The saga of Turner "Tfue" Tenney's Fortnite pro contract continued yesterday when the document was leaked, confirming fans of the player's worst fears — the contract was just as exploitative as Tfue claimed it was, and even worse, his team apparently knew about it. The saga began earlier this week when Tfue announced that he was in the process of suing his team for what he described as an unfair contract that hindered his ability to progress as a professional artist.
The crux of the argument on Tfue's side is that professional esports players are artists more than athletes, a distinction made important thanks to California labor laws that protect artists from unfair contracts offered to them by agencies. It's not a stretch to suggest that esports pros are artists, either — we've seen how huge streams can get for pros, and some of the best players in the world have taken up streaming Grand Theft Auto 5 roleplay because they're equally as entertaining as personalities rather than skilled technicians. Tfue has a point, and it's one that could shake the entire industry by the time he's done making it.
Tfue's persistence in suggesting that FaZe Clan release his contract paid off, as the document surfaced early yesterday. Some highlights from the contract include limiting Tfue's sponsorship deals to those brought by the team, FaZe Clan being entitled to taking 50 to 80 percent of the payments from those sponsorship deals, and a clause that enabled FaZe Clan to also claim 20 percent of Tfue's tournament earnings. It looked really bad already, but then Banks, FaZe Clan's owner, dug a deeper hole for himself on Twitter. In a since deleted tweet preserved by Dot Esports, Banks had this to say:
"This shit is so see through. Listen obviously Turners[sic] initial contract was horrible. Nobody ever disagreed with that. But over the last year we have offered him so many new ones, solutions. 0% splits. Honest and MORE THAN FAIR ways to solve the issue."
While the fact that FaZe Clan was actively seeking to restructure Tfue's contract into something more fair deserves at least some commendation, the fact of the matter is the organization willingly engaged him in one that was exploitative prior to those attempts at negotiation. Since then, FaZe Clan has released a video that explains the team's attempts at re-signing Tfue before criticizing him for wanting to start his own esports organization after escaping the contract:
A statement from FaZe Clan about contracts.— FaZe Clan (@FaZeClan) May 24, 2019
This video is 7:15 long, and for all those invested in this public discussion, we encourage you to watch it all the way through. Thank you. #FaZeUp pic.twitter.com/3FaN5rLAuJ
It's an interesting tactic, but it's not one without its issues, either. Given the exploitative nature of the initial contract Tfue was locked under, it's perfectly reasonable for the player to refuse even the most generous secondary offers after he became aware of what a raw deal he got the first time around. Realistically, had Tfue had an agent, there was never a chance he would have signed such a terrible contract, and that's kind of the point of his lawsuit — esports players should be protected from this by law. Furthermore, FaZe Clan's suggestion that letting Tfue leave would be like letting LeBron James leave the Lakers to start his own team makes little sense, and is mostly done to just try and paint the player as a villain. The analogy would make more sense if LeBron had been mistreated by his team and wanted out of his contract to explore other options, something that would be reasonable.
Ultimately, it's still tough to tell where the Tfue contract dispute will lead us in terms of the future of esports. Better protection for players seems like a priority, though, which is good. Even if Tfue's intentions weren't altruistic, they're still invested in improving the landscape of young professionals who are easily exploited by wiser, savvier organizations. Hopefully esports players begin to get representation in contract signings and organizations learn that the negative publicity from these kinds of deals being discovered isn't worth the risk any longer.