How the ‘go-to’ esports agent found his role
When he was young, Ryan Morrison sneaked downstairs after his parents went to bed to play “Final Fantasy VII” and “Super Smash Bros.”
After he graduated from law school, Morrison started helping esports players with their team contracts, and it wasn’t just a game.
“The contracts I saw were disgusting,” Morrison said. “The ways these players were getting treated were ridiculous. Kids locked into contracts for six years at $500 a month. Or tournament owners never paying the players after they won. There were a million clauses in these contracts that made these kids feel like they were trapped there,” he said.
Now, Morrison’s New York law firm, Morrison Lee, represents about 250 esports players, including about 30 that make what Morrison calls “NHL player money.” Clients include Brandon Larned, Josh Marzano and Tarik Celik.
“As far as being player-specific, Ryan is the go-to guy right now,” said Jason Lake, who owns compLexity esports teams, as well as one of the teams in the new Professional eSports Association.
Lake, a former esports player whose gamer name was “1,” has sat across the table from Morrison and respects him as a staunch fighter and protector of his clients.
Esports players specialize in a game and are not interchangeable, says Bryce Blum, an attorney who specializes in representing esports teams. A “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” player cannot play “Dota 2” at the top level, just as an MLB player can’t move into a role at an NFL club.
Esports has star players, just as the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL does, who are the best in the world at what they do, Blum said.
“There are superstars in this industry that are one in a million, one in a billion,” Blum said. “You are not going to find them. If you lose that player, it is catastrophic.”
Blum himself started out representing players. Over the last few years, dozens of traditional, established sports agents, including those at both boutique agencies and large firms, have called Blum, looking to get into esports, he said. But Blum is not aware of one that is representing players in the industry. The reasons? Esports players are wary of outsiders and traditional sports agents just don’t know enough about the games, or esports in general, to break in, Blum said.
When Blum moved out of representing esports players to focus on teams, he chose to refer actual and prospective clients to Morrison.
“Ryan is smart, hardworking and a strong advocate for his clients,” Blum said. “Perhaps more importantly, he is a passionate esports fan that is able to connect with his player, while having several years of pertinent legal experience under his belt to help him address his client’s needs.”
The opportunities in esports representation are vast. Morrison estimates that only 10 percent to 15 percent of esports players have an attorney or agent.
As a result, Morrison is having to fight the same battles agents in other sports fought 40 or 50 years ago, including the right to represent players.
“We have very successful team owners tell players, ‘If you talk to a lawyer, you are off the team,’” Morrison said.
But as the sport evolves, things are changing.
Most player contracts with teams are for one year, “but they are trending longer,” he said. The money is getting bigger and there is more of a willingness by team owners and event organizers to pay the talent that fuels esports games.
Lake notes that in the beginning there was simply not enough money for players to have an agent or lawyer. “People were making, like, $400 a month,” Lake said. “What’s 10 percent of that?” (Morrison said he generally charges 5 percent of the player’s salary, not including prize money the players win in tournaments.)
Lake is one owner who thinks it is good for esports players to be represented. And he called Morrison “an amazing asset” for the industry.
“He’s a lawyer and he is ahead of his time,” Lake said. “And I think people in the future are going to look back at his efforts now and see them as groundbreaking.”