These athletes are a vital part of Riot Games’ business empire.—arguably more so than contractors who work for gig companies like Uber, which continues to bizarrely claim that its drivers are not a core part of its business model.

But just like the drivers that power the networks of Uber and Lyft, without professional players, Riot Games simply could not exist as it does.

Riot Games’ athletes are also afforded extremely limited entrepreneurial opportunities outside of their player contracts. The company places tight restrictions on sponsorships, even limiting athletes’ ability to earn an income outside the game by severely curtailing the types of sponsors players can accept. For a while Riot Games even restricted athletes from streaming other games that the company saw as competitors, although they ended up reversing that rule.

Under AB5, these and other factors indicate that League of Legends athletes are, indeed, employees of Riot Games and are thus legally entitled to employee rights, benefits, and protections. The gaming giant finds itself in a position to admit its wrongdoing in misclassifying its players as contract workers, and to quietly afford them the rights and protections that they deserve.

Making a play for the future

What could this mean for Riot Games’ professional video game players? It could mean that Riot Games owes labor costs such as unemployment insurance, health care subsidies, paid parental leave, overtime compensation, workers’ compensation, and minimum wage. And as for the legality of the dubious Riot Games-funded League of Legends Players’ Association, which many criticize as a blatant union violation created to placate players while maintaining full control,  it could mean fines for a number of labor violations.

If the state rules that Riot Games is indeed misclassifying its athletes, it is probably also violating Section 8(a)(2) of the National Labors Relations Act—the section that essentially prohibits unions (in this case, a workers’ association) funded and controlled by employers.

While companies like Uber and Lyft continue to wage aggressive lobbying campaigns, Riot Games now has the chance to see this new era as the opportunity it is. By heeding the wake-up-call, and ensuring respect and protection of workers, the gaming publisher can establish itself as a model in the industry by doing everything it can to comply with AB5.

The benefits of following the law

As other professional sports leagues have shown, an employee model in the athletics industry can be incredibly profitable. Riot Games has already endured one episode of bad press for its treatment of female developers, and it’s come under fire along with other major gaming platforms for poor treatment of designers and developers.

There are no benefits to joining other share-economy companies in the seemingly endless depths of gig economy scandals.

As the e-sports industry continues to grow, gaming’s current wild west state of affairs will likely dissipate and regulation will come in, just like it always does. If Riot Games and other gaming developers like it keep pressuring players to accept unfair contract conditions, it’s clear who will end up the losers in this next round.

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