Note: Emre Bilginoglu
is an attorney in Istanbul and the co-founder of the Turkish E-Sports Players
Association, a non-profit based in Istanbul that aims to provide assistance to
professional gamers and to work on the relevant laws affecting them.
The world is witnessing the
rise of a new sport that is growing at an incredible speed: E-Sports. We are
only starting to understand its legal implications and challenges.
recent years, E-Sports has managed to attract thousands of fans to arenas to
see a group of people play a video game. These people are literally
professional gamers (cyber athletes)
who make money by competing in tournaments. Not all video games have tournaments
in which professional players compete against each other.
The most played
games in E-Sports competitions are League of Legends (LoL),
Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2) and Counter-Strike: Global
Offensive (CS:GO). LoL and DotA are both Multiplayer online
battle arena (MOBA) games, a genre of strategy video games in which the player
controls a single character in one of two teams. The goal of the game is to
destroy the opponent’s main structure. CS:GO is a first-person shooter (FPS)
game, a genre of video games where the player engages combat through a
first-person perspective. The main objective in CS:GO is to eliminate the opposing team
or to terrorize or counter-terrorize, planting bombs or rescuing hostages. Other
games that have (popular) E-Sports competitions include Starcraft II (real time
strategy), Hearthstone (collectible card video game), Call of Duty (FPS) and
gaming requires cooperation between team players, a high level of concentration,
rapid reactions and some seriously fast clicking. E-Sports is a groovy term to
describe organized competitive computer gaming. The E-Sports industry is
exponentially growing, amounting to values expressed in billions of dollars. According
a website dedicated to the collection of E-Sports data, there are some 250
million occasional viewers of E-Sports with Asia-Pacific accounting for half of
the total amount. The growth of the industry is indubitably supported by online
streaming media platforms. This article aims to explain what E-Sports is and to give the readers
an insight on the key legal questions raised by it.
E-Sports a Sport?
introductory legal question regarding E-Sports is whether it is a sport. There
are different definitions of “sport”. According to the Council of Europe, “sport”
means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised
participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being,
forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.
non-profit association which is composed of autonomous and independent
international sports federations and other international organisations
contributing to sport in various fields, also offers a definition of sport. According
to this definition, sport:
includes an element of competition;
does not rely on any element of “luck” specifically integrated into the sport;
not pose an undue risk to the health and safety of its athletes or
4) is in no
way harmful to any living creature;
5) and does
not rely on equipment that is provided by a single supplier.
categories designated by SportAccord are
primarily: physical sports (e.g. basketball); mind sports (e.g. chess);
motorized sports (e.g. motorcycle racing); coordination sports (e.g. snooker);
and animal-supported sports (e.g. equestrianism).
also states that activities with limited
physical or athletic activity would be carefully considered. E-Sports indeed
involves a limited physical activity. The professional gamer generally sits in
front of a designated computer. However, at this point it is important to highlight
the existence of multiplayer video games that involve a considerable amount of
physical activity. Home video game consoles that detect movement were released
in early 2000s, paving the way for true E-Sports cyber athletes in the near future.
Until now however, games that require physical activity have not been played at
a professional level.
Having said this, E-Sports
does involve a clear element of competition, does not rely only on luck, does
not pose an undue risk to the health and safety of its competitors and is not
harmful to any living creature. At some point, it does rely on equipment that
is provided by a single supplier, as the subject game that is played is in
general produced by a single supplier. In other words, E-Sports clearly
complies with the remaining criteria (2 to 5) suggested to be defined as a “sport”.
Even though there are a myriad of
multiplayer games, one mostly categorizes E-Sports as a primarily mind and
coordinated sport. It does not require lots
of physical activities except for very fast
finger movement. A similar sport is chess. It is challenging to oppose the
argument of David Papineau, professor of philosophy of science at King’s
College London, who, as regards chess, said that “(t)he activity is playing a
game, therefore it is not a sport but a game”.
However, chess is a strategy board game and at the same time it is an organized
sport with an international governing body, namely FIDE.
Can E-Sports Be an Olympic Sport?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the
supreme authority of the Olympic movement. The IOC decides which sports are
included in the Olympic Games. Choices of the IOC always bring forth
discussions and debates in the sports community. Some sports are discontinued
and some are re-introduced. Wrestling was announced to be dropped from the 2020 Olympic Games in
2020, but was reinstated seven months after losing
its place. Even though wrestling is one of the founding sports of the Olympics,
the IOC could have removed it from the Olympic Games. The IOC recently
reinstated baseball and softball, and added skateboarding -, karate, climbing
and surfing- to the sports programme for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Therefore,
it is possible to say that popularity is one of the crucial elements for a
sport to be included to the Olympic Games. Chess, led by FIDE, is attempting to be an Olympic Sport.
