At some point in time, everyone has been admonished by their parents for playing video games. However, this trend is changing. A career in just playing videogames is positively discussed across various platforms as a lucrative career option for an individual to pursue wholeheartedly.
The word ‘E-sports’ was only recently included in the Oxford Dictionary and various other lexicons. As per the Oxford Dictionary, an e-sport is ‘a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers’. [i]
Evolution of E-Sports
The concept of e-sports has existed since decades. The earliest video game competitions were held in the 1970s and 1980s using video games such as Spacewar, Pac-Man and Donkey-Kong. The highest scorer in these competitions took the prize home. The first example of a large scale video game competition was the Space Invader Championship held by Atari in 1981, attracting more than 10,000 participants. [ii]
According to latest statistical data, the market revenue of the e-sports industry is set to surpass the $1.1 Billion mark, a year on year (YoY) growth of about 27% and this is only going to rise. As far as the viewership is concerned, e-sports viewership is set to reach the 450 million mark (YoY of 15 %) in 2019, consisting of both occasional viewers as well as e-sports enthusiasts. The number of gamers in the world is estimated to cross the 2.5 billion mark in 2019 (a third of the Earth’s population) which is absolutely striking and is a proof of how the world of e-sports is witnessing a revolution. [iii]
Aim of the Article
Inclusion of E-sports in the Olympic Games has been discussed among the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) along with the various stakeholders in the industry. There are, however, various arguments against the proposal and have been explained in the article. For e-sports to grow even further there is an urgent need for efficient regulation. This is another important issue which has been explicated in the article along with various policy suggestions for achieving the same.
Arguments Against the Inclusion of E-Sports in the Olympics
A sport may be defined as ‘a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill and that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job’. [iv]After the inclusion of various e-sports collectively as a demonstration sport in the 2018 Asian Games, there have been many calls by the members of the gamer community as well as discussions within the IOC for the inclusion of e-sports, i.e. organized video game competitions in the Olympics. There however are various arguments against the same which have been highlighted below:
Purpose of Inclusion– It wouldn’t be incorrect to presume that the main reason IOC would want to partner with the e-sports industry is to bring in huge amounts of revenue from the broadcasting as well as the sponsorship deals. The principles of Olympism,[v] as mentioned in the Olympics Charter, talk about how the organization stands for the encouragement of human rights, good ethics and the wholesome development of sports in the wider scheme of positive human development. Nowhere has the point of any ‘entertainment value’ been mentioned in the charter as an end for the IOC to fulfill. It would be difficult as well as contrary to the aims of the IOC to promote a competition solely based upon entertainment value.
Failure to fulfill criterion– There are certain essentials that an activity needs to fulfill to qualify as a sport. These are (a) the physical attribute, (b) the competitive aspect and (c) the institutionalization. The second, and to a great extent the third, essentials are satisfied by e-sports. But the essential of ‘physical attribute’ is not being fulfilled as such to make e-sports a sport in the strict sense of the word. Despite arguments that e-sports require fine motor movements, dexterity and improved hand-eye coordination, as well as wits, reasoning and logic, e-sports are increasingly [vi] Excessive gaming leads to obesity, weariness and the most dangerous thing being that there is no ‘fail-safe’ mechanism, i.e. our body does not shut down from too much gaming or experiences cramps, and rather the damage that occurs is on the inside. Olympics are aimed at promoting fitness and health, and by including e-sports as a medal event, the Committee would be working contrary to its aims. To maintain the high standards of ethics and principles on which the event stands upon, this has to be avoided.
Depiction of violence in various e-sports– The IOC may, in the future, possibly at the 2024 Paris Olympics, include sports simulators such as FIFA, NBA 2K and There are, however, various e-sports such as Counter Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch, PUBG, etc. which are strictly to be kept out of the competition at the Olympics despite forming a major chunk of the revenue that is generated in this industry. The simple reason, as has been explained by IOC President Thomas Bach, is that the Committee aims at promoting non-discrimination, non-violence and peace among the people. This aim is not in line with the violence, killings and explosions depicted in these videogames.[vii] Hence, from the above arguments it can be concluded that the only solution to the problem of whether E-sports should be included in the Olympics (and other international medal events) is partial inclusion. There can be a medal category for the sports simulator titles in the Olympics with qualification to the main medal rounds beginning at the national level.
