NIL rights provide clear path for college esports pros

Justin M. Jacobson

The NCAA’s recent policy shift on a student athletes earning income and profiting off their “name, image and likeness" (NIL) while competing for a university has provided further clarity for current and aspiring pro gamers and content creators contemplating college esports. This change has also helped them pursue other intercollegiate sports while also being signed to a competitive esports organization or operating as a sponsored gamer or streamer.

Previously, the NCAA passed on governing esports and competitive video gaming partly due to the “existing financial model of individual sponsorships for talented esports players and streamers conflict[ing] with the NCAA’s [previous] stance on amateurism.” However, it appears that the NCAA’s prior reservations are no longer warranted, which helps all current and future esports competitors and gaming creators. 

While many colleges and universities are developing their own esports or video game component on campus, college esports players — signed or unsigned — have several new on-campus income opportunities. Akin to traditional college athletes, these competitive college gamers could obtain independent endorsement, sponsorship or brand partnership deals, or receive free product in exchange for social media support. Some colleges have factored a gamer’s outside income into their recruitment pitches, with one school even “honor[ing] the existing partnerships [that] the players came to [a] school with” as well as not including the player in “any promotions that would cause [a] conflict with [their] existing deal.” College gamers could also earn income for coaching, paid gaming sessions, or events. These engagements might be autograph signings, fan “meet-and-greets,” live appearances, or paid speaking events.

As a result, a competitive collegiate gamer could earn income in all the ways that a college student or any other pro athlete or influencer does, including by providing paid social media posts and livestreams. These funds would be in addition to anything that they’re already earning or could earn as a pro gamer. This income might include a salary if they are signed to an esports organization, streaming and social media revenue, sponsorship and endorsement fees, tournament and event winnings, and even income from any player-branded physical and digital merchandise or other licensed products. 

Even though the NCAA is still not regulating or governing college esports, its recent directive permits all NCAA college athletes to monetize their NIL rights as well as to hire professionals to advise them (such as agents, managers and attorneys). This new policy shows how a college esports athlete can continue their career as a pro gamer while also earning an education and competing at the collegiate level, including those who also might be student athletes in another sport. It will be interesting to see if top pro gamers and content creators head to school to earn a degree while also pursuing gaming careers.

Justin M. Jacobson is manager of esports and gaming at Ford Models Inc.

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