Turner "Tfue" Tenney is suing esports organization FaZe Clan. According to the Hollywood Reporter The Fortnite professional is suing his org over his contract, which he claims is limiting his ability to pursue his profession. The lawsuit, confirmed through legal documents obtained by ESPN, claim that FaZe's contract with Tfue is in violation of California law and the Talent Agency Act.
Evolved Talent Agency CEO Ryan Morrison, better known as the Video Game Attorney, spoke to Inven Global's Tim Rizzo to provide professional insight on the lawsuit and surrounding situation.
What was your initial reaction when someone of this stature files a lawsuit against their organization?
My reaction: Finally.
It's become an industry standard where teams are acting as agents and telling players they are the players' representatives. Not necessarily FaZe, but generally, in the industry, there have been teams telling players that they are the players' lawyers. As this industry generates more money and these teams keep upping their valuation, they are constantly looking for new ways to justify it.
Contract clauses that take a percentage of money or allow the team to control all sponsorship categories or a plethora of other things have become so standard and so hard for us to fight against as player representatives. It's long overdue for a player to stand up for themselves like this, especially one with a brand of Tfue's size.
How much of it is the players' responsibility to review the contract before signing and/or be proactive about hiring an agent or lawyer to review it?
While many organizations don't have contracts this bad, there are clauses across all of them that are non-negotiable. What the difference between this contract is and one that a player would see with an attorney or agent is that the percentages would be far more in the player's favor, or not exist at all.
At my agency, we always make sure that negotiations include independent sponsorship categories. We make sure we're working with these players hand-in-hand to make sure we are building their brand and they are not just being used and thrown in a wastebin after the fact to build a team's brand. Any player who doesn't have both a lawyer and an agent is doing themselves a huge disservice.
The goal for a player is to get Tfue-sized, and when Tfue signed he was a much smaller brand, so he had less negotiation power. However, if he had an agent and a lawyer, the contract would never have looked like this.
While Tfue wasn't as big as he is now when he signed, he still was relatively well-known. Are you surprised he wasn't more proactive in having council on this contract?
You can look to League of Legends as an example. The oldest players around are the least likely to read their contracts because they've seen the people above them just reading and not signing while all living in a team house. When you're a rookie on a team and you come in with a lawyer and/or agent, and you see a player who has been there for five years sign everything without reading, you feel way less comfortable asking for your own rights.
Tfue was big on his own, but FaZe is the biggest org around. For him to come in and request a lawyer and an agent when all of his teammates and superiors were not could have made him uncomfortable. I don't know for sure, I can't speak to what he did and I don't represent him, but I would imagine it's the trend that we see throughout the industry that I just mentioned.
I've been fired by players before because they thought it was rude to have a lawyer. We have organizations currently telling players who fire their agents and lawyers things like, "We'll take care of you. They're just taking your money." Contracts like this are the result.
The lawsuit has now become public. What's next as far as legal proceedings when a lawsuit is presented against an organization?
If you're talking in terms of litigation, it could take forever. This could be years, but I think the causes of action here are slam dunks. I think that what the attorney is arguing is obvious. When a non-esports attorney comes in and reviews an esports contract, what they usually comment is along the lines "This is breaking the law in 19 different ways. None of this is okay."
It's been long overdue for something like this to happen, and I think this case is a slam dunk. I think you're going to see a lot more cases like this, or organizations are going to change their ways tomorrow.
So you're very confident that Tfue should be able to settle and get the damages he is seeking?
I don't know if he's going to get the damages he's seeking, but I guarantee that a first-year attorney could read his contract and then read over California Employment & Labor Laws and the Talent Agency Act and see that this is a clear violation.
UPDATE: FaZe Clan released a statement after the lawsuit went public on Monday afternoon:
Ryan Morrison will be speaking at the 2019 Inven Global Esports Conference. For information on how to attend this years IGEC, visit our conference webpage here.