based Valorant team Velocity Gaming is one of the first high-profile Indian esports organizations that has been signed to Sky Route. Velocity Gaming officially announced the partnership on 1st August 2021 stating that the team’s talents will be managed by Sky Route. The move raises concerns about potentially perverse incentives and conflict of interests, given that Velocity Gaming is a competitor at Skyesports’ Valorant events, and is now managed by the latter’s talent management agency. AFK Gaming reached out to Skyesports and received responses addressing these concerns.
Such a relationship between a tournament organizer (TO) and a team could create perverse incentives for both parties.
Example 1 - In order to build and maintain relationships with Sky Route, Velocity Gaming might be incentivized to prioritize Sky Esports' tournaments over those hosted by others. This could be viewed as anti-competitive or monopolistic by Sky Esports' competitors.
Example 2 - When Velocity Gaming wins tournaments, its own brand is likely to grow stronger and more attractive to sponsors. Sky Route manages Velocity Gaming's talents and assists with sponsorship. This could create an incentive for Skyesports' own tournaments to favor Velocity Gaming via bracket manipulation, rule enforcement etc.
Skyesports told AFK Gaming that there will be no conflict of interest between its competitions and Sky Route’s operations. According to the tournament organizer, Sky Route will only be responsible for the branding of Velocity Gaming and will assist the organization in connecting with brands. Responding to our queries about the matter, the organizer stated, “Skyesports is committed to hosting tournaments in the fairest manner possible. We are reputed across the country for doing so since the company’s inception in 2018. We have a fixed rulebook for all competitions and a set procedure in case of conflicts.”
Sky Route claims to be a talent management agency that was launched with an aim to bridge the gap between brands and South Indian content creators. According to the company, over 200 creators and teams have signed with the talent management agency to benefit from exposure and accessibility to different brands and sponsors.
“Our vision is to give the required exposure to the creators from South India while also working with teams from the country,” said Shiva Nandy, the CEO and founder of Skyesports in a press release.
According to Valorant's official Community Competition Guidelines, there are no rules that bar tournament organizers from having business relationships with teams. While the relation between Skyesports, Sky Route and Velocity Gaming can create perverse incentives for both parties, there are no official rules that are being broken according to Riot Games' guidelines.
Certain publishers like Valve have indicated in the past that ownership of leagues between TOs and teams does not create new conflicts of interest because “similar arrangements have existed in the past and those conflicts of interest are not significant.” However, the publisher is aware of the distrust that relationships between teams and TOs can create in the community and it requires transparency from organizations involved in its events, with teams being required to disclose all business relations. Failure to disclose relationships with TOs or other teams can lead to disqualification from Valve’s official Counter-Strike events.
RFRSH Entertainment, which is a Danish esports company, privately owns Astralis, and it also owns and operates the BLAST Pro Series. In 2019, Astralis was attending all BLAST Pro events but the team did not attend multiple events that were not organized by BLAST. This sparked a conversation in the CS:GO community, with fans wondering if there was a potential conflict of interest.
Earlier in April 2021, Velocity Gaming co-owner Manoj "Sentinel" Kashyap was involved in a controversy in the Indian esports community due to unsavory comments made on a livestream. Sentinel took a step back from the organization following the controversy and let the team’s other co-owner Lalith "CK" take charge.
AFK Gaming asked Skyesports if the incident affected the deal between Sky Route and Velocity Gaming. Skyesports responded by stating that the organization believes in “sustaining and promoting a toxicity-free environment in gaming and esports. Kashyap’s statement had no connection with the signing.” The organization affirmed that Velocity Gaming was signed based on its talent and its decision was not affected by the incident.
Velocity Gaming will be competing with Sky Route managing the brand and talent in future events. The team recently won The Esports Club Gauntlet Season 1 and the Esports XO - Invitational Cup. The team will next be seen competing in the TEC All-Stars event later this month.