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R6 Esports Licences Explained (and why Teams Lost NAL Spots)

Here's a quick look at the licencing system dictating what happens to organisations and rosters such as eUnited, Team Reciprocity, and Luminosity Gaming.

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The following information is a summary of SiegeGG's reading of the public Global Rulebook and includes no inside information or confirmations from Ubisoft around the article's validity. If there's a verifiable mistake in this article, please let us know and it'll be corrected as soon as possible.

Introduced shortly after the Pittsburgh Embers situation last year, ahead of the new post-ESL formatted leagues, the licencing system was designed to make it clearer where Pro League spots are held and to give more control and clarity to organisations. Now, one year later, it has complicated the exits of three major organisations in North America (NA), as the system has seemingly fundamentally betrayed its original purpose.

Here's a look at how licencing works and what led to the eUnited roster losing its North American League (NAL) spot.

How does the licensing work?

Fundamentally, every single organisation across the new ecosystem owns a licence to operate from Ubisoft. This licence gives the org the ability to:

  • Compete in all Regional competitions the team qualifies for (NAL, EUL, etc.)
  • Participate in Global competitions
  • Transfer players between licensed teams
  • Collect prize money
  • Sell or transfer the licence to another organisation

This means that if you don't have a licence to compete in the NAL, then it doesn't matter if you qualified for it, you aren't eligible to play in it anymore.

So, who can get licences?

All Teams competing in the Rainbow Six Circuit must be represented by a legal entity (association, company …) in order to be provided with a license.

Hence if a roster doesn't have an organisation, then it cannot hold a licence to compete in their league and is thus kicked out.

In practice, these licensing rules mean that organisations have complete control over their teams. They can replace any players they want and are in the driving seat for negotiations as long as they can support the players well. This structure is obviously set up to attract major organisations to invest in R6 esports to support the top-tier teams.

When it comes to organisation changes, the old organisation is meant to sell the licence to the new organisation alongside the roster. The issue comes when the organisation leaves without selling the licence. Here, the licence reverts to Ubisoft which causes the issues we have seen in 2020.

How did this impact the EG/LG and sQ/DG changes?

In April this year, both Luminosity Gaming and Evil Geniuses left R6 without selling their licence to new organisations due to various behind-the-scenes negotiations failing. In this case, there was no organisation to take the licence and the orgless players could not hold it, so it reverted to Ubisoft.

At the same time, as a part of Ubisoft trying to increase the league size to 10 teams, they offered licences to the only two organisations which wanted to invest in the costly NA League (which was and is still eventually planned to be a LAN league) -- the Susquehanna Soniqs and Disrupt Gaming. With the licenses in their pocket, these teams could then pick whatever team they wanted, with the Soniqs sticking with their existing Challenger League lineup and Disrupt putting together a fully fresh team.

A big issue here was that the EG and LG lineups had not been given a chance to keep their spots, which was purely due to the rules mentioned above. The second their organisations dropped them, these orgless players lost their bargaining power alongside the lost licence. At this point, without an organisation there was no one to support them in the NAL and no way for them to hold an NAL licence, hence their lost spot.

Why did Rec/OxG get special treatment?

One month after LG and EG's exit, Team Reciprocity announced that they were financially struggling and were dropping their team. Nevertheless, these players kept their NA League spot and did manage to move to a new organisation, unlike the EG and LG lineups.

So the question in many people's minds is why Ubisoft gave the Reciprocity roster special treatment not lent to EG and LG? Well, they didn't because unlike those organisations, Reciprocity actually sold their licence to a replacement, alongside the roster.

As stated by Murph Vandervelde, the co-founder of Oxygen Esports, in our interview with him May (in which he praised "Ubisoft’s world-class management"):

Oxygen Esports is the culmination of strategic mergers between Helix eSports, one of the nation's leading provider of esports/VR centers, Team Genji, a leading provider of esports analytics and pro rosters acquired from Team Reciprocity.

These "pro rosters acquired from Team Reciprocity" include their R6 and Rocket League teams, which they bought off of Reciprocity alongside their Reciprocity's NAL licence. This is how the system is meant to work and meant the team passed safely between organisations without the licence ever reverting to Ubisoft. The team was saved because Chad Larsson found a buyer.

So eUnited. What happened there?

And now, most recently, eUnited have announced they will also be leaving R6 as they don't wish to wait for up to five months for the team's next game. While it originally looked like they would wait for a potential buyer to come forward, this wasn't the case, with it being announced a few days ago that the roster was dropped with nowhere to go.

For the players, this mirrors the LG and EG situations exactly. Here, eUnited also left the roster without selling the licence so it has reverted back to Ubisoft, meaning that the players have no licence to play in the NAL any more. As such, they lose their spot.

The one hiccup with this, however, is that Matthew "meepeY" Sharples, eUnited's coach, specifically declined this was happening just six days before supr's suggestion came exactly true:

This implies either eUnited stopped looking for an organisation to sell the licence to and simply left, causing the issue, or Ubisoft changed the rules in the last week, with supr strongly believing the former:

The chances of eUnited being unable to find a buyer for the roster and licence spot so soon were always very high, as any potential buyer would run the same math that eUnited did. Why bother paying five months of wages as well as the upkeep cost of a house in Vegas before the team even plays a single game?

Any organisation interested in investing in the NAL would presumably wait closer to the start of Year 6. This becomes an even worse deal for any new investors, considering eUnited backed out despite being a part of the R6 SHARE program.

What happened to the relegation game?

