Over the last several years, esports have exploded in popularity – reaching audiences as large as many professional sports. Fans can watch esport tournaments live, or more often through a streaming service like Twitch. More than 80 million people tuned in to view the League of Legends World Championship in 2017. The NBA has even launched its own basketball esport league, NBA 2K.
Could games like Fortnite, League of Legends, Madden NFL, Overwatch and Call of Duty be laying the foundation for a whole new frontier of professional sports?
The intersection between gaming and professional sports
As the market for esports grows, players are encountering many of the same rewards and challenges as professional athletes.
Like many pro athletes, players in esports stand to make significant money, both through large prizes and endorsement deals. Between sponsorships, prize money, endorsements and league salaries, top esports players can easily earn seven figures in a year.
Esport organizations are also beginning to function similarly to other professional sporting leagues, including by holding their own drafts.
Legal issues lie ahead for many esport players
Players are also beginning to encounter many of the same legal problems as professional athletes. Contract disputes have started to crop up across the industry, including one Fortnite player’s public battle with popular esport group FaZe Clan.
Without a union or much regulation in the industry, players currently have little bargaining power against team owners. Unlike many pro athletes, who often enter professional leagues after successful college or minor league careers, gamers usually come into their first pro agreements with no name recognition or public following.
Going forward, esport players will likely need to consult with legal professionals who understand the unique challenges they face. And, given the many intersections between esports and traditional pro athletic endeavors, an athlete’s attorney may be a good place to start.