Esports Tournament Organizers: Legal Matters You Should be Aware of

By Joseph Cheah


When Malaysia implemented lockdown in March last year, we saw a spike in online esports tournaments. This comes as no surprise as more people are stuck at home, and arguably more time on their hands. Putting together an online tournament is also generally ‘easier’ as compared to in-person tournaments, where you do not need to concern with logistics and physical coordination of the attendees.

As Malaysia enters into lockdown again for the 2nd time within a year, we foresee an increase in tournaments again – on popular titles such as Dota 2, Mobile Legends, PUBG Mobile, etc. Tournament organizers are the intermediary between the publisher and the teams, players, and spectators. As such, there are legal issues to be aware of to ensure that the tournaments are organized responsibly.

License from Developer/Publisher

This is fundamental in organizing and monetizing a tournament. Ultimately, the game publishers own the copyright of the games that you intend to organize. They can legally shut down the tournament just because and without any justification. Although an extremely unpopular move and not common, we have seen this happened before.

In November 2020, a Super Smash Bros. tournament was forced to be cancelled by Nintendo for its use of a fan-developed mod meant to improve the online play.

If you are organizing a tournament with considerably low prize pool, no added mods, and within a certain region only, perhaps this matter is something you can skip. However. if you intend to organize the tournament in a large scale, it will be prudent to secure all the rights needed for the tournament and marketing. Generally, you can begin engagement with the relevant publisher and ought to cover the following:

  1. Reproduction of the game;
  2. Broadcasting rights;
  3. Advertising rights;
  4. Trademark rights;
  5. Use of footage and VODs; and
  6. Production of game-related contents throughout the tournament.

A large chunk of the revenue derives from sponsors. If your tournament can attract eyeballs, sponsors will naturally be drawn to advertise in the event. A written contract to regulate your relationship with the sponsors is ideal. The general provisions should include:

  1. Payment terms;
  2. Parties’ obligations;
  3. Time on screen;
  4. Exclusivity; and
  5. Use of trademark logos.
Tournament Rules

At the outset, terms and conditions of participation must first be ironed out before making the tournament public. It is extremely important for all participants to be made aware of the rules and regulations before they agree to participate. As a tournament organizer, whilst you can be the judge to deal and make decisions on any matters in respect of the tournament, it would be wise to set the tournament details clearly to ensure no or minimal dispute(s) from participants.

Some of the terms that you ought to include are:

  1. Tournament format and procedure;
  2. Prize pool payout;
  3. Right to use players’ name for marketing purpose;
  4. Players’ integrity and prohibition to use cheats; and
  5. Organizers’ liability in respect of any cancellation, technical faults, and/or any disruption.
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