From promising to precarious: Why women’s Rocket League is in limbo

01 February 2023


UPDATE 01/11/2023: This article has been updated to include comment from KC Pioneers, and comment from Version1 denying that it has made any offers to purchase Women’s Car Ball.

Women's Car Ball
(ESI Illustration) Logo credit: Women’s Car Ball. Image via: Shutterstock

Women’s Car Ball, Rocket League’s largest female tournament circuit, was forced to halt operations mid-season because its owner, KC Pioneers, has not paid any staff for their work since hiring them, sources told Esports Insider.

North American esports organisation KC Pioneers (KCP) currently owns Women’s Car Ball, which was founded under different ownership in 2019. KCP launched Season 5 of the league late last year. However, WCB staff, who went through an application and interview process and work part-time, have been working on the league voluntarily while awaiting payment from KC Pioneers.

Multiple sources told Esports Insider that staff were told they’d be paid once the season started, but the intended payment date was pushed back. On January 5th, staff put their feet down and stated that they would not continue work until they were paid.

On January 11th, KC Pioneers staff posted an update to an internal Discord, which has been seen by Esports Insider, saying league play would pause while KCP was in the process of securing new sponsors for the league — a process that was taking ‘longer than expected’. The league has effectively been suspended since the beginning of January but teams and players were not told what was happening until January 11th.

In an interview in September 2022, before Season 5 launched, KC Pioneers leadership told Esports Insider it had sponsorships in the works with multiple high-profile, Fortune 500 brands. In a statement sent to Esports Insider on February 1st, KC Pioneers CEO Mark Josey said: “The intention for WCB’s Season 5 was for all initial funding to stem from partnerships, sponsorships and support from the publisher. We are still in talks with many to help support the league but no offers have been made.”

Several stakeholders — including team owners, league sources and third parties — have criticised KC Pioneers for seemingly running Season 5 based on speculative income from these unsigned partnerships, which both staff and teams were in the dark about. “KCP announced a full season of events with a $50,000 prize pool. There was no suggestion this was reliant on any sponsorship or additional funding,” Williams Resolve COO Jeff Simpkins told Esports Insider.

Alongside WCB staff — who are operationally separate from KC Pioneers and have no say over finances — prize pool money has not been paid out to players or organisations participating in the league. “We’ve won all 3 EU events and are owed $3,000 in prize money currently — nothing has been paid at this moment in time,” Simpkins added.

Numerous major organisations picked up female teams in order to participate in Season 5 of WCB, including Gen.G, Misfits, Luminosity and others. There are currently no other consistent women’s tournament circuits in Rocket League for the teams or their players to compete in.

“It’s a really difficult scenario for teams and orgs,” Simpkins said. “In a time where esports organisations are struggling anyway, to be paying a team that no longer has a league to compete in is obviously not a great use of funds. I’m sure we will see organisations dropping their women’s rosters as a result.”

The league’s broadcast production partner, Shine Media, has also not been paid. Shine Media Chairman and Co-founder Britton Shink told Esports Insider he was owed money for 12 broadcasts across 3 months. “I have been working on Season Five since Spring of 2022, no payment has been issued.”

Additionally, multiple serious offers to buy Women’s Car Ball from KC Pioneers — offers which included paying all overdue prize pool and staff payments — have been rejected by KCP, sources said. The offers came from high profile esports companies and organisations, including one from North American organisation Version1, several sources confirmed. Version1 has told Esports Insider it has not made any offers to purchase Women’s Car Ball.

In his statement, Josey also denied having rejected or received any offers thus far. “We are speaking with various organisations and entities interested in owning the WCB, but at this time, no offers have been extended. Our only intent is to get the capital required to operate the league and fund its participants, including back pay and future Season 5 expenses.”

Two people with knowledge of the negotiations said they suspect the organisation is holding out because it wants more money in return for the league, not just to pay off debts.

KC Pioneers is actively in discussions with potential buyers, someone close to the matter told Esports Insider, with at least one offer currently being considered.

“WCB’s goal over the past several years has been to create a safe space for women in gaming, and the WCB Discord community will continue to foster a safe environment for women in esports regardless of funding for league play,” Josey’s statement added.

Jake Nordland
Jake has worked at Esports Insider as a journalist and editor since early 2021. Now ESI's Media Manager, he continues to act as lead editor of print magazine The Esports Journal, and contributes his words to the website from time to time.