Esports Law And Thinking Like A Professional: A Look At Justin Jacobson

via Concrete Online

In 2008, when Halo legend Tom “TSquared” Taylor was featured on Dr. Pepper bottles all over the United States, it felt like the world of professional gaming was finally beginning to tread into the mainstream.

Over a decade later, the worlds of esports and gaming content creation have exploded beyond our wildest dreams. Top streamers are regularly pulling in tens of thousands of viewers per stream. Championships for the most popular esports titles pull in numbers that surpass the SuperBowl. And of course, the salaries and earnings of top professionals draw considerable attention.

But as they say: when there’s blood in the water, the sharks arrive. And that’s when you need experienced professionals in your corner to protect you.

Specifically, an attorney like Justin Jacobson.

Justin Jacobson is an esports and entertainment lawyer who’s currently leading the esports and gaming division for Ford Models. He began his career as an entertainment lawyer, working with athletes, musicians, models and other creative talent before jumping into esports five years ago. He’s written articles about the industry for outlets such as The Esports Observer, and is currently finishing up a book on the law and business in esports.

Finding people such as Jacobson in the young and evolving industry of esports is difficult; but it’s almost a necessity to make it as a professional player or content creator.

“You need people in your corner; there’s a reason that music, fashion, movies and all these creative industries have professionals all around them: attorneys, accountants, CPAs, wealth management, agents, and so on. It’s because there’s a need for them, and they have a different modus operandi when approaching situations.” Jacobson told ggn00b in an interview.

The situations are many: there’s working with copyright, immigration visas for international players, contracts, sponsorships, LLCs, and the list goes on and on. It can be daunting to consider all of this as a player or content creator, and the idea of getting lawyers involved can be off-putting.

But you don’t have to look far in the short history of esports to find contract failings and team horror stories that justify getting a Justin Jacobson in your corner.

“I use Clayster as a good example; one day you’re winning the Call of Duty championship and the next day you’re dropped from your team. In cases like this, an attorney would be able to build in a multi-year contract that’s guaranteed, or an early termination bonus worth tens of thousands.” Jacob says.

“But if you can’t even envision that this might happen, then you won’t even ask for it. That’s why most attorneys can provide a value; whether it’s apparent, like making a thousand dollars more per month, or if it’s negotiating an escalator where once you hit a certain follower goal, you make more money. I’ll bring you more value long term than what you are paying for my services”

Jacobson’s experience in entertainment and with digital influencers is the bedrock for his approach to the esports industry; he’s able to connect brands and sponsors with the right talent, and strengthen the connection between pop culture and esports. Part of this approach is by encouraging the gaming talent he works with to branch out wherever possible.

“If you’re known for streaming one game, maybe it’s worth trying a trending game like Fall Guys or Among Us, or to try a game in a similar genre to the one you’re known for. See if your audience sticks with it. That way you’re not so one-dimensional.” Jacobson says when giving advice to young professionals. 

Jacobson also works to help find what’s important in what a player or content creator is trying to do, and to help get their message across in a more effective way. A player signed to Ford Models has recently begun using his platform to bring attention to the ongoing conflict in Armenia. It’s here where having a different perspective can be crucial:

“I said: ‘Okay, let’s see if we can approach it from a more supporting angle; let’s look for where we can donate, and try to be more proactive with our message.’” Jacobson explained. “It transforms from ‘Look what’s going on’ to ‘Look how we’re helping.’ It changes the whole view.”

Jacobson’s venture with Ford Models began in July 2020; he’ll be looking to broaden their digital influencer division with more talent from the esports and gaming realm.

“I like to say ‘We’re not taking gamers; we’re making them models.”

Because of this, Ford Models looks for cross-pollination; while Jacobson has full respect for gamers who focus on one game or have a niche appeal, it doesn’t fit with Ford Models’ approach of having multifaceted talent.

“We’re generally looking for gamers who have something else; whether it’s gaming and hip-hop or gaming and modelling, we like to work with multi-talented individuals. If you’re just a gamer, there is value in that, but it also limits who can get involved with you.”

As esports continues to grow, the importance of lawyers, talent agents, managers and other background professionals will only skyrocket. For young aspiring professionals in the industry, it may be daunting, awkward, or unnecessary to feel like you should find representation. Yet Jacobson stresses that spending the money on it will save more money and headaches in the future.

“Attorneys earn their value. You might not see it today, tomorrow or the next day, but they will earn their fee.”

Be sure to follow Justin Jacobson on Twitter.

To hear the full one-hour interview with Justin Jacobson, check out this video: