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Unethical contracts cast a shadow on esports

Esports industry is no stranger to some questionable, unfair or outright unethical and borderline manipulative contracts made between esports organizations and young inexperienced esports players. While such contracts have become more of an exception than a norm nowadays, the lower and less regulated levels of the esports scene have had their fair share of such incidents and it seems like the issue is still very much alive in those waters.

Only earlier this week news surfaced of another highly controversial contract made between an unnamed North American organization and an anonymous mobile esports player, who revealed a very shady contract he has signed, which stirred a lot of drama in the esports community.

The contract in question started with a controversial clause which stated that should the player be transitioned to a substitute player or if he/she won’t be required to play in a LAN tournament on any given month, he/she is required to stream 120 hours per month while receiving no salary or other monetary compensation. To put this into a perspective, the said player would need to stream at least 30 hours per week, which amounts to approximately four hours per day without receiving any benefits.

While that alone is a huge red flag, the mobile esports player went on to reveal the rabbit hole gets even deeper.

As a part of the exclusivity clause, the contract prevents the player in question from working anywhere else despite the fact he is an independent contractor and not an employee of the organization. Furthermore, if a player streams in collaboration with the organization or any of their sponsors, then the organization retains all of the revenue generated by the player. The most alarming part of this clause is that the organization has the right to freely organise such streams, thus forcing the player to stream without getting paid for it. That also means the said player who is under the contract can only earn money via solo streams, the schedule of which is indirectly controlled by the organization itself.

Many players rely on making income via the sale of in-game content that relates to either the player or the organization. The system works in a way that if a fan buys an in-game item and uses the player's or organization's promotional code they then receive a cut of the profits made by the game developers. That being said, the contract in question states the organisation retains 100% of the revenue received via the sale of in-game content, further depriving the player of earning additional income.

Last but not least, another controversial clause in the contract allows the organization to trade, transfer or loan the player to any other esports organization without their consent. Furthermore, those trades, loans and transfers are not limited by region. That ultimately means that the young player, who is based in Nort America, could see himself being traded to European or even Asian organization without his consent or approval of his parents. At this point it’s worth noting that most of the mobile esports players are very young, some of which barely 13-years of age, meaning this last clause could see a 13-year-old player move across the globe without having a say in it.

The most concerning part about all this, however, is the fact that this is just one of the shady contracts that have seen the light of day, and there is no knowing how many more are out there.

The esports boom that is happening in recent years resulted in a huge influx of new players into the scene who all look to sign a contract and become a pro esports player. Esports organization on the other side are doing their best to find a way to put themselves in a favourable position, especially when signing contracts with younger players, who do not know what exactly are they setting themselves up to. That leaves a lot of room for exploitations of gullible youngsters who will do anything just to become a professional esports player.

While some higher tiers of esports, such as League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 are better protected from such contracts, because most, if not all players have their own lawyers involved in the signing of contracts, it seems like the growing mobile esports scene is the most vulnerable for such incidents.

While on the topic of shady business and unfair contracts, Activision Blizzard took a different and a very praiseworthy approach for the inaugural season of Call of Duty League. As stated in CDL’s rule book, all players who will compete in the inaugural Call of Duty League will be guaranteed a US $50,000 salary along with other benefits, which would entirely prevent CoD organizations for exploiting their players for their own benefit.

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