Three lawyers weigh in on the Esports Federation of India player contract

Esports continues to grow across multiple spaces. Provided by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

The esports community took issue with a player contract the Esports Federation of India (ESFI) put forth for Indian players for the 2018 Asian Games that run from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2. The federation, the organizing body of the qualifiers for Indian participants, responded by promising to update the terms but said the original contract remains valid in the meantime.

Indian esports broadcaster Sudhen "Bleh" Wahengbam made mention of the contract for participants in a Twitter post on Wednesday. The contract includes requirements that the players make themselves available for photoshoots, video recordings and promotions for sponsors and the ESFI at their own expense, such as travel costs; another clause has similar language, which requires the winners or participants of the event to pay for their own travel to the Asian Games.

Additionally, if the winner of the event withdraws for any reason, the winner would be responsible for any "ensuing costs, damages or expenses" to be paid to the ESFI. The contract also included a non-disparagement clause that would prohibit players from making negative statements about the ESFI.

ESPN spoke with three attorneys who represent various issues in both traditional sports and professional video gaming: Marc Edelman, a law professor at Zicklin School of Business at the Baruch College of the City University of New York; Ryan Morrison, a well-known, player-focused esports attorney based in Los Angeles; and Ryan Fairchild, a North Carolina-based esports attorney for Brooks Pierce.

Each attorney agreed that the language in the contract was poorly written, although all three acknowledged that the governing law of India could differ from that of the United States where they practice. The three also noted that the contract was very one-sided, with a significant favor to the ESFI and not the players participating.

"I think the only benefit players receive from this contract is the chance to play and whatever accommodations are provided by AESF (not even by ESFI)," Fairchild said. "Literally everything else is protection or benefit for ESFI and risk -- and cost-shifting from ESFI to the player. This may be the most one-sided contract I've seen."

Edelman compared it to online competitions, like college basketball bracket challenges, that are open entry without a purchase or entry fee, rather than a professional competition.

"It is not unusual at all for athletes, or people who participate in a contest, to need to sign away the use of their likeness moving forward," Edelman said. "However, to me, it is a bit unusual for these individuals to need to make themselves available at their own expense."

"The fact that players have to bear all the risks and the costs, even for circumstances that could be out of their control, is the most egregious aspect," Fairchild said. "Something that strikes me about this contract in particular is that it essentially filters out the players who can't afford the expenses of travel or otherwise, particularly if under 18."

In other esports events, tournament organizers often brunt the cost of travel for teams that participate in their event. When that is not the case, professional teams pay for their players. However, in the case of India, many of these teams are not professional or well-funded -- and in most cases, a significant lack of tournament infrastructure exists around esports in that country.

"To be frank, I find it hard to believe this was written by an attorney, and instead would guess it was cobbled together by someone who had a cursory understanding of how to work Google to find random legal language," Morrison said. "Clauses reference other clauses that do not exist, terms are not defined, and definitions conflict. There are also two contracts here. They go through fifteen clauses, and then in clause sixteen they just regurgitate everything back out again, differently. Even if made by a non-attorney that makes no sense."

The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 will feature esports competitions for six different esports titles: League of Legends, Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Pro Evolution Soccer, Clash Royale and Arena of Valor. The Olympic Council of Asia, a partner of the International Olympic Committee, partnered with Alisports, the sporting arm of megacorp Alibaba, and Tencent (a content partner of ESPN), to bring esports to the Asian Games in 2018 and 2022.

Many professionals in the industry believe the Asian Games event will be a contributor to a path for potential future inclusion of esports in the Olympics. During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, ESL hosted an Intel Extreme Masters event for StarCraft II, in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee. The International Olympic Committee was outspoken in March about excluding "violent" video games, and in April, the team in charge of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris told the AP that they are considering esports as a demonstration