Expert legal advice for esports teams, players and sponsors

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Are you involved in esports? Need legal advice on everything from contracts to ticketing?

The tournament was a game-changer and its impact should not be underestimated, according to Joe Fitzgibbon, partner in the media and technology team at Shepherd and Wedderburn, as well as a member of the firm’s dedicated Esports group. lawyers.

Esports is a form of competitive video gaming where individuals, teams, or leagues of players compete to win tournaments. Professional players train for competitions in much the same way as professional athletes, with top players earning millions of pounds every year.

As video games transition from virtual dating to sold-out physical events, Scotland is poised to play a leading role. Dundee’s state-of-the-art 4,000 seater esports arena is set to open in 2025 and this summer saw the launch of Scotland’s first esports summer camp at Dundee and Angus College, in partnership with Esports Scotland, bringing together young players to learn new skills, train as a team and grow the community.

“It’s not the traditional capitals that gobble up these events; small towns are seizing the opportunity”

“It’s the natural evolution of people playing alone at home and transitioning into a competitive gaming environment,” says Joe.

“We are only at the beginning, but the pace of development is fast: the development in Eastern Europe and Asia has been faster and it is also accelerating in the United States, so we are not doing to make up for this delay.”

And there are plenty of opportunities for Scotland to take its place on the world stage as the booming industry becomes established.

“Scotland has a rich history of video game development, both in Edinburgh and around Dundee, where Grand Theft Auto and other games were developed. We already have a good reputation and that is something Scotland could capitalize on, as we are seeing in Dundee,” he added.

“The idea that something could be built with video games specifically in mind like the Dundee Arena is a significant step forward, it’s a huge capital infrastructure project. It’s possible other venues like the SSE in Glasgow hold similar events.

“Here in Scotland, having hosted COP26, the Commonwealth Games and major concerts, we are used to inviting international delegations and hosting them. There’s absolutely no reason Scotland can’t take advantage of this in esports.

In particular, there is potential for smaller venues to gain visibility in the esports scene: “What we’re seeing in other countries is that it’s not the traditional capitals that are gobbling up these events; it is the small towns that have identified this opportunity and are taking advantage of it.

“It offers a chance for places that have not been able to host major sports competitions to be able to host esports events that require less infrastructure. They don’t need the equipment, the tracks, everything nearby; instead, you need big screens and blazing fast internet connections.

“That’s why site future-proofing is essential – to ensure that the infrastructure is up to date and able to function now and in the future.”

Establish the rules of engagement

As a nascent industry, the rules are still being worked out – and that presents a unique set of challenges. Establishing a solid legal foundation is necessary from the outset, whether for venues interested in hosting gaming events, teams looking to negotiate sponsorship deals, or high-profile gamers wanting to be informed. potential contractual pitfalls.

For example, young people transitioning from playing alone at home to a much larger audience may not be aware of the finer details surrounding it, and similarly fledgling sites may need guidance, warns Joe.

“It’s similar to what’s been seen in the music industry: talented people signing bad deals, and more and more,” he explains. “Some of these esports stars are true superstars and it’s important to state the need to ensure your contracts are in place and meet your needs.

“Individuals need to make sure they are protected while esports teams will want to make sure their talent is locked into exclusive periods where they can only play for that team because ultimately teams will be looking to market those rights and capitalize on those big online followings. .”

Tournaments with their own rules

With offices across the UK, Shepherd and Wedderburn advises clients on all legal aspects of broadcasting, marketing, sponsorship and site operation, as well as high-profile litigation and regulatory matters. sport specific.

And while the parameters are still being worked out, there’s a lot of overlap with traditional sports laws, Joe says, ranging from branding and sponsorship to technology and intellectual property rights.

“In most sports there are usually governing bodies that create the rules of engagement, and that can vary from country to country. What we are seeing now with the development of the Commonwealth Games test events , is that the rules of the games vary because they don’t align directly: it’s not just soccer vs. soccer, the esports variation isn’t the same.

“We will find more and more within the industry that there will be different tournaments with their own rules, so the rules will vary from country to country and from tournament to tournament.

“But a lot of the usual questions will apply, like whether you need visas or immigration advice to travel to different countries to compete. Can we enter the country to play? What is our tax situation if we earn money?

“The rules regarding online access are very relevant: are individuals broadcasting online? Do they have to have a subscription? What about data privacy aspects that need to be considered? Will there be anti-doping rules? We’ll see how all of this evolves as things continue.

Get the legal advice you need

The Shepherd and Wedderburn team advise a number of international computer games and software development clients on a range of intellectual property issues, for example, and have extensive experience in providing the kind of support typically required by customers organizing large-scale events.

“While esports is a new world, once you get into the details, it’s surprisingly similar to how traditional sporting events and teams are organized and, as a leading law firm in UK, we have the expertise to handle that,” adds Joe. .

Available support may include, but is not limited to:

Site (s : advice on everything involved in organizing an event of this magnitude, from sponsorship rights to issuing tickets, to resolving privacy issues.

Sports teams: how to enter into sponsorship and marketing agreements with third parties, either with brands or by licensing the rights to use images created by their players; ensuring contracts are in place with top talent (similar to how football teams operate).

Esports Players: ensuring that contracts are clear and that stars can be paid for the services they provide; also considering their distinct gaming endeavors and how that relates to their contracts.

To find out more about how Shepherd and Wedderburn could help your esports team gain expert advice, or your site become a premier esports destination, visit shepwedd.com/expertise/sports-law

Representatives from Shepherd and Wedderburn will also be at the Esports Insider Conference on September 6 at BOXPARK Wembley, where over 600 delegates from over 30 countries will discuss expanding business revenue streams and investment opportunities.

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