We had the chance to interview the famous gaming- and esports lawyer Ryan Morrison, also known by his Reddit handle “/u/VideoGameAttorney”, about practising law in the games industry and current developments in esports.
GL: Hello Mr. Morrison. Thank you for taking time for our interview!
M: Of course. It’s been a crazy couple of months, between The International, Gamescom, the VGBA Summit, PAX and I have an esports event tomorrow which I am speaking at, then I go to Vegas to talk about gambling law. It’s non-stop.
GL: My first question for you is: How did you choose your specialisation in games law?
M: So, I became a game-attorney kind of by accident. I worked at a trademark law firm, and I had seen on Reddit that a lot of game-developers got taken advantage of, were bullied, in particular Candy Crush was trademarking the word “Saga” and “Candy” and going after a lot of smaller developers. So, I realized that there was an opportunity there to do some real good and help people. And I went on Reddit, doing some free question and answer-sessions. That was my first case with tied to the videogame industry. Then some mid-level studios came around which could afford legal fees, and now I have a staff of almost twenty people and 90 % of my cases are games related. So that grew nicely.
GL: What services do you provide to esports-players?
M: We have a law firm and a talent agency, and they are separate. At the law firm we make sure that the contracts are safe and that they are not getting themselves in trouble, that the clauses are all mutually beneficial for the team and player. And with the agency we negotiate their salaries as high as possible, we keep the year-limits not too long and everything else.
GL: Which situations can an esports-player avoid through preventive consultation?
M: The biggest problem is, that they sign things without reading them but also that some of the contracts are done orally. Players should get everything in writing. This situation is changing, but it’s certainly the industry I walked into. Nowadays players look for counselling before legal issues arise.
GL: How do you see the future for lawyers specialized in esports law?
M: I think there is room for a lot more, we don’t have a ton of people who understand what the situation is. There are certainly a handful of people in this industry who care about the industry and do good, but we are starting to see a lot of more traditional attorneys come in that don’t really “get it” and their contracts reflect that. They are not actually looking out for things which are important and I think that is going to lead to a lot of bad situation, kind of a relearning in the industry again.
GL: At PAX, you said that the esports players are the lifeblood of the industry.
M: I say that all over the place. I mean it’s true. We only represent players, we don’t represent the teams and we are making sure that the players getting taken care of properly. It’s nice to see that they are starting to be, and I hope that the leagues are starting to take note of proper treatment and I hope that the publishers start to do this as well.
GL: What do you think of the current trend in the US to organize esports leagues, for example OWL (Overwatch), like the classical sports leagues?
M: Yeah, I think it’s a good way to legitimize and solidify the sport and make sure that things are good. But there are a lot of hiccups with all of it and I think we are going to see player’s unions down the road. I don’t think the way Riot is doing it is a good way. I think it needs to be done organically by the players, but we will see. You know, it’s a lot of “we’ll see” right now. But I think that the leagues will be mostly good for the players.
GL: Do you think that esports needs to self-regulate before governments take regulation in their own hands?
M: The video-game industry has the ESRB in America that puts ratings on games and does a lot of self-regulation so that the government doesn’t. I think we need the same in esports or we are going to be in a situation where the government is going to come in and make laws that are worse than anybody could have imagined. But if the leagues start to run things without caring about the players then my opinion is going to change about that and I’ll think we need the government.
GL: What do you think are the challenges which need to be overcome by esports to thrive in the long run? Do you think there are any hurdles in the way or developments you are worried about?
M: Yes, it’s going to be interesting to see where the publishers are with all that stuff and what kind of rules and regulations they’ll put forward to protect the players, because the publishers hold all the cards right now. For E-Sports to survive the publishers need to want it to survive and not turn it into a quick cash-grab. From what I’m seeing though, they are not doing that and they are trying to make it survive. So, that’s good.
GL: Last question: Do you yourself have time for gaming?
M: I don’t have time to do anything anymore, but I grew up a gamer, so I still game when I can.
GL: Thank you very much for finding time for our interview.
Addendum: Giving legal advice as Mr. Morrison did to build his law firm isn’t allowed in Germany as Section 49b of the Federal Lawyers Order states. We agree with his notion that appropriate legal advice should only be given by specialized lawyers.
Lukas Kissel, 30.09.2017