Esports is one of the fastest-growing entertainment industries, with millions of fans around the globe. For gamers, this seems like a dream come true – they are getting paid to do something they love. But with revenues of over $1 billion, it was only a matter of time before players began to encounter significant labor and employment issues. If you are a gamer with questions about your rights as a member of the esports industry, a Los Angeles employment attorney for gamers can answer your questions and help you understand your options.
Leagues, Teams, and Players: A Complicated Relationship
Esports competition takes place in established, international teams. While professionals can compete individually, the more lucrative path is to sign a contract with an esports team and play on their behalf, much like someone would go to work for any other employer. As a result, they face most of the same issues that any worker would face in any other industry.
Beyond the basic relationship between the gamer and their team, however, the situation becomes much more complex. To start, there is no union of professionals. Although there are many other jobs or even industries that are non-unionized, they are able to look to similar unionized industries in order to determine what is fair. The esports industry does not have this luxury due to its newness and the unique nature of the services that are rendered to their employers.
To further complicate the situation, there is considerable overlap between the teams, their respective leagues, and video game developers. Video game developers have established leagues and teams, who therefore have considerable influence over the contracts that gamers enter into. Many teams will present contracts with terms dictated by their leagues. While players’ rights are beginning to gain recognition, they can still find themselves subject to severe restrictions and penalties contained in one-sided contracts that favor their teams or leagues.
All of this is to say that the law concerning esports is rapidly evolving, and unfortunately, gamers remain at a considerable disadvantage. A Los Angeles employment attorney can help you navigate the issues you face, both known and unknown, as well as resolve disputes and enforce your rights.
Your Contract Is Your Career
Whether you are just starting your gaming career or are a veteran in the esports industry, the importance of your contract cannot be understated. The contract will govern every aspect of your career including your rights and obligations as well as that of your team. Ambiguities, omissions, and conflicting provisions can lead to uncertainty and often a costly dispute between you and your team.
What Your Contract Should Include
Even though the esports industry is unique, your contract should contain the same basic provisions that any other employment contract includes. This includes the following:
- The work to be performed by the gamer.
- The compensation to be paid by the team, including benefits such as health insurance and 401k contributions.
- Any obligations and restrictions you may be subject to.
- The period of time that the contract will remain in effect.
- Whether and how the contract can be amended.
- Whether the contract can be terminated early.
- How disputes will be handled and what law will apply.
- Who will pay any attorney’s fees and costs incurred in enforcing the contract.
It is not uncommon for contracts to be lacking one or more of these important provisions. A Los Angeles employment attorney can review your contract and make sure that it addresses all of the aspects of the employer-employee relationship that it should.
You Have the Right to Have Your Contract Reviewed by Counsel
Team representatives may give you the impression that the contract is a formality and may subtly pressure you to sign it as soon as it is presented to you. There is nothing wrong with taking your time to read it and asking for some time to review it. You also should not feel awkward asking them for time to have it reviewed by your lawyer. Your lawyer can then review the contract and explain the various provisions so that you understand everything that your contract covers. In addition, they can identify any potential issues so that you are going into the contract fully aware of what could be an issue in the future.
Your Contract is Negotiable
As part of expecting you to sign your contract on the spot, your team will imply that you need to sign the contract as it is presented to you. This is not the case – almost any employment contract is negotiable to some extent. Even if the compensation structure is not negotiable, you may be able to negotiate more favorable terms concerning travel or remedies in the event of a default. An experienced attorney for gamers will be able to identify provisions that you should consider negotiating. They can also handle all of the negotiations on your behalf.
Employee or Independent Contractor?
One of the most critical issues in this area of the law concerns the classification of players as either employees or independent contractors. The issue is important because employees generally have more rights and enjoy much broader protection under the law than independent contractors.
Your contract may expressly state that you are an employee or an independent contractor of your team. However, there is more to the proper classification than how they are identified in their contracts. The law, rather than the player’s contract, will ultimately determine whether a gamer is an independent contractor or an employee of their team. This requires a complex analysis where a court may evaluate several factors. One of the key factors is often the degree of control that the team exercises – the more control the team has, the more likely they will be determined to be an employee, even if their contract states that they are an independent contractor.
While employees have greater protection, independent contractors should, theoretically, have more freedom. A lawyer can help you decide what role would work best with your career goals and help you structure your contract appropriately. If you are already in a contract and believe that you have been misclassified, your lawyer can also help you with that.
Everyone knows that discrimination on any basis is against the law, but discrimination continues in many different forms. It may not be as overt as it was in decades past, but any action or policy that disadvantages workers in a protected class is against the law.
The esports industry has received some negative publicity in recent years concerning potentially discriminatory attitudes and a lack of effort to be more inclusive. Some of the ways that gamers may face discrimination include the following:
- Disability. Disabled individuals may need special accommodations to compete in tournaments and other events that may be denied to them.
- Gender. The esports industry is overwhelmingly male. Females may receive less pay, receive less publicity, and face other forms of discrimination.
- Racial. While minorities appear to be equally represented among fans, they appear to be underrepresented in the number of players. Minorities may not receive the same employment opportunities as non-minority players and face other types of discrimination.
The esports industry, including both esports leagues and individual teams, is required by law to protect their workers from discrimination. If you have experienced discrimination, a Los Angeles employment attorney for gamers can explain your rights and help you pursue a claim.
Harassment may be a bigger problem for the esports industry than discrimination. Harassment includes any pervasive, repeated conduct that is aimed at a protected class and makes one or more workers uncomfortable to the point that they are unable to perform their job at an appropriate level. Harassment can include the following conduct:
- Derogatory or offensive comments or jokes, either verbal or written
- Unwanted physical contact
- Threats of physical harm or other forms of intimidation
- The display of derogatory or offensive symbols or pictures
- Offensive gestures
Isolated incidents will generally not be considered harassment. Generally speaking, harassment is conduct that a reasonable person would consider to be hostile, abusive, or intimidating.
Because the esports industry is overwhelmingly male, female gaming enthusiasts are often exposed to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment falls into two different categories:
- Quid pro quo harassment, where the employee is offered employment and promotional opportunities in exchange for sexual favors. For example, the worker may be allowed to compete in a tournament with greater media exposure if they agree to sleep with the team’s manager.
- Hostile work environment, where a worker is subjected to conduct that is on the level as described above. For example, a hostile work environment would be one where a female gamer is constantly subjected to chauvinistic and sexually explicit comments from her teammates.
Players have the same rights as other workers when it comes to working in an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment. If you are wondering whether you have a harassment claim, a knowledgeable lawyer can provide you with the guidance you need.
Attorneys for Employees – Your Los Angeles Employment Attorney for Gamers
At Attorneys for Employees, we work with those who are new to esports as well as veteran players. Let us help guide you through the challenges – contact us today to discuss your needs and how we can help.