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What VCT 2023 could mean for player rights

Dexerto spoke to agents, the head of the NALCSPA and a lawyer to understand how VCT 2023 and its leagues will impact player rights.

  • Posted on 11th May, 2022 15:30 PM
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On April 28 Riot Games announced its plans for the 2023 Valorant Champions Tour, which is taking steps towards a closed league system for top teams.

What VCT 2023 could mean for player rightsThe number of high-profile players in VCT 2023 may be restricted as the top leagues are established.

That is not to say that Valorant contracts today are not one-sided or don’t have clauses that agents and players are uncomfortable with.

Many current contracts have standards for merchandise sale percentage, pay, severance, streaming hours, Non-Disclosure Agreements, prize-winning splits and so on.

According to Jérôme Coupez, an agent and CEO of Prodigy Agency, just because Valorant is going the way of pseudo-franchising doesn’t mean that orgs will push for more team-sided or unfair contracts, at least more than they already do.

But that doesn’t mean players and agents should not be pushing for specific things once 2023 draws closer and contracts potentially need to be renegotiated.

“With a more structured environment and some minimum regulations from Riot, I think all players and agents should be pushing back on important and one-sided clauses like Termination Without Cause, Right of First Refusal, Right to Trade without the consent of the player etc,” Coupez said in an email.

What teams could push for

What VCT 2023 could mean for player rightsPlayers across the world are going to be involved in Riot’s three international leagues.

What could be grandfathered in, in terms of contract terms or specific clauses, in Valorant is largely unclear at the moment as Riot is just now approaching teams to partner in their new leagues.

What is standard for some contracts at the moment, that could continue into 2023, are items like good behavior bonuses. According to two agents Dexerto spoke to, these are clauses that give players a monetary bonus to their monthly salary if they have been on, what the org deems to be, good behavior.

These bonuses are not ubiquitous across the esport, and it is not a bonus in the traditional sense as this is a requirement to get their full salary and not extra pay.

“I get the principle behind why they’re doing it but it’s a little fake if that makes sense,” Gavin Stiles, Director of Talent operations and an agent for Carter Pulse said.

“It needs to be more well put in there. I don’t even know if it really needs to be in there in general. If you don’t like the way a player is communicating or whatever, just bring it up and communicate that with them.”

There are other negotiating points that orgs have tried to push for as well like what Coupez said agents should push back on, along with length on Non-Disclosure Agreements, severance pay and streaming hours.

One organization even tried to have players sign a contract that said if management or staff from the team found that players were drinking or smoking, they would be fined, according to Stiles.

“It’s pretty hilarious,” Stiles said. “Obviously, that was removed instantly and really silly.”

Teams also have tried to take advantage of surprise Riot announcements that orgs and players are not privy to like the 2021 Valorant Champions skin bundle which saw half of its in-game sales go to teams that made the year-end Valorant championship.

Monetary splits for these between players and orgs varied, with some reportedly not receiving any.

Without prior notice of this new prize pool, no contracts had clauses specifically mentioning this so many had to negotiate how it would be split post-announcement which was less than a month before the tournament began.

No time to organize like the present

What VCT 2023 could mean for player rightsCreating a Players Association will require work from the players across the US and potentially beyond.

While esports is a relatively new area in terms of labor precedent and age, even if you account for competitive gaming going back to the late 1990s, there are contemporary sports leagues that players have to look to for inspiration around organizing.

America has a history of fighting unions and labor organizers as far back as the 1800s and as recent as today. For modern examples, players can look to the National Hockey League and the formation of the NHL Players Association.

“So usually, players unions are organized when they feel like, collectively, their rights are not being protected,” Ryan Fairchild, an advisor at Odin Law ad Media and board member of NALCSPA. “And so players could do that now if they feel like that’s already the case and it could be a preemptive thing.”

But according to Fairchild, players don’t need to wait for franchising or other developer systems to come around to organize in some way. If they believe that they are competing in a top-tier esport, then they should start to protect their rights now.

Coupez equates Valorant contracts right now to Counter-Strike contracts in terms of taking advantage of players, which makes preemptive moves look like a good option.

“There are a lot of very (very) one-sided contracts right now, and I hope Riot will regulate it to avoid it in 2023.” he said.

Ultimately, according to Fairchild, teams and players should be working together to increase the trickle-down of revenue from the developer to the league. While teams and players negotiate salary, prize pool and in-game skin sale splits, Riot is the one that is telling them how much they are going to be fighting over.

“Let me be clear, players are trying to capture value and teams are trying to capture value. The issue is [players and teams] trying to capture value from a small slice of the pie. Which is cut by the publishers,” Fairchild said.

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