Despite e-sports not being a part of any international medal events, such as the Olympics or the Asian Games, it has been able to be one of the fastest growing industry through various competitions that are held at both national and international levels such as DOTA 2’s The International, League of Legends World Championship, Call of Duty World League Championship and numerous others. The prize pools of the mentioned e-sports competitions are in millions, thus showing that much is at stake for the professional gamers who partake in them. It can be very aptly concluded that e-sports need to take a different path so as to flourish. For this, there is a need for better regulation, which has been explained ahead.
International Sports Federations (IFs) are international non-governmental organisations recognized by the IOC as administering one or more sports at an international level. The national federations administering these sports are affiliated to them. While conserving their independence and autonomy in the administration of sports, IFs seeking IOC recognition must ensure that their statutes, practice and activities conform to the Olympic Charter. [viii]
Just like every other sport such as football (FIFA), cricket (ICC), basketball (FIBA), etc. a similar structure for e-sports is needed as well to regulate and govern it. There currently are two major organizations, the International Esports Federation (IeSF) and the World Esports Association (WESA) that aim at furthering the cause of efficient governance, administration and regulation of e-sports. WESA was founded by Electronic Sports League, the largest e-sports company in the world for organizing tournaments.
Need for Regulating E-Sports
There are a number of regulatory bodies but no overriding authority since the extremely nebulous nature of e-sports makes overarching legislation difficult to achieve.[ix] These are the following areas in e-sports which need regulation:
Recognition of Professional Gamers as Athletes– There is a need to guarantee a certain level of respect and professionalism to gamers that is afforded to professionals of other sports. For example, professional footballers are registered with FIFPro, affiliated to FIFA, working for the interests of the players. Such recognition is necessary to protect them from It also helps in the provision of special P1 visas to participants for participating in global events.[x]
In India, the Esports Federation of India (ESFI) has been formed as India’s main representative body for e-sports. ESFI is a member of the IeSF as well as the Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF). This membership mandates that Indian e-sports players adhere to the same standards of conduct as laid down by these bodies.[xi]
In the area of e-sports regulation, there is also a need for a body similar to FIFPro, responsible for giving an identity to professional gamers as ‘cyberathletes’,[xii]governing employment rules and regulations that the e-sports organizations/teams are required to follow and working on a basic minimum wage structure that the teams would be mandated to adhere to for the employed professionals.
Betting, Match-fixing and Cheating- These are major problems ailing e-sports. One of their main cause is the age of most professional gamers. Due to lack of maturity and an understanding of integrity, they get swayed away by the prospects of easy money and fame. Gamers indulge in cheating, match fixing and gambling. Some of the other reasons for these problems are irregular income flows and lack of legal understanding. [xiii]
Unlike the United Kingdom where there are laws against unregulated and unlicensed betting services, in India there are no such laws. The ESFI is trying to tackle this problem, with an example being the Integrity Workshop, conducted jointly with Sportradar for athletes going into the 10th Esports World Championship, 2018. WESA has come up with a comprehensive list of regulations in the form of a ‘Code of Conduct and Compliance for Teams and Players’. It mentions how the persons complying with this code (and not just the players) are forbidden from partaking in any illegal activities such as betting, gambling, etc.[xiv]
Doping- One of the most rampant problems among professional gamers has been the use of performance enhancing drugs such as Adderall. As per the WESA’s code, doping is strictly prohibited and doing so could lead to serious ramifications for the gamer doing so.[xv] The Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) carries out doping tests at various e-sports tournaments. The IeSF is also an official signatory of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the branch of e-sports. There is however a lack of stringent penal framework in place for doping (or for that matter any of the illegal activities mentioned). This can only be remedied by the formation of a Global Sports Organization (GSO) governing e-sports.
