Over the past few years, esports has blossomed from a niche interest into an incredibly popular, widespread entertainment market.
But while pro gaming hopefuls see limitless potential in the esports gold rush, companies also see potential in monetizing young gamers.
As with any relatively new medium, laws and precedents surrounding esports range from lax to non-existent. This, coupled with the fact that many popular gamers are young and therefore naive to the world of dealmaking and legally binding contracts, makes the pro gaming world ripe for exploitation.
FaZe Clan is a popular esports organization. Organizations of this type are essentially pro sports teams and management companies rolled into one. They sign and train top-tier competitive players across various major games like Fortnite: Battle Royale, League of Legends, and Overwatch. Oftentimes, players live together in communal housing, spending their days practicing as a team and building their individual brands through streaming on platforms like Twitch and YouTube. Esports organizations make money through a combination of tournament prize winnings, merchandise sales, sponsorships, and a percentage of their individual players' various personal contracts including branded content and public appearances.
Tfue––real name, Turner Tenney––is a 21-year-old pro Fortnite player/streamer currently signed to FaZe Clan. As first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Tfue is currently suing FaZe Clan over what his lawyer refers to as a "grossly oppressive" contract.
In short, Tfue signed a "Gamer Agreement" with FaZe Clan in April 2018, essentially giving them 80% of the profits from any branded content he publishes on Twitch, YouTube, or social media, and 50% of any profit from public appearances. Tfue attempted to terminate the contract in September 2018 to no avail. On top of calling out the exploitative and anti-competitive nature of the "Gamer Agreement," Tfue's lawyers allege that FaZe Clan runs afoul of California's Talent Agency Act––a state law that requires anyone "who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment or engagements for an artist" to comply with proper licensing, regulations, and oversight under the California Labor Commissioner.
Moreover, Tfue says that FaZe Clan pressured him to live in one of their houses where they provided him with alcohol while he was underage, encouraged him to gamble, and pressured him into performing dangerous stunts while streaming in order to boost viewer numbers––during which he permanently disfigured his arm.
"Tfue and my law firm are sending a message," attorney Bryan Freedman told The Hollywood Reporter. "The time is now for content creators, gamers and streamers to stop being taken advantage of through oppressive, unfair and illegal agreements. The significant legal actions taken today will be a wake up call that this behavior will no longer be tolerated. The gaming community deserves a safe environment that allows gamers the freedom to control their own careers."
Regardless of whether or not specific allegations prove true, it's clear that the esports industry is in drastic need of legal oversight. Top esports players generate millions of dollars per year in income. Considering how young many of these players are, protecting their best interests from the greedier instincts of financial leeches is essential. Such regulations already exist in every similarly entertainment-oriented industry, from professional sports to TV acting. It's time to cover professional gamers, too.