The Possibility of an International Federation to Regulate E-Sports and its Potential Scope
This article explores the prospect of establishing an international governing body to regulate E-sports. It will enumerate the advantages and possible limitations of the same. It will also discuss the extent to which certain regulations and rules can be put into place with respect to E-sports in general and also consider the vital issues that such an entity will have to tackle in order to be effective.
The Current Situation
Before analysing the present scenario with respect to E-sports regulation, it must be understood that the majority of tournaments are catered towards E-sports organisations (which are similar to clubs in football), rather than countries. While there are certain tournaments that feature national teams, these are generally few and far between.
Currently, there are two international bodies related to E-sports. First is the International E-sports Federation (IeSF), which consists of 46 member nations.[i] The IeSF conducts tournaments on a national team basis, and lays down certain standards with respect to referees and players.[ii] One of the main limitations of the IeSF is its lack of reach. In its most recent annual tournament in 2018, there were only 37 nations that participated in 3 different games – Counter Strike : Global Offensive, League of Legends and Tekken 7.[iii] Despite the undeniable popularity of the aforementioned titles, the global E-sports scenario is much larger, with games like Dota 2,[iv] and PUBG[v] garnering immense viewership. The IeSF does not seem to recognise the importance of professional E-sports organisations, and this will inevitably turn out to be a hurdle in its expansion.
The other entity is the World E-sports Association (WESA). It was established in 2016 as a joint collaboration between the ESL (formerly known as Electronic Sports League) and certain professional E-sports organisations. It seeks to improve player representation, provide elements of regulation and create a revenue sharing model among its members.[vi] It also provides for an arbitration mechanism and has its own arbitration rules.[vii] This structure seems to be more oriented towards the growth of E-sports, taking into consideration its unique nature as opposed to traditional sports. A criticism of the WESA might be that currently only 2 games – Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Paladins, are played under its guidance.[viii]
Also, there are only 14 member teams in the WESA.[ix] The relationship between the various member E-sports organisations and their balance of power with regard to decision making could also be an issue. The current member teams are all renowned E-sports organisations, with 3 of them among the world’s most valuable E-sports organisations.[x] Regardless, the greatest advantage of the WESA is its direct involvement of stakeholders and athletes.
Challenges for an International Governing Body
The most important point to note regarding E-sports is its massive variety and ever growing nature. The global scene is dynamic. Games such as Fortnite have had immense surges in popularity with the help of online streaming platforms such as Twitch, leading to the conducting of various tournaments with incredible prize pools.[xi] Therefore, we can infer that E-sports may be subject to tremendous growth in a short period of time. Any proposed International Governing Body (henceforth IGB) must be inclusive, open to the growth of new titles and encourage such E-sports communities. In order to address this issue, the IGB may seek to lay down guidelines regarding certain common aspects pertaining to E-sports, such as doping, match fixing and betting. It would then be open to tournament organisers to adhere to the same and thus gain the seal of approval of the IGB.
Another hurdle to be considered is how the IGB will deal with the relationship between professional E-sports organisations and E-sports federations of countries. It is necessary that the IGB acts as a forum for all stakeholders to voice their concerns regarding the state of international e-sports. However, the IGB should not seek to place excessive regulations on organisations and federations, because it might discourage their active participation. For example, in 2016, merely 2 weeks after the formation of the WESA, one of its founding member teams- FaZe Clan chose to leave the organisation citing fears of a limited pool of tournaments that they could participate in due to contract exclusivity.[xii] FaZe Clan did however join the WESA once again in 2017.[xiii]
Furthermore, the IGB will have to address the issue of accessibility in terms of a regional imbalance with respect to tournaments. Traditionally, most major E-sports tournaments have been conducted in Europe, North America and, sometimes, Asia. The Overwatch League consists of teams grouped into two divisions – Pacific (North America and China) and Atlantic (North America and Europe), and the grand finals of the tournament is conducted in the USA.[xiv] As far as Counter Strike is concerned, every single Major (tournaments sponsored by Valve – Counter Strike’s publisher) since 2013 has been conducted in either North America or Europe.[xv]
With regard to Dota 2 (also published by Valve), The International (TI) is the biggest annual Valve-sponsored tournament, and TI-2019 Shanghai marks the first time that it will be held outside North America or Europe.[xvi] League of Legends is the most watched E-sport in the world,[xvii] and the annual world championships have been conducted in either North America, Europe, China or South Korea since 2011.[xviii]
While there are other games such as Rainbow Six Siege that have expanded their Pro League competition to regions including Japan and South America,[xix] the most renowned tournaments of the most popular games display a notable lack of geographical diversity. This is definitely an issue that has to be seriously considered by the IGB. Not only should it encourage diversity and representation in terms of its members, but it must also strive to nurture up and coming E-sports communities in various regions by encouraging competition in the same.
