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Legal consequences of violations of poaching rules in e-sports

Esports is a growing phenomenon that is attracting more and more followers worldwide. However, as its popularity grows, various legal questions arise that need to be answered. One of these issues concerns the so-called poaching or poaching of players and teams. But what exactly is poaching and what are the legal consequences? Poaching in esports refers to the practice of poaching players or teams by other organizations. This can be either directly to a player or team or indirectly through certain agencies, intermediaries or sponsors. Unlike other sports where certain rules apply to poaching players, there are no such rules in esports. This means that teams and players are no longer bound to specific agreements and can therefore be poached more easily. From a legal point of view, however, the question arises whether or not poaching in esports is considered a legal act. In many countries, there is disagreement about whether poaching is considered legal or illegal, particularly with regard to contractual obligations between teams and players. Although there is no universally accepted definition of poaching in esports, it is generally considered an illegal act, even if there are no direct legal consequences.

In recent years, some esports organizations have addressed the issue of poaching and attempted to establish rules for poaching players. These guidelines not only help teams and players protect their rights, but also limit potential conflicts between organizations. However, these guidelines are not binding laws, so it is up to organizations to set and follow their own guidelines. Although it is difficult to determine whether or not poaching is legal in esports, teams and players should always consider all possible consequences when signing contracts. It is therefore advisable to seek professional help, whether in legal matters or to obtain support in evaluating offers. This is the only way teams and players can protect their rights and avoid conflicts. This is also true, by the way, because some tournament providers and game suppliers have direct rules about poaching that can have massive contractual repercussions in the team’s relationship with the game supplier if you violate poaching requirements.

What is poaching in esports?

Poaching in esports is an increasingly large and frequent challenge that impacts the recruiting process of talented players. Although poaching is generally considered illegal, in esports it is often unclear whether it can be legally prosecuted. There are many factors that influence the legal classification of poaching in esports. For example, Is the player under contract? Has the player received a clear offer of transfer opportunities? Have both parties agreed on the terms of the change? Can these conditions be confirmed by applicable law? There is no clear answer to the question whether poaching in esports can be considered illegal or not. The question must be answered on the basis of the specific circumstances of the individual case.

However, it has become apparent that it is very difficult for teams and organizations to legally enforce player commitments. Teams and organizations must therefore develop strategies to protect their interests and ensure that they do not fall victim to “poaching.” Some teams use contracts with exclusion clauses to protect their interests and prevent players from moving prematurely to other teams or organizations. Others seek to make reciprocal commitments to prevent potential poaching. However, this is only possible to a limited extent and does not provide absolute protection against poaching. Finally, it is important to note that many countries have or want to introduce specific regulations for esports. This means that teams and organizations must comply with their local laws and follow certain legal requirements to prevent poaching or take legal action. In summary, while poaching remains a problem in esports, teams and organizations have options to protect their interests. It is their responsibility to analyze the legal situation in detail and, if necessary, to take appropriate countermeasures.

What legal consequences can arise from this?

Esports has become one of the fastest growing areas of the entertainment industry in recent years. With high prize money and a growing number of enthusiastic spectators, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified players. While some organizations try to retain their existing teams or build new teams, other organizations try to poach qualified players from other teams – known as poaching. In the legal classification of this topic, it is important to precisely define the role of the individual components. In terms of esports, potential coaches can be considered competitors as they try to poach the most talented players for their team. In this case, the player himself is a kind of coveted asset; he has the right to make his decision and express his loyalty to the team. After all, the organizations involved also have an interest in the player and want not only to maintain their existing team, but also to find new talent. Therefore, if another organization attempts to poach a player from an existing team, this may be considered illegal and thus have legal consequences.

In such cases, the affected player may claim damages. This may be particularly relevant if the organization in question has persuaded the player to terminate his contract with the previous team, or at least to terminate it early. In addition, contractual penalties may also have been agreed in the event that the player in question leaves the team or makes unreasonable demands on the coaching. Given the rapid growth of the esports market, it is therefore important for all parties involved – both organizations and talented esports players – to ensure that legal regulations are adhered to and respected. In this way, both the legal and financial consequences of poaching can be minimized, thus avoiding uncertainty and confusion. This is the only way to maintain general standards in esports and promote long-term growth.

Legal implications of poaching in esports

Not surprisingly, the legal implications of coaching in esports have recently gained prominence. With the increasing popularity and professionalization of Esports, some legal questions arise: Can players be protected from poaching? How can it be ensured that players’ rights are protected? The legal classification of coaching in esports is not clear. In some cases, it is classified as unlawful breach of contract or unethical conduct; in others, it is classified as unfair competition. Since poaching is in many cases a breach of a player’s fiduciary duty to his team, it can also be considered a breach of contract. This means that the player can be held liable for his actions. There are also situations where poaching is considered a form of unfair competition. In this case, organizations or teams try to harm other teams by hiring their best players. This can have serious consequences for the affected teams, as they have made significant investments in building their teams and may lose their competitive advantages as a result. To prevent such unfair competition, the International Esports Federation (IESF) has issued guidelines to protect teams from poaching. These guidelines contain provisions to protect the rights of players and provide clarity on the limits of coaching.

