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Labor&Immigration

An Overview of Esports and United States Immigration Law

In a an ever-developing world where virtual arenas are now as entrancing as real-world stadiums, the world of esports has advanced from sideline gaming to becoming a global phenomenon. Esports transcends borders, as players from all over the world often gather to compete in tournaments that feature millions of dollars in prizes, along with millions of online viewers. Many of these tournaments and leagues, such as the official Call of Duty League (CDL), the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), and the Valorant Champions Tour (VCT), to name a few, take place in the United States, where globetrotting players compete for prestigious titles in stadiums while both in-person and online fans tune in to cheer them on.

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However, an intriguing area that is often overlooked is the intersection of esports and United States immigration law. After all, the United States has some of most complex and strict immigration rules in the world, and as esports continues to rise in popularity, teams, players, and even fans must figure out how to navigate the intricacies of United States immigration regulations. 

Esports Players Are Athletes That Require Visas

Foremost, it is worth mentioning that just like athletes in traditional sports leagues, such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, esports players are athletes, especially in the eyes of U.S. immigration officials. This means that these professionals must secure the appropriate visa so they can be authorized to enter the United States and compete therein without running afoul of any immigration decrees. This notion applies to all players no matter where they hail from or how popular they may be, and as they prepare for their competition “on the field,” legal teams are formulating and implementing elaborate legal maneuvers, collecting and organizing extensive documentation and evidence, and concocting strategies to ensure that each team is able to help their players achieve their dreams of competing from within the United States. In that regard, there are two main ‘nonimmigrant,’ or temporary, options for esports professionals: the P-1 visa and the O-1 visa.

The P-1 Visa: Internationally Recognized Athletes

In its most general terms, the P-1 visa, which stems from section 101(a)(15)(P) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), allows athletes who are internationally recognized to showcase their astonishing talents on American soil during specific athletic competitions, seasons, or events. Designed for individuals who are known in more than one country, the P-1 visa provides a clear path for esports athletes to compete in distinguished leagues that require players of international recognition. In order to merit a P-1 visa, in addition to other requirements codified in Title 8 Section 214.2(p) of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the athlete must be able to prove that they meet certain eligibility requirements, including proving major tournament wins, high rankings, endorsements from recognized experts, and more.  Another way to seek a P-1 visa is to prove that the athlete meets the statutory definition of being recognized as a “Professional Athlete” pursuant to section 204(i)(2) of the INA. Coaches, trainers, and other support staff who can prove that they are essential to a principal P-1 athlete can apply for what’s known as a P-1S visa, so they may support the team or individual in their efforts from within the United States.    

The O-1 Visa: Athletes With Extraordinary Abilities

The other option, which often provides more flexibility, is the O-1 visa from section 101(a)(15)(O) of the INA, which permits individuals that possess extraordinary abilities in their field to enter the United States to work within their industry. Although the standard is much higher, there are benefits to seeking an O-1 visa over a P-1, and doing so often ensures the best chances of success. To merit an O-1 visa, the individual athlete must be able to demonstrate that they have a reputation of distinction and maintain extraordinary abilities in their sport. This requirement, in addition to what is needed pursuant to section 214.2(o) of Title 8 of the CFR, can be met by submitting evidence such as press, articles, awards, large followings, high rates of compensation, and more. It is also helpful to demonstrate that the athlete has worked with distinguished companies, teams, brands, and organizations, as well as providing testimonial letters from prominent individuals who can attest to the athlete’s extraordinary reputation and work history. Obtaining an O-1 visa is difficult and requires tremendous creativity and legal acumen, but is absolutely obtainable and is a true testament to esports players’ dedication and skill in their games. O-1 visas are also often sought for Influencers, Streamers, and Content Creators in the gaming world as well, as esports often bleeds into these industries, especially when the athletes and games are streamed on Twitch, YouTube, Kick, or Rumble. 

Conclusion: Always Plan Ahead

While the immigration process can seem daunting, the labyrinthine landscape of immigration law is surmountable with a strong legal team by your side. What is most crucial is finding a firm that has extensive experience in this world, as the stakes are often very high, rosters are finalized with inked contracts early on in free agency, and fans do not want to be disappointed if things go awry. Luckily, at Wildes & Weinberg, we have tremendous experience in understanding the history and complexities of United States immigration law, as well as the nuances and novelty of the esports industry. We have been fortunate to represent a plethora of esports talent, including athletes competing for Minesotta ROKKR (CDL), Team MIBR (VCT), and Immortals (LCS), to name a few organizations. It takes a true symphony of legal expertise and esports passion to bring the esports ecosystem to life in the United States, and finding a strong esports immigration lawyer is often one of the first steps in orchestrating a successful season. 