Possible Structural Aspects and Scope of the IGB
The most important factor to be ensured by the IGB is a diverse representation in its membership. There are three main aspects in this regard. Firstly, it would include professional E-sports organisations and national E-sports federations.
Secondly, it should make an effort to include publishers of games in their decision making process. The publishers of games play a major role in the growth of their respective E-sports, and it would only be beneficial to include them as members. The publishers usually conduct and sponsor the pinnacle of tournaments, and also lay down the rules and format for the same. They are also actively involved in deciding matters related to cheating, match fixing and other so-called bannable offences. One of the most famous examples of a publisher taking such a proactive stance could be the “IBUYPOWER scandal”.[xx] Valve banned 4 professional Counter Strike players from participating in Majors for match fixing in order to gain in-game items with a value of around $10,000.
However, the underlying rules relating to the bans were not properly defined, and the principles of natural justice were not followed. In spite of being banned only from Valve sponsored tournaments, they were also prevented from participating in other tournaments such as those conducted by ESL until 2017.[xxi] Riot Games is also very stringent in issuing bans to League of Legends players, coaches and even owners of organisations when they are involved in a breach of their policy.[xxii] Clearly, bodies such as the WESA and the IeSF have erred in failing to include publishers in their decision making process. Including the publishers would allow the IGB to lay down a uniform set of guidelines regarding several aspects common to different games such as cheating or doping.
Thirdly, the players must have a voice. It is essential that there is a players’ union that is inclusive of E-sports athletes from various games, in order to raise their concerns regarding various issues. Just like traditional sports, the game is nothing without the players. Therefore, the IGB should place a great emphasis on players’ welfare. E-sports organisations are largely unregulated, and sometimes they take advantage of this fact to enter into contracts that are quite oppressive to the players. Recently, professional Fortnite player Turner “Tfue” Tenney initiated legal proceedings against FaZe Clan, based on the oppressive nature of their contract with respect to revenues from branded videos, competition earnings and appearance fees.[xxiii]
The Dota 2 scene was struck by a scandal back in 2016 in which Team Secret was involved. The athletes were not being paid their salaries and did not receive the earnings from tournament winnings.[xxiv] There have been instances of organisations treating their players with utmost disregard and even subjecting them to certain kinds of abuse.[xxv] An IGB could not only lay down regulations regarding how players are to be treated, but would also raise awareness among athletes and help them avoid oppressive contracts.
Therefore, an ideal IGB would have professional E-sports organisations, national E-sports federations, publishers of games and a dedicated players’ union among its membership. Additionally, the IGB could also have technical members proficient in sports law and economic aspects. We may now examine certain aspects upon which the IGB may potentially lay down regulations
Doping – Doping is a very real problem in various E-sports communities. A survey among League of Legends players in 2017 revealed that 27 percent of the players questioned “know players who take amphetamines and/or Ritalin to stay sharp for competition.”[xxvi] In 2015, a professional Counter Strike player, Kory “Semphis” Friesen admitted that his team had abused Adderall to enhance their performance during competitions.[xxvii] The IeSF is currently a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code and is associated with the World Anti-Doping Association. An IGB would be able to analyse the unique aspects of E-sports, and therefore lay down correct interpretation of anti-doping regulations specifically applicable to E-sports.
