Following the recent League of Legends East Coast Convention, eight streamers were fired from the popular group of live-streamers known as Team2G. For those unaware, live-streamers are individuals who stream themselves playing video games online for profit through services like Twitch.tv. The terminated streamers had allegedly violated their contracts by failing to attend the entirety of the convention and for “excessive partying.” However, many of the circumstances surrounding the streamers’ termination are unclear. Allegedly, the streamers had never signed an employment contract and were only informed that such a contract existed upon termination, when the team manager stated that she had signed the contracts on their behalf. If true, such actions raise questions as to whether the terminations were appropriate and whether valid contracts actually exist.
Most states treat employment as “at will,” meaning that an employer can terminate an employee at any time and for almost any reason. The employer cannot terminate the employment of an employee on the basis of membership to a protected class, like race, sex, national origin or age. However, the terms of an employment contract can specify the circumstances by which an employee may be terminated. Should such language exist in an employment agreement, then any deviation from the specified circumstances would be improper. Although the manager for Team2G cited contractual violations as a reason for termination, the very existence of an employment contract, and its terms, could be questioned.
The streamers allege that they have never seen, much less signed, an employment agreement with Team2G and that they were only verbally instructed as to how many hours they were required to stream per month. In order for a valid contract to exist, there must be an offer, consideration, acceptance, and mutual assent to the contract’s terms. Such a discussion about hours of work may lead to a valid oral contract, assuming that consideration was also discussed. Performance of the verbal obligations would further exemplify the existence of said verbal contract. Yet, the streamers were allegedly informed that written employment agreements did exist and that they were signed by the manager on their behalf.
If Team2G’s manager did sign the streamers’ contracts on their behalf, then it is likely that no valid written employment agreement actually exists. Concerning the written contract, the offer would be the opportunity to work for Team2G and the consideration would be the stated payment for the streamer’s services. Normally, acceptance and mutual assent are exemplified by signing a contract after reading and understanding the contract’s terms. Assuming that the manager signed the contracts on behalf of the streamers without their explicit consent, and the streamers had no knowledge of the existence of the contract or its terms, it likely cannot be argued that the streamers accepted the contract and assented to its terms. Due to those defects, it would be difficult to uphold the alleged written contract as valid. Therefore, the oral contract between the streamers and Team2G would likely govern. As the oral contract does not contain restrictions on termination other than that provided by Federal and State law, Team2G would likely be able to legally terminate the streamers’ contracts.
Unfortunately, the Team2G situation is not atypical. Many individuals in the gaming industry work as players, streamers, and content creators without valid, written contracts. The lack of contracts, and knowledge of one’s legal rights pertaining to oral contracts, has allowed professional gamers to be taken advantage of by scrupulous business owners. In the Team2G situation, a written contract may have offered the streamers some protection by defining the scenarios where they may be terminated. Despite its sizeable industry, professional gaming is still in its infancy and has yet to embrace the legal standards that other industries take for granted. Until professional gaming adopts the basic legal standard of utilizing contracts for employment agreements, and ensures that said contracts are legal, professional gamers will continue to be taken advantage of.
Roger Quiles is an attorney from New York City with a practice focusing in business, entertainment, and eSports law. A die-hard gamer since Super Mario Bros., Roger now represents professional gamers, tournament producers, and the businesses that serve them. Up, up, down, down, left, right, left right, B, A, Start.
(Photo used under creative commons from Eurritimia)