If we went into the NBA and took out every agent and attorney, there would be a celebration the likes of which we have never seen from team owners. In esports, that celebration is ongoing. Attorneys and agents are notoriously seen as greedy, self-serving people who only care about their ten percent or billable hours, but they are also the only line of defense most players have from being taken advantage of. Without that line of defense, we see most owners resort to selfishness and abuse towards their rosters. To be clear, there are some great organizations out there that I love working with (Immortals, TL, NRG, CompLexity, etc.), but there are far more orgs that I would never advise a player to sign with (I’d name some names, but I’d Hate 2 Kall them out).
The difference is night and day between a contract signed by an esports player who has an attorney and a player that is representing themselves. And let me make that clear – an attorney. Not someone pretending to know contracts or offering help on Twitter. I’m an attorney, and I’m damn good at negotiating and red lining contracts. What I’m not very good at is DOTA 2. Sure, I play it all the time, but you won’t see me at the International next year, I promise. So even though your teammate or someone in esports may have seen a lot of contracts and offered help, it doesn’t mean they know what the heck they are talking about either. Use. A. Real. Lawyer.
Most importantly to me, having a lawyer or agent means you have someone truly on your side. The coach or owner you trust and love may love you back, but at the end of the day they will want their org to stay on top. Everyone has their own interests – everyone, that is, except your lawyer and agent. They don’t care what jersey you are wearing, they just care you are happy and having the best career possible. They protect you from the bad stuff.
Within the past year, after supposedly all the bad folks have been removed from esports (Right? Didn’t Riot shoo away the evil? …), I’ve seen players pressured into playing against doctor’s orders, I’ve seen players forced to reimburse organizations for their own buyout price if they were not re-signed (which was not the player’s decision), and I’ve witnessed players being told to fire their attorney (me) or face legal consequences, just to name a few.
So, while I think every player in the world should run immediately to sign up with us, I’m not so deluded that I think they will. Instead, for those still stubbornly trying to do things on their own, please take the following advice to heart and really think before you put pen to paper.
Not All Orgs Are Created Equal
Having a League of Legends Championship Series spot or a lot of money does not automatically mean you are a legitimate organization. Many orgs are still attached to archaic practices that have no place in this industry any longer, and, to be blunt, we see it far more often in Europe than in North America. When speaking with an org, ask the following questions:
- What is your role at the organization?
- Who players are actually speaking with is often confusing to them. We are now seeing agents representing multiple teams and trying to plug in various players in order to pad their wallets with finder fees. This means they most likely don’t know a ton about how things actually work within the organization they are talking about and will promise the world (while lying, but more on that later!). So, when possible, try to speak to actual staff within the org. If they are actual staff, is it your coach? The org’s GM? The owner? How important are you to them based on who is giving you the time of day?
- Can you tell me more about your infrastructure?
- Does the org have more staff than just a coach? Is there a nutritionist? Mental health expert? Etc.? These positions may sound like fluff, but I assure you they are a good indicator of whether an org is well established and will take care of you, or if they are only in esports because their investors heard it’s the next big thing. You may not need a mental health expert personally, but it’s nice to have orgs employ one to help figure out how many streaming hours are too many, and a plethora of other things that will improve the quality of your life.
- Can I speak to some of your current or past players?
- This one is huge. I remember the first org I personally tried this with was NRG, and they couldn’t move fast enough to get me in communication with a player there, letting my client speak with them too. Before we even worked with Reignover or Huni, Immortals invited me into their player house to show how great the quality of life was. Speaking to the players showed me that they were happy and that these orgs were proud of their infrastructure. If an org won’t introduce you to one of their players to talk about the quality there, take it as a sign to turn around and sprint in the other direction.
Salary and Length Are Not the Only Clauses in an Agreement
The first time we represent a new player, the only terms they will usually care about in a contract are the monthly salary and the length of the agreement. This is, for lack of a better word, extremely silly. If those were the only clauses that mattered, all contracts in esports would be four paragraphs long. Instead, we see twenty page agreements that most players just skim over. Do you think Lebron James just signs away his career without reading the contract? No, and neither should our top esports players. Rosters matter, and I know that’s why smart players wind up on bad orgs. But this stuff matters just as much:
- Is the salary really your salary?
