Recently, strong allegations have surfaced that eSports is suffering from a performance enhancing drug ("PED") use problem. These PEDs are not the steroids and human growth hormones of other sports, but are instead neuroenhancers.
These kinds of drugs (Adderall, Ritalin, Selegiline, etc.) are known as "smart drugs" due to their abilities to enhance focus, calmness, and act as stimulants, which debatably enhance performance in professional gaming. Although there appears to be much confusion as to whether such neuroenhancers are banned from professional gaming (a quick Google search reveals many questions on the topic and few actual answers), if it is banned, there appears to be little enforcement as noted in the link above.
Irrespective of neuroenhancers' status as potentially banned substances in professional gaming, utilizing such substances can have an impact upon a player's/team's existing sponsorship agreements.
As I noted previously, sponsorship agreements generally contain morals clauses. A morals clause allows a sponsor the opportunity to cancel a sponsorship should the athlete or team act in a way that is harmful or damaging to the sponsoring brand. In other words, morals clauses allow sponsors a means of exiting a sponsorship agreement with an athlete engaged in a scandal or otherwise illegal activity.
The use of neuroenhancers in pro-gaming, regardless of whether the substance is banned, can trigger a sponsorship's morals clause in several ways:
Any of the above reasons, which certainly is not an exhaustive list, could also be the cause of a scandal within the sport. Although scandals could be sufficient to independently trigger a morals clause, when combined with any of the above points, a scandal makes it much more likely.
Similarly, a team sponsorship may be impacted by a team member's use of neuroenhancers. Depending on how the morals clause is written, a single team member's actions may be sufficient to trigger the morals clause and permit the sponsor to cancel the sponsorship agreement.
As the eSports industry determines methods for curbing its PED problem, teams should keep in mind that any PED use can impact the sponsorships that they have worked hard to obtain. No team would want to lose its sponsor because a morals clause was triggered in an effort to perhaps gain a competitive advantage. Even worse, future sponsors may be hesitant to sponsor a player and/or their team due to past PED use.
In the past few years, e-sports (playing video games competitively for profit) has seen staggering growth in the United States. This growth has largely been fueled by the development of a professional tournament association, the inclusion of e-sports in the X Games competitions, and at its core, technology which allows players to connect and compete in ways never previously possible.
Viewership of the e-sports tournaments is also extremely high. Last year, online viewers watched a total of 2.4 billion hours of competition footage. Live events have also sold well, prompting Major League Gaming (the preeminent e-sports tournament body) to establish an arena in Columbus, Ohio. As with the rapid rise of any industry segment, e-sports tournaments have received sponsorships from well-known brands such Coca Cola and American Express. Although the tournaments and their governing bodies have received substantial sponsorship income, teams have not had the same financial success.
Many teams are able to secure small sponsorships which supply products such as controllers and apparel. However, there is a lack of sponsorship dollars supplied to the teams, which may be what is needed most as the expenses of professional gaming can be high. One of the reasons that teams have difficulty securing sponsorships is due to their business organization, or rather the lack thereof.
For e-sports to develop into a true professional league, and for teams to see the sponsorship dollars they desire, teams will have to learn from the businesses of their MLB, NFL and NBA counterparts. Firstly, professional sports teams are business entities, not just a group of people who are acting together. This is extremely important because State law differs as to whether unincorporated associations can enter into contracts, and as to the rights of these associations as a whole. Further, choosing a business entity for the team simplifies the sponsorship process for the brand as it eliminates any question regarding whether the contract is enforceable.
The choice of what business entity to select is a trickier subject, and would have to be determined on a team by team basis. At this early stage of professional gaming, there is no "one size fits all" approach. Professional sports teams have Owners and front offices that handle the business end of the team while the players play. However, that wouldn't be the case at this stage of e-sports. Simply put, the players will also have to handle their team's business. That can become problematic in several situations, especially when team members are minors. Minors' business activities are restricted by State and Federal law, but State law may allow for some creative business-formation possibilities if there are team members over 18 who can start the business. For instance, some states allow minors to be shareholders in a business. Any team considering turning their team into a business should consult an attorney before doing so.
There are a myriad of reasons teams don't receive the sponsorships they desire, including the lack of a formalized business structure. If your team wants to be treated as a legitimate business, make sure your team is actually a business first.
Quiles Law is an esports and sports law firm based in New York City.
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Attorney Advertising. The information presented in this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor is it intended to form any attorney/client relationship. Our attorneys, collectively, are licensed to practice law in the States of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Copyright Roger R. Quiles, Esq., 2019. All rights reserved.