No matter what your employment is, there is some contract in existence that provides both the employer and the employee a full description of what the employment entails. Employment within eSports should be no different. Since eSports is relatively new, it is important that these players have some understanding of contract law. There could be many parties involved when dealing with eSports contracts. Teams, players, tournament leaders and leagues will need to negotiate, draft and sign contracts. As stated previously, many players are of a young age, and may have been even younger when they first entered into their respective contracts.
It would be of no shock to any of us that many players, and even their teams, did not understand or embrace the need for contracts, and as such were taken advantage of by leagues and tournament providers who did not pay them on time or at all.
There can be many contracts in play when participating in eSports. For instance, endorsement deals are very popular contracts being signed today by many leagues, teams, and players.
These gamers want great gear when playing their games and in order to get top-notch equipment, they tend to quickly sign endorsement deals. The issue that often arises is the fact that these players may be promising not to use other products while under their contract. These types of contracts are seen everywhere, but to a professional gamer, whose age is likely in the teens, it can be completely novel. It might be enticing to get a deal where you get to wear your favorite companies’ logo on your uniform and gear, or even getting great deals on their food and/or beverages.
While it is expected to endorse those companies while streaming or during tournaments, what about wearing non-competing company gear or eating/drinking their products? These are important distinctions that need to be made in the contract. Therefore, players should become more aware and should maintain legal counsel as soon as they can, before entering into any type of endorsement deal.
The most important contract for current and future eSports gamers is their employment contract. These eSports gamers should be aware of a few important factors before engaging in any professional agreement to play professionally. First, the gamers should be aware of their compensation. A typical compensation package for an eSports gamer would include a basic salary, tournament purse shares, and possibly performance-based bonuses. Of course, these players should make sure that they are being paid adequately and that there is no clause in the contract that would alter any payment or payment schedule. Just like in other sports, players should be incentivized to do great work when representing their team. Therefore, many contracts within sports contain bonuses rewarding impressive performances. Some examples of possible bonuses for eSports gamers would include qualifying in tournaments, advancing in tournaments, ranking benchmarks, and of course, winning major tournaments. These types of deals pose as a win-win for both the eSports gamer and his respective team. The bonus helps reward the gamer, while the gamers achievements provide more exposure to the team. This in turn would allow for more possible sponsorships and endorsement deals.
Another aspect of the employment contract that these players should be made aware of are the responsibilities outside of gaming. These eSports teams, especially now with the growth of twitch (streaming service), want their players to represent them outside of the competitive field. It not enough that these players play well at tournaments and compete at a high level. Nowadays, eSports gamers must have a certain “swag” outside of competitions. They need to interact with fans and possess skills in the social media realm. Teams within eSports know that there is money outside of playing in tournaments, and that is engaging in entertainment. This has led eSport players to become “content creators” on social media platforms to engage a different type of audience. This in turn leads to more viewers for their respective teams. Therefore, you can see player contracts that contain video game streaming and social media posting requirements. It is important for gamers to make sure that those requirements are clear as day on those contracts. These contracts can contain language that requires the eSports gamer to post on twitter/Instagram or stream on twitch for a certain amount of time per week. Gamers should be aware of this and request additional compensation if it is reasonable to do so. An important clause to avoid would be any language that would deny you access to, or control of, your social media or platform accounts.
One of the most important clauses in any employment contract is the termination clause. A trading clause would be encompassed in that as well since both would deal with the conclusion of any relationship between the two initial parties to the contract. It is very important for eSports players to negotiate favorable clauses that would address any termination or trading. Many eSports teams are starting to resemble traditional sports teams in that they are creating more clauses that tend to favor their side, especially when dealing with these clauses. Teams tend to push for more control over their players and often seek restrictions that prevent players from being poached for a higher salary by a competing organization, or retaining the exclusive ability to trade a player, even without the player’s consent.Gamers in eSports should also be aware of any language that allows their team to bench them during any tournament or competition for an indefinite amount of time. There should be specific terms in the contract that would specify when and how a team could bench a gamer, that way the gamer could understand what performance needs to be maintained in order to avoid any benching. It is also important for the contract to provide for a “way out” for the player. This should lay out specific factors that may trigger the players opportunity to back out of the deal. For instance, if there was any unfair benching, mistreatment of a player, or the failure to have the team participate in a certain number of tournaments, a player should be able to withdraw from the contract since such actions can have a significant impact on the gamer from making any money.
One final possible aspect of an employment contract within eSports are clauses pertaining to intellectual property rights. Although a gamer’s best asset is his skill set for a given game, their intellectual property may have more value. As stated previously, gamers do not only play video games, but they are also entertainers. They create content on streams, during interviews, when they promote material, plus they develop their own unique persona that gather loyal fans that watch from across the world. This quality does not go unnoticed by teams, and therefore, there are certain clauses in the contract that may allow a team to capitalize on a gamer’s intellectual property by claiming their gamers’ name and likeness during their time with the team. Gamers should try to avoid giving their respective teams too much control over their intellectual property rights. Certain aspects of a gamer’s “profile” that a gamer should try to maintain control over would be their gamer tag, online persona, and their fan following. It is also important for professional gamers to maintain ownership to the many trademark rights in their gamer tag and any reputable phrases or expressions that is commonly associated with them. They should also try to maintain ownership of their past content creation and ownership of their gaming and social media accounts.