On May 22, 2015, Riot Games, Inc., creator of League of Legends, announced changes to the League of Legends Championship Series rules. One of the notable changes is the addition of Rule 11.3, the “Best Interests of the LCS” rule. This rule states:
"LCS officials at all times may act with the necessary authority to preserve the best interests of the LCS. This power is not constrained by the lack of any specific language in [these rules]. LCS officials may use any form of punitive actions at their disposal against any entity whose conduct is not within the confines of the best interests of the LCS." (Emphasis added)
These rules are known as “bests interests of the game” clauses, and some derivation of this clause exists in most, if not all, professional sports. This clause is an important addition for Riot, as it grants Riot the authority to act in response to matters which are not explicitly covered by the rules. It also brings Riot’s rules a bit closer to those which exist for professional sports.
Professional sports leagues have used these clauses to punish activity of both players and teams that do not neatly fit into the predefined rules and provisions established through the collective bargaining process. A recent example of such a clause being invoked was Alex Rodriguez’s suspension from Major League Baseball for 211 games (which was later reduced to 162 games) for his use of performance enhancing drugs and attempting to obstruct and frustrate Major League Baseball’s (“MLB”) investigation into his conduct. MLB specifically noted that Rodriguez’s punishment was based upon his violation of the prohibition against using banned substances and the “best interests of the game” clause.
On one hand, the vague nature of a “best interest of the game” clause is necessary because it is impossible to foresee all potentially harmful events and subsequently create a rule barring such activity. However, the broad language of the clause creates the opportunity for abuse, to which there is little recourse, unlike in professional sports. In professional sports, a decision to punish a player by the sport’s commissioner can be challenged in arbitration because the commissioner’s authority is granted by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union. However, as the LCS Rules are not collectively bargained, Riot has the ability to create and enforce rules as it sees fit, with legal impunity.
What is even more troubling is the fact that Riot explicitly denies appeals for its discipline. Rule 11.1 explicitly states “All decisions regarding the interpretation of the rules…and penalties for misconduct, lie solely with the LCS, the decisions of which are final” and “LCS decisions with respect to these Rules cannot be appealed.” Effectively, the new “best interests of the LCS” rule authorizes Riot a broad disciplinary power to which there is no recourse at law or even an appeal.
At the very least, an appeals process should be implemented to curb some of Riot’s unyielding disciplinary power and grant a modicum of rights to the players. However, as the LCS is not collectively bargained, such a decision would have to come from Riot themselves, which would be unlikely. Given the finality of Riot’s disciplinary system, it will be interesting to see how Riot utilizes this rule in the future.
(This article also appeared on Gods of Mayhem)
Last week was super busy! I was interviewed for a story in the Toronto Star on equity endorsements for athletes, a topic I have previously written on. Its an interesting read, as many athletes are accepting equity for endorsements now. The article can be accessed here.
I'm looking forward to sharing more on the intersection of video games and the law, and will be sure to share all of my writings here.
Last night, Alex Rodriguez passed Willie Mays for fourth place on Major League Baseball’s all-time homerun list. Much like the baseball fans that deny Rodriguez’s achievements due to his performance enhancing drug use, the Yankees are denying Rodriguez his $6 million bonus for likely the same reason.
Rodriguez’s contract with the New York Yankees contains a rare provision known as a milestone-marketing bonus. This type of provision pays the player a substantial sum for the marketing rights related to milestone accomplishments. The only players to receive such provisions in their contracts in recent memory are Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. Following Pujols’ contract, such milestone-marketing bonuses were banned by Major League Baseball. However, to Pujols’ and Rodriguez’s delight, the ban on such clauses was not retroactive, thus allowing such clauses to remain enforceable.
Pursuant to Rodriguez’s milestone-marketing clause, he was to be paid $6 million for passing Willie Mays on the all-time homerun list. However, Brian Cashman, the Yankees General Manager, has publically stated that they will not pay Rodriguez the $6 million bonus. The Yankees argument is presumably that the bonus payment is contingent upon being able to market the milestone achievement and since Rodriguez was suspended for the 2014 season due to performance enhancing drug violations, the milestones no longer have marketability.
Interestingly, the contract is reportedly clear that the Yankees agree to pay the sum of $6 million, and that “Such payment will be made within fifteen (15) days of its designation of the Milestone Accomplishment under Paragraph 1, above.” The Yankees still have some time to make the payment as indicated in the contract, but if Rodriguez is not paid, he would have to take legal action against the Yankees to get his bonus. This matter would be especially important to Rodriguez, as he may be able to achieve additional designated milestones in his contract, and thus be entitled to more moey.
If Rodriguez were to sue the Yankees, once the fifteen day period expires, he would allege (amongst other causes of action) that the Yankees breached his contract. In order to prove a breach of contract, the following elements must be proved:
1. The existence of a binding contract
2. One of the parties to the contract materially breached the contract
3. The material breach caused damages
Rodriguez’s potential case hinges on element 2. A breach occurs when a party fails to perform its obligations under the contract. However, that definition immediately calls for clarification as to what obligations the breaching party has under the contract. Cashman’s statement, that “We (the Yankees) have the right but not the obligation to do something, and that’s it,” is particularly interesting, as such rights are usually explicitly stated in contracts. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ascertain the validity of such a statement without seeing Rodriguez’s contract.
Understandably, the Yankees are upset that Rodriguez has been implicated in multiple performance enhancing drug scandals. However, whether or not he is owed the $6 million milestone bonus is determined solely by the language of this milestone-marketing addendum to his contract. If the language is as clear as reports have stated, an argument that the bonus is not owed would have to be quite creative, and still may not pass legal muster.
Rodriguez can also file a grievance with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Greg Bouris, spokesman for the Players Association, has already stated “The Union is prepared to intervene on Alex’s behalf.” Despite Rodriguez’s past drug use, the Union would not want any team to establish a precedent of refusing to pay any player a contractually agreed upon amount.
Of course, there is still time for the Yankees to make good on Rodriguez’s bonus. The contract allows for the bonus to be paid within 15 days of the milestone being achieved. Despite Cashman’s comments, it would not be surprising for the Yankees to pay Rodriguez the bonus within the designated window. In effect, the comments would then serve as a way of publically shaming Rodriguez for his conduct. Given Rodriguez’s litigious history, the Yankees have to expect him to take action if he is not paid.
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