Under normal circumstances, a relegation matchup is two teams fighting for a league licence. For instance, in Europe either MnM or Cowana will face Rogue in the relegations, with the winning team receiving Rogue's EUL licence for the 2021 season. Should MnM win, for example, they can then sell the licence to a new organisation or keep it for themselves.

In NA, with ex-eUnited losing their NAL licence, a matchup between RentFree and ex-eUnited wouldn't be for any licence spot, as neither of them owns one. The eighth licence spot is currently in Ubisoft's hands and their priority (as with EG and LG) is to find a replacement organisation.

This isn't particularly good news for RentFree, as they haven't won the NAL spot just yet, as in Ubisoft's announcement of the eUnited news they stated that:

We are engaging with the US Challenger League team RentFree on requirements to advance into the US Division.

This is as with no licence to be won in a relegation game, the only way the roster can make it to the NAL is if Ubisoft grants the eighth licence to an organisation that wants to pick them up. As we saw last season, PogChamp won CL Season 11, yet Disrupt picked a completely different lineup for their NAL team. RentFree will likely need to court an organisation of their own if they want the spot and not be split apart.

What's next?

If past cases follow, then Ubisoft presumably will find a new organisation, offer them the NAL licence, and then that organisation can choose whatever lineup it wants. This is precisely what happened with Disrupt Gaming's entrance six months ago.

This is clearly unfair and the only way this can be stopped from happening again isn't with any format changes, the licensing rules themselves must change. This can be as simple as making ex-T1 lineups a priority pickup for new organisations, rather than allowing new organisations to pick whatever team they want or giving orgless teams a grace period before the licence reverts to Ubisoft.

A question may remain, however. If much of the community sees this as unfair, it's manifesting as strong backlash against Ubisoft from inside and outside the R6 community, and third parties from other games would see this as a massive red flag, why does Ubisoft even have these rules? Well...

Ubisoft commits to orgs, orgs commit to players

From here on out, we have a lot of conjecture based on Ubisoft's decisions over the last few years to figure out why exactly Ubisoft have made these decisions.

At the core of a lot of the players' issues with R6 is that they aren't being prioritised, as Ubisoft makes their decisions around the wants of organisations and more casual fans -- not professional players. Sometimes, players are the last party to learn key information (as the eU roster was this week), organisations are given all the power over players in negotiations thanks to the licensing system, and new organizations are given major-circuit spots over existing rosters (sQ and DG).

Why? Because Ubisoft's primary concern is to keep organisations happy, not the pros.

From Ubisoft's point of view, more players pick up R6 every year and their revenue goes up. To keep their esports ecosystem alive, the issue isn't a lack of players willing to devote their lives to Siege, but the issue is a lack of organisations willing to pay to support these players -- hence they are the priority.

Organisations being unwilling to invest in the NAL has already cut the league down from 10 to eight teams, which is a massive threat to Ubisoft's plans. This explains why all these decisions have been so favourable to organisations and why Ubisoft isn't jumping to save the players; they're jumping to save their league instead.

For Ubisoft, prioritising organisations means that there are 40 professional companies they need to work with, communicate with, and keep happy across the four main regions -- not 200 young players. The latter would be an almost impossible task to achieve, even ignoring the constant roster changes and staff member swaps.

This also is a guarantee for Ubisoft. A 100 pro R6 players can leave the scene tomorrow, but as long as the organisations are still here, R6 Esports will live on. The same is not true if there's an exodus of organisations, as seen in other games such as Halo.

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Representatives from Chaos, Secret, EG, and NiP at a meeting with Ubisoft.

So who's looking out for the players? Well, the organisations are. To stay in the R6 SHARE programme and to keep their licences, all organisations must offer their players high-level wages and support them at local LAN leagues.

On paper, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement for all four parties (Ubi, organisations, pros, and viewers) to ensure the longevity of the scene. The issues only surface when one party ends their commitment prematurely as seen with LG, EG, and eU exiting without a replacement. Then, Ubisoft receives the licence, and their job is to keep the organisations happy and this does not align with the players' wants.

This isn't greed or negligence from Ubisoft, this is self-preservation. High-quality players can be replaced, but high-paying orgs are a rare and valuable commodity.

This has basically eliminated the players' abilities to force Ubisoft's hand in any meaningful way. The actions players and fans have proposed, such as strikes or boycotts from matches, have a pretty major likelihood of just exacerbating the issue. Then, even fewer organisations would want to invest in R6 due to its instability and organisations already involved would play even fewer games and major tournaments a year, making them more likely to leave the scene.

A player's union is a better idea, but would be more useful in coordinating wages with each other when negotiating with organisations, as the union would just have pretty much no meaningful measures to get a response from Ubisoft, other than the previously mentioned strikes.

In the end, the risk of losing your organisation and licence will likely continue as both Ubisoft and organisations have no real incentive to change anything. What may help fix this issue is if Ubisoft works to fix the core reasons organisations want to leave in the first place -- it's too expensive for too few games.

All four stakeholders in the scene should want to see more games, more viewers, and more ways to monetise the tournaments (via R6 SHARE-type programs).

Hopefully, Ubisoft will be working with organisationss to fix these concerns and fine-tune the formats across all four regions. This, along with the return of LAN events in 2021, should lead to fewer organisations bailing on R6 and fewer players being caught in the middle of business decisions.

COVID-19 has brought a storm to Rainbow Six, especially with the crucial format pivot coming in the middle of the pandemic, but the skies should clear as the virus fades.

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