The organisation mTw, or Mortal Team Work, are one of the “big brands” within e-sports, the closest thing you get to a household name in a niche industry. Founded in 1998 they have been there since the start of competitive PC gaming and they have been an integral part of helping build the German e-sports scene, especially with their strong ties with the German based Electronic Sports League.
Many of you will know them primarily as a Counter-Strike focused clan, their CS:S team dominating the German ESL Pro Series and their Danish 1.6 team of 2008 who won the World Cyber Games as well as placing well at several major international events. However they also have quite a heritage in Warcraft 3 and FIFA if you care to go back far enough.
mTw winning gold in 2008
It is sad news then that we reveal not only is the organisation intending to shut down as soon as possible but it is also, effectively, broke. It has reneged on several of its player contracts and has been unable to pay money to its players for some time, nor even fund their travel to events. This has culminated in the recent loss of one of the jewels in their crown, the highly rated Ukrainian Starcraft 2 player Dmytro "DIMAGA" Filipchuk who has been with the organisation since 2010. Simply put the organisation is in no fit shape to continue but has decided to limp along for appearances sake. Today, we shall reveal the extent of how far mTw have fallen and their plans for the future.
Perhaps the writing had been on the wall for some time. There were clear indications that not all was well within the organisation. An organisation that had once proudly boasted sponsors such as ATI and Sennheiser were now down to hardware support from EIZO and server hosting companies. Their long standing team manager Markus “botman” Frey had left the organisation to focus on his role within ROCCAT, leaving teams and players to effectively manage themselves. A series of high profile faux pas, including the pick up of David "SunCow" Al-Dughaiter, a player who couldn’t compete in Europe due to an outstanding warrant of arrest for his alleged involvement in a burglary. The standards had been slipping and it seemed no-one knew how to stop the rot.
Despite problems ahead the organisation was still thinking big. This isn’t an uncommon strategy in e-sports. Many organisations subscribe to the “live beyond your means, have the appearance of success and the sponsors will come.” This is why many organisations find themselves in downward spirals they are unable to pull out of. If you think it is simply “bad business”, the work of amateurs, you would be surprised at how many other industries adopt this method. Or maybe not so surprised if you were heavily affected by the global recession that we’re still not free from.
With mTw’s pedigree in Counter-Strike they didn’t just want any old CS:GO team. They wanted an “international” one. The experiment had already effectively failed in CS:S but they still carried the model forward. A mishmash of rosters, all containing salaried players, it was truly hard to keep up with who was in the team and indeed who was owed what. Interestingly enough the organisation had always made a point of holding players to contracts, the most notable example in their prevention of mousesports obtaining their star UK player Brandon “weber” Weber who no longer wanted to play with the team for internal disputes. At that time the organisation demanded €5,000, according to our sources, saying that was the "buy-out" fee for the under contract player. However, when it came to paying salaries the squad would find out they were less rigid in their application of the contractual obligations from their side.
Josh "steel" Nissan moved to Germany from Canada to play for the organisation
Josh “Steel” Nissan, one of Canada’s finest Counter-Strike: Source players, had been brought in to the international team in June. Despite the obvious issues of him playing online with an inflated ping, the team still performed well initially. When he signed he had been told that there were big plans afoot for the team, including the acquisition of a gaming house where the CS:GO squad would live and train, in line with other, more successful e-sports titles. This move caused the player to move to Europe, spending a brief period of time in the UK before moving to Germany ahead of the move into the team house.
“When I moved out to Germany” he explained “I was told I’d have to stay at a bootcamp centre but it had a few things that needed finishing. The telecoms company were having problems with the net connection and the windows were being finished, so the owner (Lars Eiben) said I could stay at his house until it was done. I stayed with him for seven weeks. In that time he cooked for me and I ate. I had no outgoings so I didn’t even ask for any money.
He always seemed really busy, talking to what I thought was sponsors every day. My computer was in his office. I just played and practiced and didn’t think anything was wrong. He even talked about possibly sending us to DreamHack Winter, so I figured it was business as usual.”
The deal for the house is still yet to be finished, and in its place is a joint venture to run a “bootcamp” LAN centre and studio that has stalled. Josh had received just two months pay and two months of expenses and no money from the organisation since September. His experience is typical of the squad, with one notable exception.
Andre “nooky” Utesch was the team captain, the longest standing player in the organisation left and the go-between for communication between the owner and the squad. Salaried more than the rest of the people in the squad he also seemed to have to take on the mantle of responsibility of “team manager”, organising travel for events and so forth. He paid for a lot of things on his personal credit card. It seems that not only did he have outstanding salary he was also owed personal expenses.
“We didn’t think anything of it at the time” the players would tell us “but everything would go through Andre. We’d often hear him complaining about things not being paid, like car rental and things like that. Andre was very loyal to the organisation though and didn’t talk about it too much. We thought it was just the process taking time.”