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About Wildes & Weinberg

Wildes & Weinberg was founded in 1960 by Senior Partner, Leon Wildes.  Nearly three quarters of a century later, the firm continues to concentrate its practice in all aspects of U.S. immigration and nationality law, servicing the immigration requirements of prominent American and International firms, banks, industrial, financial, and manufacturing concerns, as well as law firms in connection with the personnel needs of their foreign national employees. 

In addition, the firm has a distinguished clientele and has done substantial immigration work for performing artists, directors, writers, models, actors/actresses, athletes, fine artists, art dealers, curators, influencers, esports professionals, and literary agents. Most notable was Leon Wildes’ successful representation of former Beatle John Lennon and his artist wife, Yoko Ono, in their deportation proceedings, the basis of which has inspired legislation, and has been portrayed in films, plays, and literary works worldwide.  Some of the firm’s other distinguished clients include soccer icon Pele, Master Chef Jean-Georges, musicians Sinead O’Connor and Boy George, scholar Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (z”l), as well as Former First Lady Melania Trump and her family. 

For more information on Wildes & Weinberg, please visit www.wildeslaw.com or contact Josh Wildes at [email protected]

Author

  • Josh Wildes

    Joshua H. Wildes, Esq. is an Associate Attorney at Wildes & Weinberg, PC, an immigration firm that was started by his grandfather, Leon Wildes, over 60 years ago, around the same time that he represented the legendary John Lennon in his immigration proceedings. Josh’s father, Michael Wildes, who is a former Federal Prosecutor and Mayor of a town in New Jersey, is now the Managing Partner of the firm, and has represented many well-known individuals including soccer icon Pele, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, renowned chef Jean Georges, singer-songwriter Boy George, former First Lady Melania Trump, and many more. Josh as extensive experience with immigration law, having spent time as an Attorney Advisor in the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review at the Miami Immigration Court, where he was originally hired as a Judicial Law Clerk through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. Previously, he worked at Wildes & Weinberg in different roles, including as the Director of Communications, since a young age, and now handles many of the firm’s esports clients, often assisting athletes, teams, and fans obtain the proper authorization to enter and work in the United States. He also served as a Legal Intern for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Chief Counsel, as well as for the Department of Justice’s U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (Civil Division).

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Labor&Immigration

Tribunal Judiciaire de Paris: Rethinking the Esports Employment Contract

The Paris Tribunal Judiciaire issued a landmark ruling on 27 March 2024, that has significant implications for the contractual relationships within esports. This decision, which reclassified an esports player’s service contract as an employment contract, marks a pivotal shift in how employment relationships are perceived and regulated in the rapidly growing esports sector. The ruling not only emphasizes the need for a clearer understanding of employment laws in new-age digital and entertainment industries but also potentially sets a precedent for future contractual disputes in esports across jurisdictions.

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Esports Employment Contracts ELN | Tribunal Judiciaire de Paris

Statement of Facts

The case, TJ Paris, ps ctx protection soc. 3, 27 mars 2024, n° 22/02668, involved an esports player who had entered into a contractual agreement with an American esports club to participate in Counter-Strike competitions from 2016 to 2017. The employment contract in question was titled a “self-employed worker contract,” under which the player was ostensibly hired as an independent contractor. This classification has significant legal and financial implications, primarily regarding tax and social security liabilities.

The French URSSAF Caisse Nationale, responsible for the collection of social security and family benefit contributions, challenged the contractual classification. URSSAF initiated a recovery action claiming that the income derived by the player under this contract should be subject to contributions as “non-commercial profits,” according to Article L131-6 of the French Social Security Act. The agency’s position was that the player’s engagement bore all the hallmarks of traditional employment rather than those of an independent contractor.

The player contested URSSAF’s assessment, arguing that despite the contractual designation as a self-employed worker, the actual terms and conditions of his engagement demonstrated a dependency and subordination typical of an employment relationship. This challenge led to judicial scrutiny of the nature of the contractual relationship between the player and the esports club.

