Justin Jacobson is an Entertainment and Esports attorney at The Jacobson Firm, an Associate Member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and a longtime gamer. Jacobson is such a fan of gaming, that he has merged his love of videogames with his legal profession to be one of the few lawyers who are following and who can consult on esports’ legal issues. Wanting to learn more about Jacobson’s background and his perspective on esports, I was able interview him for ScifiPulse
Nicholas Yanes: When you were a kid, what were some of your favorite video games?
Justin Jacobson: I’ve always been a big video game fan all my life. I have always loved and to this date, love all Madden, NBA 2k, Fifa and NHL games. I was a big Starcraft and Starcraft 2 fan and loved Zelda: Ocarina of Time on N64. Today, I’ve become very interested in mobile game, Marvel Contest of Champions and have begun playing Overwatch.
Yanes: When did you first learn of esports? On this note, what were your initial thoughts on esports?
Jacobson: About a year ago, I was first exposed to the level that esports had reached while searching through the television channels. I saw TBS had “eleague” on, I turned it on and the rest was history. I think esports is great as it is a new entertainment activity that can be easily accessed (the internet) by a world-wide audience and also has less barriers to entry and participation than many other traditional sports.
Yanes: Did you go into law school knowing that you wanted to work in the esports industry?
Jacobson: No, I always knew I would want to work in the entertainment and sports industry; however, esports or representing professional video gamers and organizations, was not on my radar nor even anything I knew existed.
Yanes: Esports is still so new I imagine many law schools have done little to teach students about this industry. What steps would you like to see law schools take in regards to esports and videogames?
Jacobson: I think more esports law classes would be great. Such a course could potentially focus on the intellectual property, contractual, visa and business/corporate matters related to esports gamers and organizations. A law school may be able to pair it with some internet law or sports law class in an effort to provide insight into the esports world.
Yanes: On this note, what do you think are some legal issues around esports that are unique to this industry?
Jacobson: As with most talent-driven industries, third party representatives, such as attorneys and agents, are the norm; however, in esports, it seems that many gamers fail to realize such professionals exist and some fail to grasp the benefits that such a professional can bring to their career. This potentially creates one-sided agreements that protect the organization much more than the player.
Yanes: Like all professional athletes, esports players need to sign contracts at some point. What do you think players should know about these contracts before they sign? Additionally, any advice on how players can find legal help for understanding contracts?
Jacobson: My biggest advice, as biased as it may sound, is to employ an individual who is knowledgeable and has prior experience negotiating and reviewing these types of agreements. It is important that a player understands that what they sign can have long lasting implications and will dictate how the rest of the parties relationship will proceed. In addition, a deal should not be looked at as if it is “take it or leave it.” The gamer should feel confident trying to negotiate more favorable terms than those originally presented to them. A licensed attorney who has prior work in esports is suggested; however, there are also esports agents and consultants who may also possess similar experience.
Yanes: To me, it seems that there are more brands at play in esports than in other sports. (With esports you have the brand of the game, the event, the team, and the individual player to consider; and this doesn’t even include all of the sponsors and related social media platforms.) What are your overall thoughts on branding in esports?
Jacobson: Branding is the blood line of esports. While this is true for most traditional sports, with the sky rocketing costs to operate a team and the lack of consistent and substantial income, brands and sponsorships have come to account for a large chunk of an esport team’s income. In addition, numerous players have begun creating their own identity or “brand” in an attempt to create a more personalized relationship with their fans and to hopefully achieve individual sponsorships.
Yanes: Overall, what are some problem areas you think esports companies will need to address soon? For example, I think esports companies need to do more to address harassment and gender disparities.
Jacobson: Yes, I agree with that point as I believe there was some recent outcry about the lack of diversity in the Overwatch League commentators. Ultimately, I think a more developed player association or body that protects the players is needed. This is true as more and more players come forward with instances of teams taking advantage of the players. This includes the team failing to pay them their contracted for salaries and tournament winnings.
Yanes: Finally, are you working on any other projects that people can look forward to?
Jacobson: I’m working on a few new projects. Most of them are in the early stages of development; however, one large project I’ve been working on is an esports industry and networking panel in NYC. I feel that the NYC esports community needs to continue to grow and come together in an effort to rival the extensive scene in California. Make sure to follow me on twitter (@justinjesq) to see what’s next!