Although the attempt for Tokyo 2020 was not successful, things may change in
In my opinion, E-Sports can very well be regarded
as an Olympic sport in the near future. Whatever game that is played on a
professional level, may be regarded as its discipline. The crucial setback is
the perishability of games. Video games become “obsolete” with time. This is
especially the case with sports games. Squads and the game play changes every
season. That is one of the reasons why FIFA releases a new video game every
single year. Therefore, video games such as FIFA are unlikely to make it to the
top E-Sports games awarding prize money.
type of Governance for E-Sports ?
formation of a single internationally recognized E-Sports federation would be a
first step in a long journey to reach the Olympics. Currently however, several
international E-Sports organizations exist.
In South Korea, where E-Sports is what football is to Brazil,
the South Korean E-Sports Association was founded in 2000. The Association regulates the working
conditions of cyber athletes. The
highest earnings in E-Sports by countries are listed as: China, the United States, South Korea, Sweden
and Canada. As for international associations, three of them need to be
First, there is the World E-Sports
Association (WESA), founded
in 2016 by a group of E-Sports teams and ESL (i.e. largest video game event company in the world). WESA
aims to professionalize the industry, regulating matters regarding revenues and
schedules. WESA even has an internal arbitration court, namely WESA Arbitration Court. It operates independently from WESA and is open to everyone
involved in E-Sports, such as players, teams, organizers and publishers.
The second is the International e-Sports
Federation (IeSF), an
international organization based in Seoul, South Korea. A total of 46 nations are
member of the IeSF. It has listed seven objectives in its Statute, the first
one being as follows: to “constantly improve e-Sports and promote it in the
light of its values - humanitarian, educational, cultural, unity of purpose and
ability to promote peace”. IeSF is a signatory of
the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC). ESL also endorsed the WADC and conducts doping tests on
cyber athletes. Stimulants- drugs that improve reaction time and concentration
The third association worth mentioning is the International eGames Committee (IEGC), a non-profit E-Sports organization, supported by the
government of the United Kingdom. It aims to positively shape the future of
In my view, countries that seek
to be a part of the E-Sports world should establish their own national
federations and apply to IeSF. IeSF should collaborate with WESA, which is
founded by the most significant organizations in the industry. IeSF is capable
of growing into an internationally recognized authority that is in charge of international
competitions between national teams, whereas WESA would be in charge of all
competitions between clubs.
E-Sports and Free
Since there is a
certain amount of (virtual) killing and planting bombs involved, some games are
not suitable for children. Deciding who can play which game is up to certain
institutions around the world. One of them is Pan European Game Information (PEGI). PEGI is
the age rating system for video games in Europe, Israel and Quebec.
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
is another institution providing an age rating system for video games, this
time for North America. PEGI and ESRB standards are generally not legally
binding. PEGI standards are legally enforced in few jurisdictions, one being the United Kingdom. Another
example is Austria. In Austria, protection of minors are implemented by states.
Two of the nine states, Vienna and Carinthia, legally adopted PEGI standards.
passed a law that prohibited the sale of certain video games to minors. It was
struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that video games
were protected speech under the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court had its own reasons, such as “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure
to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such
exposure causes minors to act aggressively.” or “This
country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to
depictions of violence.”
E-Sports and IP
Apart from constitutional law, video games can be subject to
other fields of the law. Intellectual property law is one of such fields. For
example, DotA is a fan-made custom map originated with Warcraft III, a strategy video game created by Blizzard Entertainment. It
was not a separate game until published by Valve Corporation as Dota 2.
Blizzard sought to prevent registration by its competitor Valve of the
trademark Dota by resorting to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Subsequently,
Blizzard and Valve reached a
settlement agreement and Valve went
on to publish Dota 2.
Playing Dota 2 is free of charge and Valve speedily hosted
its first competition in 2011, with a prize pool of 1.6 million dollars. The International became an
annual Dota 2 E-Sports tournament. The prize pool for the tournament in 2016
was approximately 20 million dollars. The team Wings Gaming of China completed
the tournament in first place and was awarded 9.1 million dollars. The final
was viewed by almost 6
million spectators. Dota 2
tournaments have awarded a total prize money of approximately 90 million dollars so far. League of Legends took the
second place with 36 million dollars, followed by Counter Strike: GO (nearly 27 million dollars)
and Starcraft II (nearly 22 million dollars).
