What is the legal status of USA esports competitors? #LAW


Holden, J. T., & Baker III, T. A. (2019). The Econtractor? Defining the Esports Employment Relationship. American Business Law Journal, 56(2), 391-440.


Esports is now a multibillion-dollar industry that has quickly become one of the most discussed segments of the entertainment industry. There has been a rush to mention esports alongside other more traditional sports like baseball, basketball, football, and hockey, but the comparison may not be apt. Esports leagues are fundamentally different from traditional sports leagues because the competitive games that make up esports are the intellectual property of the game makers. This unique structure results in individualized relationships between the game makers, esports producers, the teams, and the competitors. This article is among the first to examine the legal status of esports competitors. In doing so, we discuss the employment conditions within esports that make them unique. The industry is poised to face significant labor-related challenges in the near future, so the article also analyzes the labor issues esports competitors and leagues face, and the importance for stakeholders to pay attention to the legal status and working conditions of the competitors.

The Data

This article applies a series of legal tests to the workers involved with three dominant esports leagues in the USA: League of Legends Championship, the ESL Pro League, and Overwatch League.


“Esports leagues presently have a tendency to treat competitors as independent contractors to justify doing little to protect them and refusing to bargain with them as a group.”

“Esports leagues presently have a tendency to treat competitors as independent contractors to justify doing little to protect them and refusing to bargain with them as a group.”

“Like major team sports, the LCS establishes minimum salary requirements and oversees competitors’ conduct both in out of competition”

“The ESL Pro League structure is similar to circuit sports like NASCAR and the PGA Tour in that the teams appear in league tournaments, with each team maintaining autonomy as to the selection of tournaments in which they will participate”

“The Overwatch League model represents a league structure in which the game maker, Activision Blizzard, serves as a league operator that works in concert with, but not for, the team owners who then assemble and contract with competitors.”

“most professional esports competitors have a strong case for being recognized in courts of law as employees”

“Esports athletes seeking to challenge the billion dollar corporations that own the intellectual property they rely on for their livelihood will face a difficult challenge in gaining traction against their amply endowed opponents”

“Esports are not like the professional sports leagues that have existed in the United States for the last one hundred years.’

Our Take on it

What is the legal status of USA esports competitors? Incredibly varied, is the short answer. This article examine a different models of sports organization, which are explained to suggest possible models for esports. It then details the league structures of League of Legends, ESL Pro League, and Overwatch League. The overwhelming conclusion is that there is a lot more work needed to ensure players are protected, but that the unique character of the activity – which is reliant on a game maker – makes it a very difficult matter to resolve. Even unionizing may not fix certain problems over worker rights, but even recognising players as employees is a big step in the direction of achieving greater protections. And there’s enough to justify this kind of re-characterisation in many examples of esports events. This article is essential reading to get deep into the legal variations across different leagues in the USA, so give it plenty of time to work through.” Professor Andy Miah

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