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DOJ investigates Overwatch League over salary caps

The lack of a players' union is at the heart of the inquiry.
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 29: Fans enter the arena before the start of gameplay at the Overwatch League Grand Finals at the Wells Fargo Center on September 29, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|July 4, 2021 4:37 PM

It's not just eSports players' promotional deals coming under scrutiny. Dot Esports has learned that the Department of Justice has launched an antitrust inquiry into Overwatch League soft salary caps meant to prevent teams from buying their way to victory. The investigation isn't criminal, according to DE's sources, but DOJ trial attorney Kathleen Simpson Kiernan is reportedly wondering about the lack of a players' union that would let the league claim the same labor exemptions you find in conventional unionized sports leagues.

The cap, which has never been publicly revealed, reportedly centers on a "competitive balance tax" that effectively forces teams to pay twice if they pass the salary cap — once for the players, and again for the league to redistribute funds among other teams. That cap was rumored to be $1.6 million in 2020, but DE understood that no teams had "naturally" broken that cap based on typical pro player rates.

Activision Blizzard didn't elaborate on the investigation, but confirmed the basic inquiry and said it was "cooperating accordingly."

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This investigation won't necessarily lead to a major shakeup of the Overwatch competitive scene. It does, however, indicate the growing stature of eSports in the US. Competitive gaming is now important enough that player pay is a significant issue for officials, even there aren't any major signs of trouble.

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DOJ investigates Overwatch League over salary caps