Match-fixing – This is another problem that has plagued E-sports. According to the E-sports Integrity Coalition’s Integrity Commissioner, Ian Smith, match fixing may either be in the form of low tier incidents wherein teams or players enjoy a kickback from deliberately losing games and high tier incidents wherein gambling syndicates bribe players.[xxviii] One of the most high profile incidents of match fixing came to light when Lee “Life” Seung-Hyun, a professional Starcraft 2 player was prosecuted for deliberately throwing two matches, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for three years, and fined KRW 70,000,000. He was also banned for life from South Korean E-sports.[xxix] An IGB would be able to propose model regulations regarding the same, and allow publishers a bit of leeway in implementing the same.
Dispute Redressal – The Arbitration model included in the WESA is a step in the right direction. It would allow experts in the field to resolve disputes between organisations, teams and other stakeholders, thus providing finality to disputes.
Apart from these, the IGB could also deal with the players’ rights with regards to contracts and other issues that are bound to come up with the growth and recognition of international E-sports.
E-sports has been the subject of extraordinary growth in recent years. It is only right that an IGB be formed in order to give this category of sport the recognition and rational moderation it deserves. Although any potential entity will not be able to specifically deal with particular issues in particular games (as these would usually be handled by the publisher), it would certainly go a long way in ensuring players’ welfare, assisting organisations and national E-sports federations, and bringing diversity to E-sports. It is hoped that such an entity may be established through the bold, concerted effort of all the above mentioned stakeholders.
[iii] Retrieved from https://www.ie-sf.org/our-tournaments/kaohsiung2018/ (last accessed 12-06-19)
[iv] Retrieved from https://www.foxsportsasia.com/esports/dota2/1007635/dota-2s-the-international-2018-drew-a-whopping-9-million-more-viewers-than-in-2017/ (last accessed 12-06-19)
[v] Retrieved from https://dotesports.com/pubg/news/pgi-100-million-concurrent-viewers-31974 (last accessed 12-06-19)
[viii] Retrieved from http://www.wesa.gg/2018/09/17/wesa-to-approve-pro-league-license-transfer-between-optic-and-mibr/ (last accessed 12-06-19)
[x] Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2018/10/23/the-worlds-most-valuable-esports-companies-1/#22e275196a6e (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xi] Retrieved from https://www.epicgames.com/fortnite/competitive/en-US/events/world-cup?sessionInvalidated=true (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xvii] Retrieved from https://www.dexerto.com/gaming/what-are-the-top-10-most-watched-esports-in-2018-181265 (last accessed 12-06-2019)
[xx] Retrieved from https://www.hltv.org/news/14083/ex-ibp-banned-from-valve-majors (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxi] Retrieved from https://www.hltv.org/news/21137/ex-ibuypower-unbanned-from-esl-tournaments (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxii] Retrieved from https://www.dexerto.com/league-of-legends/league-of-legends-pro-player-coach-and-owner-banned-match-fixing-574043 (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxiii] Retrieved from https://www.polygon.com/2019/5/23/18637455/tfue-banks-faze-lawsuit-turner-tenney-ricky-banks-esports (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxiv] Retrieved from https://kotaku.com/dota-2-player-accuses-former-team-of-mishandling-prize-1787599526 (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxv] Retrieved from https://www.pcgamesn.com/overwatch/mighty-storm-overwatch-esports-team-dispute (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxvi] Retrieved from https://esportsobserver.com/lcs-player-survey-reveals-high-salaries-shocking-views-women/ (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxvii] Retrieved from https://www.foxsportsasia.com/esports/885129/the-open-secret-of-adderall-abuse-in-esports/ (last accessed 12-06-19)
[xxviii] Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/jul/31/its-incredibly-widespread-why-esports-has-a-match-fixing-problem (last accessed 12-06-19)
This blog is a part is a part of the RSRR Blog Series on E-Sports in association with Ikigai Law.
By Nikhil Srinath, IIIrd year, National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi