If you're a popular League of Legends eSports player, who actually owns the streams of your matches? That's a complicated question, but in the case of ultra-popular pro Sanghyuk "Faker" Lee, the answer seems clear cut. Another streamer, however, found a loophole that's thrown it all into question. And controversy.
Twitch streamer StarLordLucian runs a channel that automatically streams all of Faker's solo-queue matches. Competitive LoL matches run on Twitch all the time, but Faker's shouldn't be. The SK Telecom T1 player has a deal with streaming platform Azubu that grants them exclusive rights to his matches.
So naturally, Azubu lobbed a DMCA takedown notice at Lucian's stream and figured that was that. But it wasn't.
Thing is, StarLordLucian isn't swiping footage from Azubu's streams. Instead, he's watching Faker's matches in League of Legends' as a spectator using a third-party client—that Riot supports—called OP.GG and passing that along to his stream.
Now, here's the bit that's probably of interest to you even if you're not a LoL pro with major companies playing tug-of-war for your table scraps: LoL creator Riot—not a third-party company, not you—owns all of your shit. Their game, their in-game assets, their rules. As PCGamesN points out in their post on the matter, Riot's terms of service read:
"You acknowledge and agree that you shall have no ownership or other property interest in your account, and you further acknowledge and agree that, other than your limited access to use the account, all rights in and to the account are and shall forever be owned by and inure to the benefit of Riot Games. You acknowledge and agree that you have no claim, right, title, ownership or other proprietary interest in the game assets."
Lucian is running his stream with that information in mind. He explained: "Right now nothing my stream does is illegal or against the League of Legends terms of service. Riot can always change their terms. And Riot can DMCA my stream at anytime, as they have the power to put any League related IP or Project to an end."
OK then, what does Riot think about all of this? Well, the stream is still up, but Riot president Marc Merrill isn't pleased. Not one bit. He posted a response to Lucian's actions on Reddit:
"You are rationalizing and trying to justify the fact that you have singled out a player against their will and broadcasting their games in a way that he can do nothing about. That reeks of harassment and bullying - Azubu vs Twitch is irrelevant in my view."
"If you can't see how this potentially harms Faker and/or anyone else in this situation, then that is more reinforcement that we need to take the appropriate action to protect players from this type of unique situation."
"As to the comments about our API, of course we want 3rd party devs to do cool things with spectator. But when people utilize one of its components to harm / harass an individual, then we need to potentially re-evaluate our rules."
It's a bit of a curious response given that a) I'm not sure how an auto-stream of solo matches constitutes bullying and b) Azubu and Twitch are obviously interested parties when it comes to big streamer business; they are very relevant here. Still, this situation might lead Riot to make confetti out of their current rule book and come up with something that guards against similar situations in the future. Services like OP.GG might have to change too. As for how, well, that's up in the air right now.
Lucian, however, argues that Faker himself has yet to express that he's in any way upset with the stream. Until Faker/SK Telecom take aim directly at the stream or Riot issues a DMCA notice of their own, Lucian said, the show will go on. "'Harassment and bullying'? Yeah no. I am a big Faker fan. If Faker himself personally ever requested my stream to be shut down, I would oblige instantly."
UPDATE: Faker's team, SK Telecom, has issued a statement requesting that Lucian's stream be taken down. Lucian, however, plans to keep it going despite this. He explained his sudden about-face in one "last" post on the matter:
"I know some people will disagree with this and bring up ethics, but I think this whole issue is about a lot more than Faker. It's about Riot not enforcing their own legal terms of service. It's about a co-owner of Riot Games being completely out of touch with esports and the spectator mode. It's about a company (Azubu) issuing a false DMCA claim for content they didn't even own. These are issues that will affect the future of the game and the spectator mode. All of this needs to be debated for the future of League of Legends and esports."
As of now, the stream is still up. As Lucian pointed out, Riot can have it taken down at any time—and they might just do so soon. So far, though, they've yet to change their current rules, let alone enforce the old ones. I've sent a mail to Riot to find out what their next step is in this situation. I'll update this post as soon as I hear back.