The company that developed Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB), Moonton Games, has been awarded 220,000 yuan (€29,000) after a judge ruled in their favour in a commercial defamation lawsuit against Tencent.
The huge Chinese-based technology company lost the suit at the Shanghai Intellectual Property Court in China after they ruled that Moonton Games had been the victim of defamation due to a series of letters sent by Tencent’s Indonesian attorney to Moonton Games’ partners in Indonesia.
In a somewhat complicated series of cases, the process started when the current CEO of Moonton Games, Xu Zhenhua, was working for Tencent and as part of the contract that he signed with the company, he had agreed to a non-competing clause in that contract while working for the company.
Mr Zhenhua was still working for Tencent under that contract when he formed Moonton Games in 2014 and in doing so, he became the company’s CEO.
When Moonton Games released their Mobile Legends: Bang Bang esport mobile games title, Tencent lawyers felt that there was enough evidence to suggest that there were more than enough similarities between MLBB and Riot Games’ popular League of Legends titles.
That prompted Tencent to launch their own legal battle against Mr Zhenhua, which Tencent won, but as part of that ruling, there was no legal decision made on whether Mr Zhenhua had been in violation of his contract, or used his position at Tencent to pass on trade secrets to his new company.
Given that non-ruling, Moonton Games argued in their counter suit that due to the warning letters sent to their Indonesian partners, such as RevivalTV, mentioning that Mr Zhenhua had stolen trade secrets, that this was a clear case of commercial defamation by Tencent as no such ruling had been made, despite Mr Zhenhua losing the case against Tencent.
The court ruled in favour of Mr Zhenhua and Moonton Games, awarding them the amount shown above.
Ongoing Legal Battles In The United States
However, this is not the only legal battle that Moonton Games are embroiled in against Tencent and many companies in the esports industry are watching what happens very closely.
In the United States, Tencent filed a lawsuit against the company for what they felt is copyright infringement.
They noted that there were several uncanny similarities between the artwork for the MLBB title and the titles for Riot Games League of Legends and Wild Rift games.
Furthermore, Tencent also noted that there were significant similarities between a number of the characters in MLBB compared to those in its League of Legends titles.
That legal battle is ongoing having been filed only in May 2022 and it could be a lengthy and expensive process for the mobile gaming company, before the ruling on that is made.
When Do Similarities Become Copyright Issues?
Key to the case and indeed all kinds of copyright cases, is where do similarities in games stop being acceptable and become a case for copyright legal action?
Many popular titles share similar characteristics, but in a case where a company feels their intellectual property has been copied, most companies will follow Tencent’s action and head to the courts.
Mr Zhenhua may have won his 220,000 yuan suit, but having lost a much larger case and with further legal action on the horizon, he may have won this battle, but the fight still rages on.