The Justice Department filed a civil antitrust lawsuit today against Activision Blizzard, Inc. (Activision), one of the world’s largest video game developers and publishers, for imposing rules that limited competition for players in Activision’s Overwatch and Call of Duty professional esports leagues and suppressed the wages of esports players in these leagues in violation of the Sherman Act.
“Video games and esports are among the most popular and fastest growing forms of entertainment in the world today, and professional esports players—like all workers—deserve the benefits of competition for their services. Activision’s conduct prevented that from happening,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Today’s lawsuit makes clear that the Antitrust Division remains committed to protecting workers across all types of industries from anticompetitive conduct.”
The complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that in two esports leagues owned by Activision, Activision and the independently-owned teams in each league implemented a so-called Competitive Balance Tax. As alleged in the complaint, the Tax was structured to penalize teams in the Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues, respectively, if a team’s player compensation exceeded a threshold set by Activision.
At the same time, the Antitrust Division filed a proposed consent decree to address its competition concerns. If approved by the Court, the proposed consent decree would prohibit Activision from imposing any rule that would, directly or indirectly, limit player compensation in any of Activision’s professional esports leagues, or that would tax, fine, or otherwise penalize any team for exceeding a certain amount of compensation for its players.
The proposed consent decree with Activision would also require Activision to certify that it has ended all Competitive Balance Taxes in its professional esports leagues, to implement revised antitrust compliance and whistleblower protection policies, and to provide notice and an explanation of the final judgment to teams and players in its professional esports leagues.
As required by the Tunney Act, the proposed consent decree, along with the competitive impact statement, will be published in the Federal Register. Any person may submit written comments concerning the proposed consent decree during a 60-day comment period to Chief, Civil Conduct Task Force, Antitrust Division, Department of Justice, 450 Fifth Street NW, Suite 8600, Washington, D.C. 20530. At the conclusion of the 60-day comment period, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia may enter the final judgment upon finding it is in the public interest.
Today’s lawsuit is part of a broader focus of the Antitrust Division on anticompetitive labor market abuses. Anyone with information about anticompetitive conduct against workers, or any other violations of the antitrust laws, is encouraged to contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.