Athletes and the Law
The E-Sports teams that participate in these kind of high
level competitions have different rosters for different games. They are
starting to become more and more important business entities with their
superstar players. The teams are mainly sponsored by tech firms, consumer
electronics companies, gaming equipment producers, web hosting companies,
automobile manufacturers, energy drinks manufacturers and business people who
dream of owning a sports team but who cannot afford to acquire a professional football
club. Football clubs themselves are also keen on forming their own E-Sports
club, not only limited to football games. PSG (FIFA, LoL, Starcraft, CS, Call of Duty and Hearthstone)
Schalke 04 (LoL) and Manchester City (FIFA) have
already signed their own E-Sports players. Besiktas was the first football club
in the world to form an E-Sports team in 2015. Fenerbahce has also entered the
arena in 2016 and will be competing in the upcoming Turkish League of Legends
season with a roster of accomplished players. As for football, FIFA and EA
Sports organise the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2017. FIFA announced that the
winning prize would be 200 thousand dollars.
High level cyber athletes are mostly men. However, the
industry is trying to tackle gender discrimination and promote women cyber athletes. Cyber athletes sign contracts with their teams and
sometimes receive salaries from video game developers. The developer of League
of Legends, Riot Games chooses to pay salaries to competitors. Cyber athletes
may want to make some extra money by streaming on online platforms, an
important issue while drafting a contract. Therefore, E-Sports concerns both
labor law and contract law. It also concerns criminal law, as there have been
several incidents of betting-related match-fixing in E-Sports. In one such case, the manager of a LoL club was inciting his players to
lose against big teams, claiming that the organizers would kick them out of the
league should they win. The players allegedly did so, believing their manager.
In the end, the manager was found to be betting against his own team, which
finished the season with no wins. A player of the team attempted suicide,
leaping off a building. Fortunately, he survived. In
another case, a Dota 2 player placed
a bet against his own team in a major event and won $322. “322” is now a nickname for players who deliberately fail in a game.
In Turkey, where I practice law, E-Sports players became
athletes licensed by the “Federation of
Developing Sports”, established by the Sports Ministry. There are about
three thousand licensed players. The level of professionalism in elite clubs is
surprising, and they are actually pretty successful in international
tournaments. Space Soldiers (CS:GO), SuperMassive (LoL) are followed by tens
of thousands of fans, even though they were founded only a few years ago.
The primary concern of the athletes and their families in
general is the lack of opportunities after their brief but intense careers. Successful
cyber athletes require a superordinate level of reactions and excellent reflexes.
These attributes become slower with time. Consequently, cyber athletes are
usually active between the ages 18-23. It is arduous for them to find time to
study, as they need at least eight hours of training per day. National
legislators around the world should also focus on devising E-Sports
regulations, as more and more professional contracts are being signed. Cyber
athletes are transferred from clubs to other clubs as in any other sport and
foreign cyber athletes may encounter problems regarding their visas. France
recently tackled the legal vacuum and granted a specific legal status for cyber athletes.
Call it a
sport or not, E-Sports is growing exponentially. It is an industry worth
billions and watched by millions. Although the industry is a commercial
success, there are still lots of legal issues to tackle. These legal issues fall
within the scope of various fields of law causing lawyers to work on improving
their respective national laws.
of cyber athletes, drafting contracts for cyber athletes and the resolution of
contractual disputes are some of the key issues, as well as tackling doping and
match-fixing, intellectual property rights, broadcasting rights in particular, and
the exploitation of minors or professional gamers. WESA and IeSF are
significant international organizations that can endeavor on unifying E-Sports
regulations and tackling legal problems faced by the players and the clubs.
century will offer more new games to play. Considering the current growth in
the industry, I would dare predict that the industry will be worth hundreds of
billions in the near future. I would recommend the countries and E-Sports
governing bodies leading the industry to work together and bring forth certain
essential regulations. This would also benefit game developers, as their games
and gamers would find a place in the industry on a legal basis. I would also
suggest the industry to incite women cyber athletes and facilitate their
involvement in professional competitions, so that possible instances of
discrimination are proactively precluded.
 Nurettin Emre
Bilginoglu, LLM, Attorney-at-law - Istanbul, Turkey. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Although there
is no precise definition of a “professional E-Sports player”, the approach of
FIFA could be deemed applicable by analogy. According to Article 2 of FIFA
Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, a professional is a player
who has a written contract with a club and is paid more for his footballing
activity than the expenses he effectively incurs. In E-Sports, certain players
are paid more for their gaming activities than the expenses they incur.
 Brown v.
Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. 786 (2011).