The tribunal’s analysis centered on distinguishing between self-employed status and employment based on the degree of subordination to the employer, as characterized by French labor law. Article L.8221-6-1 of the French Labour Code defines independent contractors as follows:

“is presumed to be an independent contractor, any individual whose working conditions are defined exclusively by himself or in a contract, in conjunction with his customer”.

The French Labour Code stipulates that individuals registered as self-employed service providers are generally assumed not to have an employment contract with their clients while carrying out their activities. Nevertheless, this assumption can be challenged. The same legal provision notes that an employment contract may still be recognized if the registered individual delivers services in circumstances that create a continuous subordinate relationship with the client.

The judges meticulously reviewed the contractual obligations and daily activities imposed by the esports club on the player, which included:

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  • Mandatory participation in specific competitions as directed by the club.
  • A set schedule for training and streaming that the player was required to follow.
  • Requirements to wear the club’s uniform during official events and partake in promotional activities.

These conditions, alongside regular monthly payments and the provision of accommodations and travel arrangements by the club, clearly illustrated an employer-employee relationship, as the club exerted substantial control over the player’s professional activities.

Analysis of the Tribunal’s Ruling

The judges’ assessment focused on various aspects of the player’s contract and daily work engagements that pointed toward an employment relationship. The following elements were particularly influential in the tribunal’s decision:

  • Subordination and Control: The club required the player to participate in specific competitions, adhere to a strict training schedule of 15 hours per week, and engage in a minimum of 20 hours of streaming per month. Such requirements are indicative of an employer’s control over the employee’s work activities.
  • Contractual Obligations: The contract stipulated that the player wear the team uniform during competitions and participate in marketing activities dictated by the club. These obligations demonstrate the club’s control over the player’s professional image and public engagements, further evidencing an employment relationship.
  • Economic Dependency: The regular payment between EUR 4,000 and EUR 5,000, alongside provisions for accommodation and travel for competitions, indicated an economic dependency typical of an employment relationship rather than freelance or self-employed arrangements.
  • Termination Conditions: The contract allowed the club to terminate the agreement if the player failed to meet the set obligations or was unable to provide services for at least 30 consecutive days. This level of control and the potential for penalization align with the characteristics of an employee-employer relationship.

Implications of the Ruling

For Esports Clubs: The reclassification of service contracts to employment contracts suggests that esports clubs need to meticulously review and possibly revise their contractual practices. Clubs may face increased financial liabilities due to obligations to pay social security contributions and potential penalties for previously undeclared work, as outlined in articles L8223-1 and L8211-1 of the French Labour Code. This ruling may compel clubs to establish clearer, more structured employment agreements, potentially increasing operational costs but providing more stability and clarity for both parties involved.

For Players: Esports players may find this ruling beneficial as it provides a clearer path to securing employment benefits, including social security, health insurance, and guaranteed wages. This could also empower players to challenge unfavorable contractual terms and seek reclassification as employees to gain the protections and benefits that employment status confers.

For the Esports Industry: The decision may prompt a broader reevaluation of how esports professionals are classified across the industry. It challenges the current contractual norms and may lead to more standardized employment practices. While this could increase costs for esports organizations, it also has the potential to professionalize the industry further, attracting more stable investments and improving the overall working conditions for players.

Conclusion

The Paris Tribunal Judiciaire’s decision of 27 March 2024 is a very important one for the esports industry. As the sector continues to grow and professionalize, the legal definitions and frameworks that govern these professional relationships will be crucial. Esports organizations and players must take these changes carefully into account, balancing competitive interests with legal compliance and fair labor practices.

Via: Victoire-Avocats

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Author

  • Leonid Shmatenko

    Leonid Shmatenko is part of Eversheds Sutherlands’ data protection and technology law team. He has vast experience in regulatory and general issues in the areas of eSports and Blockchain. He advises eSports associations and clubs on all legal issues, advises and supports crypto startups in all matters from planning, preparation to execution of private and public token offerings (so-called Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs). Furthermore, Leonid Shmatenko specializes in international arbitration and has participated in several arbitration proceedings (SAC, ICC, DIS, UNCITRAL, ICSID, ad hoc) as a party representative and secretary of the tribunal. Leonid Shmatenko studied at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and is currently pursuing a PhD in international law. After his successful first state examination (2011), he completed his legal clerkship, inter alia, at the German Embassy in Lima and within international law firms in Düsseldorf and Paris. He passed the second state examination in 2015. He is an external lecturer at the National Law University of Ukraine “Yaroslav Mudryi”, where he teaches International Investment Law. He is admitted to the Bar in Switzerland and Germany. Before joining Eversheds Sutherland, Leonid Shmatenko worked as an attorney at leading law firms in Geneva, Munich and Paris.

