Justin M. Jacobson – Where do player representatives fit in in esports?

This is a guest post by New York based Justin M. Jacobson., Esq. 

Justin M. Jacobson

Transparency is vital and so let’s start with a full disclaimer. I’m an esports player representative, so this may seem like a “pitch”, which in a way it most certainly is.

However it is also meant to spotlight persistent misconceptions that the esports industry has for player representatives as well as where and how they fit into the esports business ecosystem. 

Setting aside the obvious bias of the author (me), an independent talent representative, including licensed attorneys, managers, and marketing agents, have existed since the inception of the modern entertainment and sports industries.  It is the standard in all other major talent driven industries, including motion pictures, television, music, football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, as well as  the literary and modelling worlds.  While their application and use in emerging professional sports, such as esports, is not as widely used, it is now becoming the norm for top gaming talent to utilise independent, competent third-party representatives in the advancement of their businesses and professional gaming careers.  In particular, an individual who has extensive experience in contract review and negotiation is suggested.  Such individuals are currently being utilized.

“There will always be unscrupulous and less than competent advisers; however, for the most part, the competent and top quality ones usually rise to the top”

While there are obvious drawbacks to a third-party representative consulting and representing a gamer in their everyday business; the potential downfalls that may occur as a result of a misunderstood agreement could have wide reaching negative implications.  A gamer may see the additional cost that a professional representative imposes as prohibitive; but, the long-term value, experience and connections that they possess could be infinitely more valuable to the gamer’s long-term career advancement and justify this expense.  There will always be unscrupulous and less than competent advisers; however, for the most part, the competent and top quality ones usually rise to the top.  In particular, this industry is very reputation and referral driven; and as such, those who do not do their job properly are quickly replaced with more competent representatives.

“An esports player representative’s primary task is the negotiation of the gamer’s player contract with the professional organisation or team”

Similar to a player representative in other major North American professional sports, an esports player representative’s primary task is the negotiation of the gamer’s player contract with the professional organisation or team.  This includes reviewing and providing detailed analysis on the short and long-term ramifications of the various provisions listed in these typically long and ambiguously written documents.  As with any initial draft, the agreement is typically slanted in favour of the drafter, who, in most instances, happens to be the team.  Thus, a qualified professional is able to fully understand the clauses and provide insight into how to best negotiate the contract to benefit their client as much as possible.  As with any type of negotiation, the concepts of “leverage” and how valuable a gamer is to the organisation factors into how aggressive or what demands a player representative can make on behalf of a gamer.

A player representative also might assist a player in locating a new team or organisation if they are currently a “free agent” or if their pro gaming careers are just taking off.  Most top esports player representatives have access to and work with many team organisation owners and team managers.  These are the individuals who handle or assist in team personnel decisions as well as advise on which new games to field teams in.  This is similar to the motion picture studio connections that a Hollywood talent representative might have for an actor that they are representing.

“As with any initial draft, the agreement is typically slanted in favour of the drafter, who, in most instances, happens to be the team”

Another unique characteristic of a player representative, including those in esports, is the ability and desire to build a marketable “brand” based around their talent.  This coincides with a representative’s goals of building and investing time in developing the individual talent in an effort to create individual, stand-alone marketability and value.  A connected player representative is well versed in “pitching” and negotiating marketing and endorsement opportunities on behalf of their talent.  The representative having a well-known talent assists with these presentations.

Most established talent representatives have access to both endemic and non-endemic brands, including those companies who wish to continue their market share by working with and sponsoring emerging and established gamers as well as companies that wish to begin promoting their brand to the esports consumer market.  This access provides them with the ability to potentially bring both organisational-wide as well as individual based sponsorship opportunities that many players and even some organisations may not have access to.

In addition to a veteran player representative’s prowess and knowledge in contract negotiations and sponsorship identification, most are also adept at social media marketing. This is in an effort to amplify their signed talent’s social reach and includes sharing and promoting the talent’s participation in tournaments, the results as well as when the gamer may be live streaming.

“The representative also acts as a “buffer” to the outside world of press, journalists and fans by providing media training and crisis management assistance”

Connected player representatives are also familiar and skilled at conversing with the game developers and both the tournament and league organisers.  They are familiar with the rules and regulations, including the tax and visa requirements of the industry, which can be the difference between playing in a tournament or not.  The representative also acts as a “buffer” to the outside world of press, journalists and fans by providing media training and crisis management assistance to ensure a gamer is able to handle all that is thrown at them, especially during a time of turmoil or stress.  

Finally, the representative is connected with a variety of other skilled professionals, such as tax specialists and accountants, who can assist in filing and preparing a player’s income tax and other related business and legal matters such as protecting the player “brand” and intellectual property protections.

While I won’t state that having representation is mandatory or required, it seems prudent to ensure that a professional gamer fully understand what they, as a competent adult, sign and agree to.  

This is especially important as most organisation agreements are prepared by qualified attorneys who have typically crafted the agreement to favour and benefit their client’s interests (the organisation). A player should not feel that attempting to edit or otherwise negotiate an agreement could jeopardise the deal as there is an implicit understanding that there is some leeway.  That permits the actual “negotiation” of the terms contained in the agreement.  It is rare to find a situation that contains a “take it or leave it” offer; or else, they would call it “take it or leave it” and not a contract negotiation.  

It is advisable to do your own research and weigh your options prior to entering into any arrangement with any third-party, especially one that has some long-term implications, whether it is applicable for a month, three months, a year, or even longer.

This article is not intended as legal or business advice, as an attorney or other professional specializing in the field should be consulted. © 2017 The Jacobson Firm, P.C.