Esports contracts: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Aside from a fortunate few at the top in their chosen esports, the dream for a the vast majority of players, org owners, managers, and staff remains simple. They wish to make it into a full-time and long-term career. Copyright: gajus / 123RF Stock Photo

It’s now feasible to make something that was once a hobby, into a stable and legitimate job. Unfortunately however, we see and hear about the misdoings of players and organisations when it comes to contract terms on an all too regular basis. Be it players failing to meet expectations, organisations flat out not paying players for either salaries or tournament winnings, it’s the same story with every dramatic event. The Team Secret issues appear a clear example of bad management. Despite the changing of staff after this revelation, Secret still received backlash as they tried to cover the hole they dug themselves into as an organisation. 

While most contracts are obviously not publicised, we wonder why this is a recurring factor in all gaming communities. As esports and the community hope to be more legitimized with players, organization owners, and managers alike hoping to make this into a career, why do we see this happening time and time again?

Gaming and esports lawyer, Marian Hartel

Gaming and esports lawyer Marian Hartel explained how some contracts might, in fact, simply be difficult to enforce: “If players are breaking them the only real reason is, that, on an international scope, they might be hard to enforce. The key reason might be bad contracts done by non-lawyers from templates available by Google.

Sadly, many startups, and now esports organisations, would not dare to handle critical business tasks themselves, but at first hesitate to pay a lawyer to do it right. They usually come when it is ‘too late’. Make it right from the beginning. I’d say: If you cannot afford a good lawyer to start a business professionally, maybe you shouldn’t start a business.”

It’s troubling to see some organisations actually run without contracts as well. Hartel added that this can be destructive to both the players and the organisation: “If you think ‘we do not need a contract, we trust each other’, I am certain that you have never run a successful venture. In the case of esports this is true for both sides, for the player and the team.”

Thankfully there are many organisations that take steps to avoid contract issues, but none are completely immune. Recently we spoke with Dr. Alan Bunney who founded Panda Global after seeing his friends in the competitive community treated badly: “I just saw a lot of behaviour in esports that was just awful, and specifically to people I was close to. So at one point I decided, maybe I should just make my own esports team.” 

Other organisations have taken measures such as becoming completely independent and player-owned such as Evil Geniuses’ popular Dota 2 player, PPD becoming the new CEO. With similar cases in Astralis, Alliance, and OG, organisations owned by the players helps to avoid certain confrontations.

While this is a troubling issue that seems to occur on a regular basis, if the esports community at large hopes to further legitimize itself, all parties involved need to take every measure seriously. The simple solution is that teams must run on contracts, and if for some reason controversy occurs then it must be seen to properly, with legal action if needed.  

Hartel left us with some parting advice not just for players but for organisations that may be up and coming: “Make a contract and don’t trust people too much. This sounds enormously harsh, but the truth is that ‘friendships end when money gets involved’.”