HOTS players’ lawsuit against team owner alludes to bigger problems in esports

The hits keep coming for the Heroes of the Storm scene, though this hit is quite delayed. According to a lawsuit, five former players for Team Naventic have filed a complaint against the owner of the team in August of 2018. They allege that they have not received the winnings and wages from their time spent on the team amounting to a total of $55,125. This amount does not include any interest, both from unpaid wages ($1250/month) and prize money.

The lawsuit also alleges that the team owner, James Ross Elliot II, used the Naventic team account for his own personal expenses and failed to pay taxes in the state where Naventic was formed as an LLC. For a full history of the situation, head over to Dot Esports’ article on it.

It happens quite often

Players not getting paid is a recurring incident in the esports scene. ERa Etnernity had this issue back in March of 2018, Denial Esports in September of 2018, Longzhu Gaming (became KingZone DragonX) in May of 2017, WizardHyeong, current coach of the Washington Justice, had salary problems in May of 2017 when working for Gale Force eSports, numerous teams that participated in Dota 2’s Northern Arena Beat Invitation were not initially paid in full, and in 2015 Riot banned Team Immunity for two years from participating in the Oceanic LoL scene for not paying their players on time for an entire year.

All that is just from the first page of Google and we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to players not being paid on time or at all.

Why are teams and team owners getting away with this so often? It’s probably safe to say it’s because most of the teams getting away with this are from smaller regions, in T2 esports, and are relatively unknown, but in the case of Dota 2 and Longzhu Gaming, that just isn’t the case. Dota 2 pays out the highest prize pool in esports (though not for the tournament in question here) and Longzhu Gaming were the LCK favorites to win Worlds 2017 for League of Legends.

Why does it keep happening?

To this day, there is little accountability for those that commit these kinds of offenses. What recourse do the players really have? In the case of Naventis, not much. They tried serving the team owner court documents 14 times and failed. Meanwhile, the owner is somewhere in the world, allegedly spending the money they are owed and won. Meanwhile, these players are out their salaries for an entire competitive season.

Realistically, if the lawsuit turns out in favor of the five players they still won’t see much of what they’re owed. The fees from pursuing this lawsuit are going to pile up and take the majority of any restitution the courts orders, that’s just how lawsuits work.

So how can we make sure players are paid for their efforts? Ideally, we shouldn’t be talking about this in the first place, but since we are, the accountability could come from the companies that own the games like Valve, Riot, and Blizzard.

Valve, Riot, and Blizzard run the largest esports in the world and dish out the prize money for these tournaments themselves. Why not have them pay out the tournament winnings to the players directly instead of to the team? In the case of the Overwatch League, league rules dictate that half the prize money goes to players and the other half to the team. Why not give it directly to the players?

Okay, maybe players have weird contracts that allot them different amounts of prize winnings. Without a doubt, these companies have player contracts on file to ensure compliance with their own rules, so they can easily adjust who gets what.

What about tournaments run by companies like Red Bull and Intel? The same can apply to them, though they would need access to the player contracts or a representative from the IPs owner would have to work with them to ensure compliance. But at this point, it’s starting to get too convoluted to be efficient. There has to be an easier solution to all of this, right?

Proper recourse for players

It all comes down to the players not having much power in the whole situation, not to mention the fact that they don’t have that much money in the first place. In addition, how many of these players truly want to be bogged down with an extensive amount of paperwork and a legal battle? None of them. They want to play video games and win tournaments. It’s the reason they’re there and anything else they’re doing detracts from that goal.

Whomever owns the esport in question needs to take more action when it comes to these situations. Blizzard, Riot, and Valve all need to take swift investigative and possible legal action against those in question for every situation whenever a player reports a problem like this.

If you screw over your players a team of experienced lawyers from a multimillion dollar company should be coming after you, not whatever the players could scrape together. You should be the one paying legal damages and you should never work in esports again. Any esport.

Too often we see organizations scrapped and rebranded after a bad PR stumble, just look at LongZhu Gaming becoming KingZone DragonX. We need these game companies to be vigilant on this front in order to protect their players. After all, these players are taking a tremendous risk in becoming a professional gamer while the company reaps the monetary benefits.

It’s also just good business for these companies. By showing that they care for their players and will take meaningful action against those that wrong them, they encourage more players to consider becoming a professional gamer a viable path, which is exactly what these companies need in order to continue having a sustainable esport scene.

Photo Credit: Carlton Beener