Regulating the Way Ahead – Policy Suggestions
At present the game developers and/or organizations that conduct various e-sports tournaments act as the regulators of this area. It is necessary to bring all the stakeholders, i.e. the game developer, the professional gaming teams as well as individual gamers, the broadcasters and the major e-sports organizers to the discussion table and form a GSO dedicated towards the purpose of overseeing e-sports comprehensively.
It is necessary to understand here that the national federations would also have to come in the fray so that there is some sort of governmental/public presence in this organization. But the discourse would be primarily shaped by how the e-sports organizers, the game developers and the gaming teams are able to reach a decision regarding the Intellectual Property Rights, sponsorship matters as well as the matter of delegating authority to these organizers for conducting tournaments of different e-sports titles. There can be ‘game specific’ bodies within this GSO for better and efficient administration with the game developer at an important position in these bodies.
This has to be done in a way that the rights of stakeholders are not infringed but at the same time there should be no/minimum damage to the cause of e-sports. Large number of regulatory norms will have to be formulated so as to bring the major e-sports titles under the same roof. There would also be the requirement of body dealing with the issues of the professional gamers (similar to FIFA’s FIFPro). Both WESA and IeSF would have to come together and join hands for the cause of e-sports.
In conclusion it has to be said that the revolution in the e-sports industry is truly a spectacle. It has blurred the lines between the participant and the spectator. Billiards, Chess, Darts and other such disciplines are also not at the Olympics. Yet it cannot be said that these are in any way less popular. E-sports has without any formal recognition reached a pinnacle which is truly hard for any other ‘unconventional sport’ to replicate. EA Sports’ phrase ‘It’s in the Game’ would be very apt to describe how wonderfully potent the e-sports industry is. All it needs now is careful nurturing through efficient regulation, governance and administration. Like any other sport, even e-sports has its own issues, but with the right guidance and proper regulation, it has the potential to be one of the greatest indoor sports ever witnessed.
[ii]See: ‘History of e-Sports’, e-Sports for Gamers, available at https://esportsforgamers.weebly.com/history-of-esports.html.
[iii] See: Jurre Pannekeet, ‘Newzoo: Global Esports Economy Will Top $1 Billion for the First Time in 2019’ (2019), Newzoo, available at https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/newzoo-global-esports-economy-will-top-1-billion-for-the-first-time-in-2019/.
[iv] ‘Sport’, Cambridge English Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, dictionary.cambridge.org available at https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sport.
[v]The Olympics Charter, 1908.
[vi] See: Nicole W. Forrester, ‘Why e-sports should not be in the Olympics’ (2018), The Conversation available at https://theconversation.com/why-e-sports-should-not-be-in-the-olympics-100430
[vii] Kyle Orland, ‘Violent video games not welcome for Olympic esports consideration’ (2018), arsTechnica available at https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2018/03/olympic-committee-open-to-esports-but-only-without-violence/.
[viii]supranote at v, Chapter 25.
[ix] Matthew Astley, ‘What is eSports and how should it be regulated?, Harrison Drury Solicitors available at https://www.harrison-drury.com/business-law/sectors/sports/what-is-esports-and-how-should-it-be-regulated/.
[x] See: Shaun Star, Nirav Bakshi, ‘The growth of esports in India- a short review of the main legal and regulatory challenges’ (2019), Law in Sport available at https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/articles/item/the-growth-of-esports-in-india-a-short-review-of-the-main-legal-and-regulatory-challenges.
[xii] David P. Graham, Inviting Regulation: ‘The Sportsification of Video Games’, DPG At Law available at https://www.dpgatlaw.com/Articles/Inviting-Regulation-The-Sportsification-of-Video-Games.shtml
[xiii]supra note at x.
[xiv]The Code of Conduct and Compliance for Teams and Players, 2017, section 19.
[xv]Id., section 20.
This blog is a part of the RSRR Blog Series on E-Sports in association with Ikigai Law. By Abhigyan Tripathi, IInd year, RGNUL Patiala