By Rich Keith, CEO of Fourth Floor Creative, BCMA member and fast-growing specialist influencer marketing agency who have worked with brands such as Square-Enix, Sega, Activision-Blizzard and Epic.
The growing profile of Esports in the mainstream press took a new turn last month as the story of Turner ‘Tfue’ Tenney dispute with the team he plays for and network he’s part of, FaZe Clan hit the headlines.
While the public nature and occasional wild accusations in this particular case are regretful and not something to dwell on here, it points to what will be a growing trend as mass audience content creators (“influencers”) including leading eSports players start to look at the contracts they’ve signed.
As Esports lawyer Ryan Morrison told The Esports Observer, the nature of many of these sorts of contracts makes legal action inevitable.
This is both familiar and obvious and can be seen most days of any sporting season in traditional sports. The worth of a talent rises after they sign a contract and they want that rise in value reflected in their earnings. The team’s desire that some recognition for its investment in the player that led to that rise in value be reflected (by sticking to the contract) is ignored and it leads to a souring of relationships.
The talent then makes the dispute public to get a better deal or to signal their availability to others.
In the short-term this is a market correction and should lead to better contracts for talent and, perhaps, greater transparency from teams and networks.
As far as this is a reflection of the wider influencer market this is a necessary step. Talent like Tfue who can earn seven-figure annual salaries from their various endeavours need professional representation. As the top level that’s an agent for deals and a manager for day-to-day management. It’s unrealistic to think the network he’s with or team he plays for could or should do that job.
However, there is perhaps a more specific problem for esports here. It’s incredibly hard for teams to make money. What money there is in esports comes from the IP owners like Epic for Fortnite or brand sponsorship and that goes into prize funds to attract attention and the top players. Most of this goes to the players and the unbundling of contracts will make that even more likely. Without the sort of regional or deep atavistic connections that traditional sports have it’s a tough job to drive brand revenues and the rise of the players as celebrities with individual revenue-raising power will continue to make the esports team model hard to sustain.