Allegations of withheld earnings and career sabotage are at the center of the legal battle.
Popular Fortnite streamer Turner “Tfue” Tenney has found himself at the center of a legal battle surrounding his contract with esports organization FaZe Clan. Tenney, who boasts over 10 million subscribers on YouTube, claims FaZe has withheld up to 80 percent of his earnings. His lawsuit against FaZe, filed earlier this week (see below), also alleges the organization has violated California law by prohibiting Tenney from pursuing potential deals with other parties.
“We have not seen the contract, but, some provisions of law cannot be contracted around,” Brandon Huffman, attorney for Odin Law told GameDaily. “Especially those that are designed to protect consumers or individuals, like California's Talent Agency Act.”
Passed in 1978, The California Talent Agency Act states that parties seeking to represent entertainers--in this case an esports player--must have a talent agency license number. If it’s found that FaZe Clan does not possess such a license, it could mean that it has violated the Act.
“Teams like FaZe could be subjected to the Act, meaning they'd have to adhere to the same protective provisions that talent agents do,” Huffman said. “These are designed to protect the individual performers and athletes, but in the esports world, the Act has been too widely ignored.”
In response to Tenney’s suit, FaZe Clan issued a statement via Twitter on Monday that decried claims that the organization collected money from Tfue’s tournament winnings and revenue generated through his Twitch and YouTube channels. FaZe Clan claims that it only receives up to 20 percent of Tfue’s income with the rest going to the player. In a follow-up statement, FaZe admitted that there exists a clause in Tenney’s contract that provides rights to up to 80 percent of Tenney’s earnings, but it claims to have never collected on the clause.
In his first public statement since filing the lawsuit, Tenney urged FaZe Clan to “release the f*****g contract.” Other reports suggest that Tenney has been attempting to get out of his contract for several months, and only went public after exhausting all other avenues.
Since Tenney’s suit has gone public, FaZe Clan founder Richard “Banks” Bengston has taken to Twitter in a flurry of statements, including an admission that Tenney’s initial contract was indeed unfair.
The suit is largely uncharted territory for the world of esports. While the industry has seen its share of lawsuits revolving around gambling and loot boxes, individual esports contracts have been mostly undiscussed. Without agent representation as in professional sports, esports players are often left to represent themselves, as is the case with Tenney.
“This could be a noncompete, or a restriction on the kinds of performances or deals [Tenney] can take,” Huffman said. “Or it could just be an exclusivity provision. This is definitely common, but that does not mean it is not limiting. Limits are okay, when they are paid for.”
A byproduct of this is that public perception is likely to play a large role the case moving forward. If YouTube subscriber numbers are anything to go by, the public is mostly siding with FaZe Clan and Bengston; he’s gained 60 thousand subscribers since Tfue’s suit went public, while Tenney himself has lost around 20 thousand. In the arena of public support, Bengston is clearly at an advantage.
Right now it’s hard to gauge the impact this suit might have on the esports industry, but the legal battle between Tenney and FaZe is likely to have far-reaching effects. With both sides operating largely on hearsay at the moment, there’s not a lot to go on.
“It has been frustrating that neither side has released the agreement,” Huffman said. “It's hard to weigh in on the specifics of the suit without knowing the language of the agreement. If the version that allegedly leaked this morning is accurate, it is pretty oppressive.”
A functioning organization ensures both parties’ interests are recognized, so perhaps something akin to Players’ Associations in professional sports is an answer. As esports continue to grow, it’s certainly a conversation worth having.
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