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Legal Support in the Growing Esports Industry

Alex Wharton

Legal Support in the Growing Esports Industry

The global esports industry has grown rapidly, from an underground movement to current events at Madison Square Garden. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, esports is the world of competitive video gaming. No longer is it confined to the bedrooms of teenagers or the basement of parental homes. The newly popular industry now garners hundreds of millions of viewers each year and is estimated to bring in $2 billion in revenue in 2022. The industry has captured the attention of companies such as Amazon, NASCAR, and Mastercard, all of which committed themselves to sponsorship deals with various esports events in August 2021.[i]

Here in Tennessee alone, the esports industry has already developed a foothold, and it is only getting stronger. Belong Gaming Arenas, a massive UK-based esports gaming company, is on a mission to open 500 arenas in the United States, with one recent opening in Franklin, Tennessee at Cool Springs Galleria – right across the interstate from our Cole Law Group office. Martyn Gibbs, CEO of Belong Gaming Arenas, expressed that “Nashville has developed an incredible gaming scene and we can’t wait to provide a home for the Middle Tennessee gaming community to continue growing.”

Belong’s Franklin Arena will also be home to an amateur local esports team, the Franklin Phantoms.[ii] And Tennessee’s professional sports teams have already gotten their feet wet within the growing esports industry!

Nashville SC and the eMLS

For the past several years, Tennessee’s professional soccer team, Nashville SC, has participated in the eMLS Cup and recently signed their newest competitor, Joksan, to represent the club in the 2022 eMLS season.[iii]

Memphis Grizzlies and Grizz Gaming

The Memphis Grizzlies have sponsored an NBA 2k esports team since December of 2017 called Grizz Gaming. Their growth and success have earned them sponsorship deals from FedEx, America’s Navy, HyperX, and Alienware.[iv]

Filip Forsberg and the Nashville Predators

Inspired by the growth of esports around the world, the Nashville Predators joined the NHL in creating the NHL Player Gaming Challenge during the heigh of COVID-19. Filip Forsberg, a player for the Predators, took to the virtual head-to-head gaming challenge, representing his team both on the ice and on the controller.[v] Forsberg is now also a brand ambassador for HyperX, a global gaming equipment company.

Tennessee Titans’ Guard Rodger Saffold Creates Esports Team

Esports in Tennessee has also caught the eye of Titans’ guard Rodger Saffold, who founded an esports team with business partner and pro gamer Kahreem Horsley. The team, named Rise, has recently undergone a rebranding and has expanded to include more pro gamers across more platforms. Safford hopes that his Titans’ fans will expand their support into his esports endeavors as well.[vi]

Esports and Cole Law:  When It’s No Longer Just a Game

The legal implications behind esports closely mirror those of typical pro sports, where players and teams alike should seek legal backing for all matters pertaining to contracts and endorsements, intellectual property, image rights, and mergers and acquisitions.

As with any form of employment, players should seek legal counsel to ensure their rights are protected under employment contracts with the teams they agree to represent. As many young gamers are too overcome with excitement to ensure adequate protection in their contracts with teams and endorsement companies, the novelty of the esports industry has unfortunately resulted in stories of maltreatment and contractual nightmares.

Just like typical sports, esports players should seek legal advice for intellectual property concerns. Licensing issues arise regularly, and players, their teams, and the games they play all have IP rights that should be protected through legal counsel. Players should have influence over the use of their name, image, and likeness too, especially in endorsement deals, so hiring an attorney becomes a must-do.

Finally, although less common than issues with contracts and intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions will and do happen in esports, with teams buying other teams, teams acquiring new owners, leagues of various games joining to become one large esports league, etc. As with any purchase of assets, legal counsel is indisputably necessary to protect the interests of all parties involved and to ensure all legal formalities are followed.[vii]

If you are new to the esports industry, or perhaps you are an existing player who now requires legal counsel, we will be happy to help you navigate the esports industry.  Call 615-490-6020 to consult with an esports attorney at Cole Law Group in Brentwood, TN.


[i] Where I See the Esports Industry Headed in 2022 and Beyond – Rolling Stone

[ii] https://thebusinessofesports.com/2022/01/01/belong-gaming-arenas-now-open-at-coolsprings-galleria-in-franklin-tennessee/

[iii] https://www.nashvillesc.com/news/nashville-soccer-club-signs-joksan-redona-as-the-club-newest-emls-athlete

[iv] https://grizzgaming.nba.com/

[v] https://predlines.com/2020/05/06/nashville-predators-filip-forsberg-virtual-sweep/

[vi] https://www.espn.com/blog/tennessee-titans/post/_/id/29822/how-titans-rodger-saffold-became-an-esports-owner-and-whats-next

[vii] http://thelegalgeeks.com/2015/09/03/the-intersection-of-esports-and-the-law/

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