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General

Takaze’s Take: Free the Agents – Sexism and Misogyny in the Esports Business

This new format of an article (Takaze’s Take) explains how an eathlete can file a discrimination lawsuit in the USA. This article also discusses women in sports.

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Takaze's Take: Free the Agents

On 28 February 2024, Josefine Jensen, a member of Astralis’ Women’s Counter-Strike team, took a stand. She Xed a letter to Valve Corporation, demanding a change in their business practices. Specifically, she urged them to make female agent skins free to use in Counter-Strike. This issue, she believes, is not just about Skins but about the deep-rooted sexism and misogyny that pervades the esports industry. 

The esports world has a rich history of mistreating women.[1] However, women in America do have a way to counterattack. For example, suppose the misandrist is someone you work with. In that case, you can file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).[2] 

The EEOC enforces “federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.”[3] If you sign and file a Charge of Discrimination, you are “asserting that an employer, union or labor organization engaged in employment discrimination.”[4] You must file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC before you can sue your employer for discrimination.

Takaze’s Take

Filing a Charge of Discrimination is not your only option. In fact, as the war against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) intensifies, the EEOC may be unable to protect you. Unfortunately, your enemies intend to compel the EEOC to enforce the status quo.[5] If DEI is important to you, then a showdown with your adversaries may be inevitable. 

Mr. Monopoly’s Wisdom

Your opponents view DEI as a zero-sum game. Fear and insecurities are at the center of the conflict.[6] We ought to celebrate your accomplishments.[7] Instead, your adversaries recognize that these fears and insecurities make their followers susceptible to viewing your success as a threat.[8] Mr. Monopoly can help you understand the schism. Until recently, your enemies owned the entire board. Their rule was ruthless and absolute. Over time, your foes’ forefathers were forced to make half-hearted concessions. Your forebears were given Mediterranean Avenue—Connecticut Avenue. Their adversaries expected them to be content. 

Those whose shoulders you stand upon continued to press the issue. You landed on Atlantic Avenue, and your sights are set on Boardwalk. The last seven to eight years in American politics should have clarified one thing for you: Your enemies consider your desire to own Boardwalk wholly unacceptable. 

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Their Strategy

Your enemies are clever.[9] They copied the tactics of Civil Rights activists.[10] Now, your opponents are erasing them from your history books.[11] Their recent legislative and judicial victories show that your adversaries are reaping the rewards of their efforts.[12] Your enemies likely believe their victory will be absolute if they can expunge the history of your forebears.

The Counter-Strike

The sports and entertainment worlds have not acquiesced to your enemies’ demands.[13] As we enter the next phase of the streaming wars, alienating marginalized groups is a surefire way to lose.[14] You can leverage the pursuit of profits to your advantage. For example, working at the FDIC was a never-ending party until the Wall Street Journal arrived.[15]The author hopes that soon, every woman will feel safe in the workplace. Perhaps your enemies feel secure because the esports world is not mainstream. The author hopes you show them that they are misreading the tea leaves.

The spotlight is shining brightly upon the women’s sports universe. The WNBA and ESPN plan to capitalize on Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese’s fame.[16] The NWSL is expanding.[17] Private equity firms are investing heavily in the sports world.[18] The NFL is arriving fashionably late to the dance, but their dance card is undoubtedly full.[19] The esports world claims to be unhappy with its dependence upon the Saudis, and the business model needs to be tweaked.[20]Investors not chosen by the major sports leagues will need a date. If DEI is important to you, now may be the time to press the issue. 

Advance your token to Boardwalk.

Image source: Netcompany

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[1] Ajay Rose, Inside the World of Female esports: “It’s a Scary Space for Women’, The Athletic (Jul. 23, 2023), https://theathletic.com/4635621/2023/07/23/inside-the-world-of-female-esports/.

[2] Filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOChttps://www.eeoc.gov/filing-charge-discrimination (last visited Apr. 7, 2024).  

