eSports and its legal challenges

The majority of legal challenges concerning the rise of eSports tends to coagulate around the role and responsabilities of stakeholders

GamingLawPills gives a broad outline of the main legal challenges affecting eSports and how they should be dealt with in the coming years.

The American writer Stewart Brand wrote on Rolling Stone magazine in December 1972

Reliably, at any nigh time moment (i.e. non-business hours) in North America, hundreds of computer technicians are effectively out of their bodies, locked in life-or-death space combat computer-projected onto cathode ray tube display screens, for hours at a time, ruining their eyes, numbing their fingers in frenzied mashing of control buttons, joyously slaying their friends and wasting their employers’ valuable computer time. Something basic is going on

Five decades later that competitive video gaming, also known as electronic sports or eSports, has become a global phenomenon. The modern eSports ecosystem is young, complex, and fast-growing. It is constituted by video game publishers and distributors, skilled players (i.e., amateur and professional teams), spectator fans, tournament organizers, broadcasters, advertisers, and sponsors. Also, the adversarial and interactive nature of video games makes it different from most other art forms, like film, television, music, and theater.

At the beginning of the digital era, a lawsuit concerning rights and claims over video games usually arose from copyright infringement or plagiarism. Nonetheless, eSports disputes have not yet resulted in a meaningful challenge to the current structure of the eSports industry. The distinct level of control over each game and the derivative aspects of the contests in eSports may lead stakeholders to operate somewhat differently from the past.

One of the biggest questions for eSports is how best to build durable governance and legal structure that fits the unique features and circumstances of eSports. There is a current trend towards league and broadcaster regulation, becoming involved in the rolling out of rules and regulations in relation to particular games and tournaments (Read on the topic my article “Top 3 predictions on eSports for 2019“) Therefore, it would likely be that eSports stakeholders should take proactive steps to demonstrate that they are capable of largely autonomous self-regulation.

Legal challenges are arising to which the eSports industry does not yet have a good answer. And more specifically:

  • eSports events sell out iconic arenas, generally known as e-Stadium, and receive substantial sports media coverage. But, can tournament organizers sell broadcasting rights to their tournament when they do not own the intellectual property in a game?
  • eSports events may lead to betting, edoping and large fees for teams, agents and tournaments which do not always fall under a clear regulatory environment;
  • Established professional sports teams have joined the eSports trend, investing with resources and advertisements in teams and players, but shall this activity fall under sports laws?
  • A great number of eSports fans – both among players and audience – is made up of minors, how shall they be protected?
  • The proliferation of smartphones on App stores has made it easier for game publishers to reach millions of potential players, which is resulting in transparency demands for loot boxes’ mechanism with reference to the video gaming sector.

In most cases, there is no easy answer, but the development of eSports as a form of mainstream entertainment is underway. Needless to say, eSports represents an area of opportunity to investigate, which may inform current and emerging dilemmas facing eSports stakeholders on how to provide a solution for the legal demands arising from the sector.

On the above, you may find interesting my article “How loot boxes deal with regulations and limitations?” and you can read our eSports law book “The legal challenges of eSports“.

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Vincenzo Giuffré

Lawyer at DLA Piper IPT Italy, Milan| Gambling and Gaming Sector| eSports, Media, Sports and Entertainment | Bocconi University | University of Minnesota - W. Mondale Law School | Visiting Student at National University of Singapore (NUS)

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