It looks like the Department of Justice has launched an antitrust inquiry into Overwatch League soft salary caps, which are meant to prevent teams from buying their way to wins. It isn’t a criminal investigation, according to sources, so no one is facing criminal actions. However, the DOJ trial attorney Kathleen Simpson Kiernan is apparently wondering about the lack of a players’ union, which would allow the league to claim the same labor exemptions enjoyed by conventional unionized sports.
The cap reportedly centers on a “competitive balance tax” that basically forces teams to pay twice if they pass the salary cap. Once for the players, and again for the league to redistribute funds to other teams. It was rumored that the cap was $1.6 million in 2020, but it looks like no teams have broken that cap based on typical pro player rates.
Activision Blizzard confirmed the basic inquiry and said it was “cooperating accordingly.” Otherwise they are staying mostly mum.
This investigation illustrates the growing nature of eSports in the US. We live in a time when ompetitive gaming is important enough that player pay is a significant issue. It will be interesting to see what happens with this issue next.