[3] Overviewhttps://www.eeoc.gov/overview (last visited Apr. 7, 2024). 

[4] Id.

[5] Robert Draper, America First Legal, a Trump-Aligned Group, Is Spoiling for a Fight, N.Y. Times (Mar. 21, 2024), https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/21/us/politics/stephen-miller-america-first-legal.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare&ugrp=c&pvid=E1F42499-3ECC-4095-9233-0DA8057CA02A&sgrp=c-cb.

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[6] Why Young Men and Women Are Drifting Apart, The Economist (Mar. 13, 2024), https://www.economist.com/international/2024/03/13/why-the-growing-gulf-between-young-men-and-womenMaking Sense of the Gulf Between Young Men and Women, The Economist (Mar. 14, 2024), https://www.economist.com/leaders/2024/03/14/making-sense-of-the-gulf-between-young-men-and-women.

[7] Aparna Rae, White Men’s Role in Advancing Equity and Inclusion, Forbes (Mar. 14, 2024), https://www.forbes.com/sites/aparnarae/2024/03/14/white-mens-role-in-advancing-equity-and-inclusion/?sh=6f4d22b85b5f.

[8] Nicquel Terry Ellis & Catherine Thorbecke, DEI Efforts are Under Siege. Here’s What Experts Say is at Stake, CNN (Jan. 11, 2024), https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/07/us/dei-attacks-experts-warn-of-consequences-reaj/index.html.

[9] Nicholas Confessore, ‘America is Under Attack’: Inside the Anti-D.E.I. Crusade, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2024), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2024/01/20/us/dei-woke-claremont-institute.html; Meg Little Reilly, Anti-DEI Bills Rely on Vague Language and Self-Censorship, Forbes (Mar. 5, 2024), https://www.forbes.com/sites/meglittlereilly/2024/03/05/anti-dei-bills-rely-on-vague-language-and-self-censorship/?sh=75b5535b1742.

[10] James Devitt, Bayard Rustin’s Blueprint for Activism—and Perhaps Progresshttps://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2023/august/bayard-rustin-s-blueprint-for-activism-and-perhaps-progress.html (last visited Apr. 7, 2024); Adam Gopnik, Eclipsed in His Era, Bayard Rustin Gets to Shine in Ours, The New Yorker (Nov. 6, 2023), https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/11/13/eclipsed-in-his-era-bayard-rustin-gets-to-shine-in-ours.

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[11] Taifa Natalee Alexander, Tracking the Attack on Critical Race Theory in Education, U.S. News (Apr. 11, 2023), https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2023-04-11/tracking-the-attack-on-critical-race-theory-in-education;  Daniel Golden, Muzzled by DeSantis, Critical Race Theory Professors Cancel Courses or Modify Their Teaching, ProPublica (Jan. 3, 2023), https://www.propublica.org/article/desantis-critical-race-theory-florida-college-professors; Myles Hollingsworth, AP African American Studies and Critical Race Theory Ban in Florida, The Crisis (July 24, 2023), https://naacp.org/articles/ap-african-american-studies-and-critical-race-theory-ban-florida;  David Bernstein, Is Opposition to Critical Race Theory Correlated With Ignorance of Critical Race Theory?, Reason (Apr. 2, 2024), https://apple.news/AQmeDx-k2Te6xfEP5a69ndg.

[12] Jeff Green & Simone Foxman, Why Corporate America Has a Diversity Problem, Bloomberg (Mar. 14, 2024), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-03-14/video-why-corporate-america-has-a-diversity-problem.

[13] Bill King, The Pushback on DEI, Sports Business Journal (Mar. 11, 2024), https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Articles/2024/03/11/dei-pushback; Jeremy W. Peters & Brooks Barnes, The Oscars Now Have D.E.I. Rules, But Some Say It’s Just a Performance, N.Y. Times (Mar. 10, 2024), https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/08/us/oscars-oppenheimer-dei-diversity.html.

[14] Dr. Darnell Hunt & Dr. Ana-Christina Ramon, Diverse Audiences Prop Up A Struggling Theatrical Industry and Demand Diversity on Screen, Forbes (Mar. 7, 2024), https://www.forbes.com/sites/drdarnellhuntanddranachristinaramon/2024/03/07/diverse-audiences-prop-up-a-struggling-theatrical-industry-and-demand-diversity-on-screen/?sh=3ff2cb78742d.

