It’s a billion-dollar industry that, unless you take your video gaming seriously, you might not even know exists. But the world of esports - competitive cash-prize and professional video gaming - has become big business, with live events attracting audiences of millions online and in person, not to mention highly lucrative corporate sponsorship deals.
Like conventional sports, esports has its own highly visible and well-reimbursed stars, the hotshot gamers who have turned a hobby into a paid profession. But beneath them, an entire industry infrastructure has evolved to set up the contests and make them accessible to the crowds of enthusiasts - agents, organisers, technicians, ticket vendors, web developers, even commentators or ‘casters’ who host the livestream events broadcast online.
Not entirely surprising for a dynamic, fast-paced, modern digital industry, it largely relies on freelance work to keep the cogs turning.
For gaming enthusiasts who aren’t quite able to cut it making a living from playing games, this presents further opportunities to turn something you love into a source of income. But there have started to be reports leaking out that the protocols around payment in what is still a young and relatively informal industry are not what they should be.
Why contracts are crucial
Esports news site Dexerto, for example, recently ran this report about ‘casters’, the faces and voices of the industry recognised by millions of online viewers, facing late payments. Freelancers working on the game Counter-Strike in particular have been taking to social media to complain about delays of two months or more to get paid. One caster posted that they had had to wait 10 months for money they were owed for a gig.
Tired of having to chase payments over and over again, the freelancers in question are hoping that “calling out” event organisers on social media will shame them into changing their ways.
But one worrying detail to emerge from the story is that many of the individuals involved do not have any kind of formal written contract with the organisations running the esports tournaments they cover. Instead, they work on a tournament-by-tournament basis on what amounts to a verbal contract.
This is partly understandable in an industry that has grown rapidly out of hobbyist clubs and amateur events. The casters might have even started out not getting paid, volunteering to work on events through networks of fellow enthusiasts. But as soon as there is money involved, there is little or no come back unless you have a contract in place. Even if your work is your passion, every freelancer should protect themselves by insisting on a written contract for every assignment, with payment terms clearly set out.
It might not guarantee you get paid on time every time, but it certainly gives you a firmer footing if you do run into problems.