- Very often now, as salaries increase in esports, we see contracts that outright conflict with the actual proposed offer. The two most common tactics I see are framing most of the salary as bonuses, or offering a portion of the salary from sponsorship money. Bonuses are fine, but if you are agreeing to a base salary then that should be a base salary. Don’t let the org restructure your salary as a bonus and so they wind up not paying you whenever they’d like. Also, don’t rely on sponsorship money that the org isn’t responsible for. If they offer you a salary, it should be from them.
- Is the term what we agreed to?
- You wanted a one year deal? Well I can’t tell you how many orgs have “accidentally” put in two or three year language. Do you know the difference between a right of first refusal and an option? If not, don’t let either exist in the agreement. They can both potentially lock you in a situation you don’t want to be in, at a salary you hate, for a long time.
- How do streaming hours work?
- It’s not such a big secret that many orgs make the majority of their money from streaming. Some orgs will ask you to commit to a ludicrous amount of hours and put very strict rules on how and what you can stream. Know what you are agreeing to, because streaming too much means sacrificing scrim time and potential winnings. Does the org want you to be a winner, or a streamer? Both are fine options, of course, but know if your goals are aligned.
- What is the prize split?
- There is some insane belief right now in esports that orgs are not entitled to a prize split. I don’t believe that’s fair, but I’ve never really seen that utilized by established orgs. They deserve a split for helping get you guys there, and sharing keeps everyone happy. 80/20 in favor of the players is standard, but some orgs have been amazingly offering 90/10 as of late. If your org is offering 50/50, they better be taking great care of you otherwise.
- How do penalties work?
- Almost every esports agreement I saw for a long time has said something along the lines of “we can fine you any amount for whatever we want.” Then the player says “Oh, but they won’t do that.” Really? Stop it. Put limits on fines and make them explicit on what triggers one.
- Is there a buyout?
- I still don’t know where my heart is on this issue, but a buyout or transfer fee in agreements is far from standard. We see clauses that say “the buyout is whatever we want it to be,” we see orgs set ridiculously high prices (usually 100 times the monthly salary), and we see other orgs leave it out entirely. None of those are good options, but I’ve rarely seen one that I like. I understand why, so this isn’t my wagging a finger, but it is a heads up you should know if you have one. The next question is more important for this though.
- Can I be benched forever?
- Buyouts never work like you want them to, and the worst thing you can be is kept in roster jail while a team shops you around. At full salary? Fine, that can be a nice vacation. But some orgs only pay 10% of your salary while benched and consider it a breach if you try to terminate the agreement still. Instead, figure out a system where you can walk away if they leave you subbed out for too long. You should have that right.
- What are all these other clauses?
- Read the damn contract. I didn’t hit a quarter of what’s in the agreement here, but look everything else over and know what you are signing. Ask someone (not the org) if you have questions. Take this seriously.
Nothing Anyone Says Matters If It’s Not in the Agreement – AT ALL
I don’t care how nice you think the person is, I don’t care how trustworthy you swear they are, and I don’t care how nice the offer sounds…nothing matters that is not in the actual agreement. And this isn’t just for esports, this is for life in general. Whether you’re buying a car or signing with a major organization, no offer you ever receive in your life matters if it isn’t written in the contract. That is because all of these documents end with an “Entire Agreement” clause which basically says just that, if it isn’t in here, it doesn’t matter. Have a skype record? Have an email? A voice record of him promising something? Throw it away! It’s useless and doesn’t matter. You signed something saying so, and you did it voluntarily.
So, please, read what you are signing and know what you are agreeing to. And more importantly, work with someone who understands this stuff. Doctors can be intimidating but I still don’t give myself my own physical. You shouldn’t negotiate your own contracts. Focus on winning, and work with someone who can focus on making your deal as great as possible. And if your owner ever threatens you or pressures you into signing something, or even worse tells you that using a lawyer is “rude” …run.
Video Game Attorney