[15] Rebecca Ballhaus, ‘What the Hell is Going on at the FDIC?’, The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 10, 2024), https://www.wsj.com/articles/fdic-6d9e8bf1.

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[16] Jacob Feldman, WNBA Has Big Plans to Ride Women’s Basketball Momentum, Sportico (Apr. 4, 2024), https://www.sportico.com/leagues/basketball/2024/caitlin-clark-wnba-momentum-popularity-draft-marketing-1234773879/; Tom Friend, Engelbert: Clark-Reese Could be the New Bird-Magic, Sports Business Journal (Mar. 3, 2024), https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Articles/2024/03/03/wnba-cathy-engelbert-caitlin-clark-angel-reese.

[17] Cleveland Soccer Group Announces 12k Season-Ticket Pledges for Possible NWSL Expansion Franchise, Sports Business Journal (Apr. 4, 2024), https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Articles/2024/04/04/cleveland-ohio-nwsl-expansion-team-bid?hl=NWSL&sc=0&publicationSource=searchNWSL Enters 2024 Campaign with Renewed Hope Amid Offseason Growth, Sports Business Journal (Mar. 15, 2024), https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Articles/2024/03/15/nwsl-2024-season-preview?hl=NWSL&sc=0&publicationSource=search.

[18] Arctos Partners Raises $4.1B for Investments in Sports, Sports Business Journal (Apr. 2, 2024), https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Articles/2024/04/02/arctos-partners-deals?hl=private+equity&sc=0&publicationSource=search; Abby Schultz, The Wealthy are Turning to Sports for Diversification, Barron’s (Jan. 2, 2024), https://www.barrons.com/articles/the-wealthy-are-turning-to-sports-for-diversification-9726aaac.

[19] Ben Fischer, Explaining the Caution on Private Equity, Sports Business Journal (Mar. 28, 2024),https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Articles/2024/03/28/explaining-nfl-private-equity-caution?hl=private+equity&sc=0&publicationSource=search.  

[20] Asli Pelit, In Fading Esports Business, Saudi Money Still Flows, Sportico (Mar. 15, 2024), https://www.sportico.com/business/sponsorship/2024/esports-investment-saudi-arabia-1234770868/.

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Author

  • Takaze Turner

    Takaze A. Turner, a distinguished figure at the intersection of entertainment and law, showcases a profound passion for anime, cinema, and gaming. His academic journey commenced at the Ohio State University, where he excelled in English, earning his degree with cum laude honors. Furthering his legal education, Takaze achieved his Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri School of Law, before embarking on specialized legal studies. He has since attained an LL.M. in Business Law from Florida State University College of Law and an LL.M. in Entertainment Law from the University of Miami School of Law. Currently, he is enhancing his expertise by pursuing an LL.M. in Taxation Law at the same institution. Takaze’s multifaceted legal education, coupled with his deep-rooted interests in entertainment, positions him uniquely within the legal landscape. His academic accomplishments reflect a dedicated pursuit of knowledge across various sectors of law, particularly those intersecting with the business and entertainment industries. At the core of his professional journey is a commitment to understanding and navigating the complex legalities surrounding entertainment and media, ensuring he remains a pivotal figure in legal discussions related to these dynamic fields. His ongoing pursuit of an LL.M. in Taxation Law further exemplifies his dedication to broadening his legal acumen, underscoring his role as a key contributor to the legal community, especially in areas where law meets entertainment and technology.

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Labor&Immigration

Saudi Arabia Esports and Ethics: The Dilemma of the LGBTQ+ Community Competing in KSA

The intersection of esports, international law, and human rights has once again come into the spotlight with the announcement of the 2024 World Esports Championship (WEC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This event, poised to be a major gathering for gamers from across the globe, has raised serious concerns regarding the safety and inclusion of LGBTQ+ players, with Esport Canada at the center of a growing debate.

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Saudi Arabia LGBTQ / ELN

On 11 March 2024, Esport Canada opened applications for the Canadian women’s Counter-Strike 2 team, set to compete in Riyadh. Interest from players like Ariane “ARIANARCHIST” Lafrenière, a current ESL Impact Season 5 competitor and openly transgender player, quickly turned to concern over safety in a country known for its stringent laws against the LGBTQ+ community. According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia’s treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals includes severe punishments such as flogging, imprisonment, and even the death penalty for homosexual acts.

