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FTC to probe ‘slave’ contracts of Korean esports players

Law revisions to safeguard players’ rights underway

Amid the recent controversy over unfair contracts of young professional esports players in South Korea, the Fair Trade Commission on Monday pledged to comb through the relevant regulations and examine all contracts.

Currently, the watchdog is undertaking preliminary inspections of Korea e-Sports Association’s standard contract and a full-fledged review of major esports teams will begin as soon as possible, a FTC official confirmed to The Korea Herald.

Any unfair clauses found during the investigation will be revised, the official said. 


Stock image from League of Legends Champions Korea 2019 (Riot Games)
Stock image from League of Legends Champions Korea 2019 (Riot Games)


Controversy over unfair clauses in contracts has long been discussed but came into the limelight in October following a whistleblowing report by League of Legends pro-team Griffin’s former coach Kim Dae-ho of the team’s lopsided contract with players.

Kim had shared clauses in player “Kanavi” Seo Jin-hyeok’s contract, some of which said that all proceeds from the player’s win in competitions and commercials would go to the company, and it will decide how much he receives.

Under terms of the contract, the company also reportedly had the power to transfer the player to any other team it chooses. In addition, if players wish to terminate the contract, they have to pay twice the amount of annual pay in less than six months as penalty.

This was according to the standard contract issued by the KeSPA.

At a National Assembly debate held Monday, an official from KeSPA said that it is currently writing up a new standard contract to be reviewed by the FTC. The association said it will guarantee a designated minimum pay to the registered pro players and offer legal and health care support. To that end, a systematic governmental registration of professional esports players is necessary, said the KesPA official.

The issue was raised by Rep. Lee Dong-sup and Ha Tae-keung, and the debate touched on measures to stop and prevent the widespread implementation of lopsided contracts that expose players to unfair termination or excessive fines.

“This is not only the problem of a single player but of the overall esports ecosystem in Korea,” said opposition Bareunmirae Party’s Floor Leader Oh Shin-hwan. “We pledge to do our best to write and pass laws that would foster a just and fair gaming environment here.”

Riot Games Korea’s country head Park Jun-kyu also participated in the debate as the leader of the game company with the biggest esports league.

The average age of the pro gamers in the LoL Champions Korea is 20.8 years, with 27.5 percent of the gamers being minors under the age of 19.

Fans of esports have taken the case to the online petition board of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, where the sign-ups hit the 200,000 mark that obligates an official response from the government.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” wrote a fan, “We must question the legitimacy of each and every professional esports player’s agency contract.”

“It is upsetting to know that our source of entertainment was based on the underage ‘slave’ contracts of our favorite players,” said another fan.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism plans to announce the government’s response to the petition in January.

The ministry is in touch with the FTC in reviewing the existing player contracts. An official from the Culture Ministry participating in Monday’s debate said that player registration will first be incentivized, and later be obligated.

“Most of the issues raised today regarding the players’ registration and rights will naturally resolve once KeSPA is upgraded as the regular member of the Korea Sports and Olympics Committee. The Culture Ministry will support such an upgrade,” the official said.

Still8, the owning company of the LoL team Griffin, acknowledged the issue and apologized for the imbalance in its contracts with players and dissolved its relations with the former players, enabling them to freely transfer to other teams. Griffin’s management team is to be overhauled before the end of 2019. Its former CEO Cho Gyu-nam will be banned entirely from LoL esports world. Whistleblower Kim was given a suspended disciplinary action for physical and verbal abuse of players.

On Nov. 25, former Griffin players “Chovy” Jeong Ji-hoon, “Lehends” Son Si-woo and “Doran” Choi Hyeon-joon terminated their contracts with the agency without paying penalties.

The controversial “Kanavi,” dispatched to China’s JD Gaming for now, will return after his one-year contract with the team as a free agent and continue his career where he pleases.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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