On Tuesday, May 1, Inven Global held the first IGEC-ESPORTS DEEP DIVE for enthusiastic esports fans and related parties at UC Irvine in California. Those who could not attend the event in-person missed out on the action as industry insiders discussed a wide range of topics in panels/discussions throughout the day. Below, a recap of the discussion held by Ryan Morrison, with Evolved Talent Agency, who is a player lawyer and agent.
A pioneer in the player representation side of the esports industry, Ryan Morrison, held a panel entitled “Esports Player: From the Computer to the Spotlight.” What was unique about the discussion were the horror stories of the industry that don’t see the light of day due to signed Non-Disclosure Agreements between all parties involved.
Organizations mistreating players, talent signing their rights away with contracts they don’t read and the blurry lines that come with labor laws in the workplace were all talked about. The discussion was eye-opening to those who are casual consumers of esports and those within the scene who have turned a blind eye to the corruption.
Morrison opened up the lecture talking about his rise within the video game community. From offering basic legal advice to game developers on Reddit to representing players within the esports scene as their agent/attorney.
Recalling his first “case” regarding a group of DOTA players who had not been paid in a year, he used his popularity within the Reddit scene to reach out to the organizations, got them paid and then the players referred others to him for similar situations.
“Before you knew it, we were repping about 100 esports players, entirely for free and were basically spending 80% of our time on esports and it was 2% of our bills.”
The issue was not isolated to simply DOTA, as Morrison found out, as players from League of Legends, began getting in contact as well.
“We had one organization owner, for example, that their team won over six-figures in prize salary and, instead of paying his players, he revoked all their visas and had them deported to keep the money himself. Those are the stories you don’t hear about.”
Morrison does mention that in those situations, his responsibility is to work with players to try and get something for them financially, even if it’s a fraction of what they’re supposed to be paid.
Morrison moved on to talk about how esports organizations that are around currently in North America are ones that treating their players well, for the most part. It’s the ones that you don’t hear about anymore were the ones that were ran poorly. He commended the organizations that had representatives at IGEC for being some of the best examples of players being treated fairly and having contracts that are mutually beneficial for both parties.
As for esports scene outside of North America, Morrison’s tone turned sour as he talked about the abuse the players receive and the greed that exists within corrupt organizations.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a comparison in Europe or Asia for what we’ve done. The reality is, their contracts are five years behind us. If we see a contract from a European player right now, it is something that I would never even consider letting a North American player negotiate over.”
Due to the infancy of the “player representation scene” within those regions, Morrison doesn’t foresee a change in the near future. Too many players cannot afford legal fees and not enough individuals want to represent players due to the lack of money involved, which further perpetuates this cycle of abuse.
Morrison goes on to note that those who are looking to jump into the legal side of the scene are, for the most part, doing it for the wrong reasons. Through experience, he’s seen that they are looking to justify their eventual salaries, not having the best interest of the players in mind.
“You can count on one hand every single player agent or player lawyer in this space that have clients.”
The focus and frustration of Morrison’s discussion shifts over from the organizations, developers, and sharks looking to make a quick buck to the players themselves and their ignorance regarding the process. From his personal experience with hundreds of players within the scene, too many individuals do not take contracts seriously.
Blindly signing contracts without personally reading them or having a trusted advisor, such as, a parent or attorney giving them a glance is a common practice that puts players in the sticky situations that they find themselves in on occasion.
While it does make sense that organizations should “do the right thing” and make contracts that allow the player to grow alongside the team or sponsor they’re working with, Morrison emphasizes the need for players to become educated within the scene.
“[Players] don’t care about the business side of the industry and that’s never going to change. Organizations know that and sponsors know that.”
Unprepared for life
To further set the stage regarding the incompetence of some of the players within the scene, Morrison lays out the daily schedule the majority of them go through and the lack of social skills/general knowledge that become developed over a period of time.
A typical day for these individuals looks something like: players will wake up and go to the gym then scrimmage for a few hours then have lunch at their computer desk, go over strategies with their teammates for a few hours and watch replays then end the night playing more of their game. This repeats seven days a week for the most part.
An anecdote that is discussed to help the audience understand the type of individuals these players are is one of many that agents deal with.
“I had a player that got a really nice sponsorship and all he had to do was fly up to Seattle to take a couple pictures. He was going to make more than his entire yearly salary in one photo shoot, which does not happen often in esports. He could not go because he did not know that you needed an ID to fly. That’s what we’re dealing with. These players have no life skills.
Until players take more responsibility for their careers, develop long-term financial strategies and become genuinely interested in the business side of the industry, Morrison doesn’t have much hope for the prevention of organizations continuing to take advantage of them in the future.
While not as optimistic or cheery as some of the other panels that were held at IGEC, the “Video Game Attorney’s” level of insight into a seldom discussed dark world within the esports industry was not only educational but needed.