In light of these concerns, Melissa Burns, Founder and CEO of Esport Canada, made a sobering acknowledgment:

“Esport Canada cannot make any promises/guarantees about the safety of LGBTQ+ competitors at the Saudi event.”

This admission reflects a troubling conflict between the organization’s commitment to “Equity, Diversity & Inclusion” and the reality of participating in an event hosted in a country with a well-documented history of human rights abuses.

The Global Esports Dilemma

This issue is not unique to Esport Canada. The Norwegian Esports Federation, through its President Elin Yoojung Moen, expressed similar sentiments, acknowledging the impossibility of assuring safety for LGBTQ+ members of their delegation. Moen’s statement to Erik Fossum of pressfire.no,

“we cannot guarantee that a Norwegian gay or transgender person [won’t be] arrested for being themselves while in Saudi Arabia,”

highlights the ethical responsibilities of esports organizations and the broader gaming community when choosing event locations and partners.

The dilemma faced by Esport Canada and others is emblematic of a larger issue within international sports and esports: the balancing act between global inclusivity and the sovereignty of host nations with conflicting values. Saudi Arabia’s investments in sports and esports, part of its Vision 2030 initiative, have sparked debates about “sportswashing” – the practice of using sports investments to distract from human rights issues.

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The Facade of Openness

The Saudi Tourism Authority’s recent statement that it is “welcoming LGBT tourists” underscores a profound contradiction within the kingdom’s policies towards the LGBTQ+ community. By stating,

“Everyone is welcome to visit Saudi Arabia and visitors are not asked to disclose such personal details,”

the authority suggests a superficial openness that belies the harsh reality faced by the local LGBT community. This form of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, aimed at boosting tourism, starkly contrasts with the life-threatening conditions under which the local LGBTQ+ individuals live.

Modernization Versus Human Rights

The kingdom’s efforts at modernization under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including the introduction of cinemas and music concerts, have not extended to meaningful reforms in human rights practices. The continued enforcement of sharia laws and the doubling of capital punishments under his leadership reveal a disconcerting gap between the image Saudi Arabia wishes to project and the oppressive conditions that prevail within its borders. For the local LGBTQ+ community, the kingdom’s invitation to LGBT tourists is a grotesque insult, highlighting the disparity between the treatment of foreign visitors and the reality of those living under its laws.

Implications for Esports and Beyond

The juxtaposition of Saudi Arabia’s attempts at rebranding with its unchanged human rights record poses significant ethical questions for international bodies and organizations like Esport Canada. Participating in events hosted by countries with such glaring discrepancies in their treatment of human rights exposes the complex interplay between economic opportunities and ethical considerations. As the esports industry continues to grow, the decisions made today will undoubtedly influence its moral and ethical landscape in the years to come.

The scenario surrounding WEC 2024 in Riyadh illustrates the urgent need for a broader dialogue within the esports community and beyond—about respecting and ensuring the safety of all participants, regardless of their identity. It challenges stakeholders across the spectrum to reconcile the allure of global engagement with the imperative of upholding the dignity and rights of every individual.

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Image source: New Thinking

Article with information from: dust2.us

Author

  • Leonid Shmatenko

    Leonid Shmatenko is part of Eversheds Sutherlands’ data protection and technology law team. He has vast experience in regulatory and general issues in the areas of eSports and Blockchain. He advises eSports associations and clubs on all legal issues, advises and supports crypto startups in all matters from planning, preparation to execution of private and public token offerings (so-called Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs). Furthermore, Leonid Shmatenko specializes in international arbitration and has participated in several arbitration proceedings (SAC, ICC, DIS, UNCITRAL, ICSID, ad hoc) as a party representative and secretary of the tribunal. Leonid Shmatenko studied at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and is currently pursuing a PhD in international law. After his successful first state examination (2011), he completed his legal clerkship, inter alia, at the German Embassy in Lima and within international law firms in Düsseldorf and Paris. He passed the second state examination in 2015. He is an external lecturer at the National Law University of Ukraine “Yaroslav Mudryi”, where he teaches International Investment Law. He is admitted to the Bar in Switzerland and Germany. Before joining Eversheds Sutherland, Leonid Shmatenko worked as an attorney at leading law firms in Geneva, Munich and Paris.

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