In addition, each player must give his consent to a change of team and accept all the details of the renegotiated contract, especially in terms of financial compensation, before proposing a transfer. This is to ensure that breaches of trust are avoided within Esports and that every player is treated fairly. Overall, esports has a lot to offer with increasing professionalization – but at the same time, you have to deal with the legal aspects of this sport. While there is not yet a legal system developed specifically for esports, guidelines and rules and regulations do exist, although much is derived from traditional sports, to ensure the protection of players’ rights and minimize the negative effects of coaching in esports.

How is poaching defined and what are the rules regarding the same?

Esport poaching is a touchy subject. Not only for the players, but also for the teams and organizers. Therefore, certain guidelines must be followed to create a fair and equitable gaming environment. To achieve this, it is important to have a basic understanding of what exactly poaching means in esports. By definition, poaching is the poaching or poaching of players or teams by another organization or group. Generally, those who coach try to lure a team or player away from the current organization/group by offering more attractive terms. This can come in the form of better salary offers, bonuses and other perks. In Esport there are certain rules for poaching. Some relate to protection against unauthorized solicitation of players or teams by other organizations and groups.

For example, the relevant league may specify what type of contract clauses apply and whether there are specific templates for such contracts. In addition, special rules for dealing with poaching may be established to ensure player protection and prevent abuse. However, there are also legal aspects that need to be considered when poaching in esports – especially in the bigger leagues. For example, all participants must be informed of their rights as participants in a league; this applies not only to the individual rights of players and teams, but also to the rights of the leagues themselves. In some cases, it may be necessary to enter into contracts or agreements to ensure the protection of all parties involved; these should be legally binding and take into account the applicable rules of Esports.

To sum up: Poaching in esports is a sensitive topic, so both the respective leagues and the players and teams must follow certain guidelines to create a fair environment for all involved and to prevent abuse. If all parties fulfill their obligations and adhere to the legal framework, poaching in esports can be made fair – both for those who are coaching and those who are being coached.

Liability risks for players, teams and organizers

It is important that players, teams and organizers understand the legal implications of coaching in Esports. Poaching refers to the exploitation of a player’s or team’s non-renewable contract in conjunction with a move to another competitor. In sports, this can be considered a violation of labor law, but what about esports? The exchange of services between a company and an esports player will often also be considered service contracts. Accordingly, both the player and the organizer are responsible for compliance with the respective legal requirements. Therefore, in principle, there is a liability of the esports player if they violate the provisions of the service contract. In addition, poaching in Esports can lead to disputes over the amount of compensation. In such cases, it may be necessary to consult a lawyer in order to clarify the legal situation and, if necessary, minimize liability risks. It is therefore advisable to carefully examine every aspect of coaching in advance and to record all relevant rights and obligations of all parties involved in writing.

Examples of court cases for poaching in esports

Esports have become a billion-dollar professional business in recent years. Gradually, it is becoming a legal reality that is gaining importance not only at the national level, but also at the global level. In esports, however, it’s more complicated than in other sports because it’s almost impossible to tie talented players to a specific place or team. To solve this problem, both companies and players are attempting to enter into contractual obligations, but the enforceability of these obligations has not yet been conclusively determined. Nevertheless, there are already court cases aimed at punishing poaching players and or teams. In 2017, Riot Games sued two professional League of Legends players for breach of contract before their contracts expired. In addition, Riot Games tried to set the amount of damages at $1 million for each player. The case was eventually settled out of court, with the details of the settlement kept secret. In 2019, League of Legends team Fnatic sued its former player Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim for poaching and violating his contract with the team. The team demanded damages from the player in the amount of 50,000 euros. Here, too, the case was settled out of court without any further details reaching the public. There are many other examples of poaching in esports that have come to light, but whether and to what extent esports participants can actually be held liable – especially with regard to the enforceability of contractual clauses – is difficult to assess, as there is still a considerable need for research in this area. However, it is evident that companies and teams are trying to effectively defend their rights and punish players who break the rules, indicating that they are placing more importance on the rules than in the past.

In the past, however, many issues, including those involving my clients, have been resolved without litigation. Let’s see if it stays that way in the future or if the disputes expand and intensify. I’m almost guessing the latter!


It is obvious that poaching in esports is a complex issue that affects many different areas. In order to seriously discuss the legal classification of poaching in esports, it is important to consider all aspects of the problem. While there is no clear case law on the subject yet, there is no doubt that the behavior of teams is increasingly guided by the legal aspects. To protect teams and players from inappropriate and unsafe poaching practices, sports leagues should set their policies and establish clear rules. It is also important that leagues comply with the law to avoid unfair competitive practices. Players should also be informed of their rights so that they can protect their interests and be treated fairly. Finally, both teams and players need to be able to properly discuss the legal classification of poaching in esports and support the development of the sport with fair-play-based practices. Such an approach will allow esports teams to create sustainable frameworks and ensure the protection of their players, which will ultimately benefit the growth of esports as a whole.

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.

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