Pinpointing the reasons for this seems to be the changeover in sponsors. Sennheiser and mTw parted company in September, which is round about when a lot of the genuine troubles started to begin, even if salaries had been slipshod prior to that. We were unable to obtain the exact details of the replacement sponsorship with XMG but we do know that it hasn’t been as smooth a relationship as they had enjoyed with Sennheiser. “There was a long period of time when they wouldn’t even send the laptops out to players”
we were told “while they argued over the finer details of the agreement.”
Even gathering the expenses to send teams to events was clearly beyond the organisation at this stage. Even local German events were declined, the organisation choosing to have it implied that it was the "unstable" roster that gave them the reason not to compete. In reality, the fact the organisation couldn't attend events was contributing to the unstable roster, players not wanting to commit long term to a team that couldn't get to LAN events.
The CS:GO team suffered in silence while chasing their money, not knowing that it wasn’t just them who were not receiving their money. FPS players have generally accepted they are the poor relations within this e-sports landscape and as such they are used to not being paid their money while those who play Starcraft 2 and League of Legends generally get theirs. However, if they had asked around, they would have found that they were certainly not alone.
Kim "SuperNova" Young Jin only received one month salary of a year long contract
The acquisition of Kim "SuperNova" Young Jin was one that at the time suggested the organisation was ready to grow its Starcraft 2 roster. Although it was clear they weren’t willing to match the spending power of, for example, an SK Gaming in acquiring a big name Korean star, they had been looking to bring in players they felt could grow within the organisation. Kim seemed to fit that bill and was certainly a welcome addition, which had been reduced to just one player, and it was felt that the move would be beneficial for both parties. Kim was soon to learn that mTw were not able to live up to their side of the agreement.
“In July I signed a one year contract with mTw” he told us “but in the first six months I only received one months worth of salary. I told them if they didn’t pay all my backdated salary I would leave the team and gave them a week to get things resolved. They didn’t contact me so I told them I had left. All I have so far apart from that one month of salary is an EIZO monitor.”
That was at the end of December last year. Kim is still without a team and is still none the wiser about his outstanding money.
As we have seen, loyalty was no immunity from the absence of payment. Dmytro "DIMAGA" Filipchuk has been as good an ambassador for mTw as any player they have ever signed. A model professional, a fine competitor and someone who has a full grasp of the expectations placed upon him as a player, it seems inconceivable that someone like that could also have money withheld. However, while initially reluctant to go on the record, he did tell us the following:
“I don’t want to say anything bad about mTw. They make so much happen for me in the beginning. What I will say is that in November we had a meeting and they openly told me they had financial problems. They would not be able to pay my salary for November or December or pay to send me to events. They said they would restart everything in January 2013. I said no problem and agreed that I would support them in any way I could.”
Dmytro "DIMAGA" Filipchuk always enjoyed a good relationship with mTw but has had to leave due to their circumstances
“I attended two LAN events with my own money” he continued “and have received no salary since that time and not even any streaming money because own3d hadn’t paid out what they owed to the organisation, which I think was part of the problem. That is another big story though.”
Dmytro left the organisation on the 15th January and declared himself a free agent. mTw offered no official comment on the matter, declining even to post on their own website that hasn’t been updated in any form since October. It seems a poor send-off for a player that had done so much to promote the organisation within the Starcraft 2 scene. Some branches of the e-sports media questioned if it meant that mTw would return to Starcraft 2. What they should have been asking is whether or not the move was the death knell of the organisation as a whole, which is certainly how it seems.
We know that the organisation is now looking to take the same action as so many before it, to simply “fold”, declare themselves bankrupt and then return with a new name and simply start over. This is again standard practice for established organisations who can no longer maintain their commitments but have enough contacts to get people on board for their next project. The question always is what happens to the outstanding payments that are owed to players? Often players simply give up and stop pursuit of what they are entitled to. An organisation that is registered business can file for bankruptcy and therefore not have to appease creditors if there is no money to do so. When organisations don’t trade as a business the disputes have to be pursued on a personal basis, small claims and other such legal proceedings. Most players don’t know how to do it, lack the motivation to chase money that they won’t see for months and months on end, or have simply come to accept such losses as part of the e-sports way of doing business.
We have attempted to contact mTw to ask what they plan to do regarding the outstanding money for players and so far have had no response. We’re not here to gloat or to point fingers but simply to draw attention to the people who always suffer in these matters – the players. The young professionals who have high hopes of making a living from their passion. When they are let down the ramifications for the whole of e-sports are dire. The owners generally walk away unscathed, the sponsors too. The players are left not only wondering when they will receive what they are due but whether or not they can continue competing at all, whether it would be a better option to stop and take that office job where contracts actually mean something and your pay arrives in your bank account at a precise minute.
It is only fitting then that we leave the last word to one of the players whose life has been most affected by the collapse of the organisation, someone who crossed a continent to compete only to find himself currently in limbo.
“I stayed in his house, I stayed with his family, so I don’t want the last thing people think is that the man behind mTw is some sort of dirtbag.” Josh Nissan told us “mTw had become something of a monster, too many people involved in the form of shareholders, and he was up front with us about wanting to start again with new sponsors and a new name. I think when he does that he will honour his commitment to all the players.”
At this moment in time though they are, like a lot of things in e-sports, just empty promises.