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The Growth of Esports Law

— September 14, 2020

The truth remains that esports has come to stay. Because of this, new prospects and challenges will continue to spring up. It is thus necessary that all stakeholders – players, league owners, tournament organizers, etc. – pay attention to these emerging trends.

A few years ago, video games were taken to be no more than leisure activities engaged in by mostly teenagers. Thus, a gaming session would typically include a few family members or friends sitting around together in front of the television. The reward would typically be bragging rights, mostly on social media. However, things have changed drastically. Online gaming (also known as esports) has turned into a multibillion-dollar industry.

The process of esports creates a whole new world for sports and sports law. It thus demands that the frontiers of the law have to be expanded to accommodate these changes making inroads into the world of sports.

History and Development of Esports

Steward Brand is credited with having hosted the first esport tournament. At that point, he was a writer and editor for Rolling Stone Magazine. The tournament emerged from his research while writing a feature story about the potential impact of computers on societal change. This event took place at Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in California on October 19, 1972. Then, he had not imagined that he would get as much as 350 million views of the tournament, or that that lone event would kickstart a billion-dollar industry. Today, a lot of countries are toeing the line of recognizing esports as a sport. For instance, in Asia, esport is so recognized and is scheduled to be part of the 2022 Asian games. The United States also appears to be making moves in that direction, having recognized esport athletes as professional athletes. The world’s foremost sporting body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), has even created a separate category for esports. There, some of the best players in the world come together to battle to be the world champion in that category.

Generally, the nature of the esport will depend on the type of games scheduled to be played. The way it works, players are pitted against each other in an online game. Fans view these games while they are broadcast live in a stadium. Alternatively, they could join in through the different live-streaming services available. They also place wagers on their favorite players, betting on the winners, the winning margin, etc. One of the foremost esport betting sites is csgo betting websites.

There is a separate calendar period developed for the sport. Tournaments are scheduled within this period, and gamers play through the rounds, getting through from the knockout stages to the finals. The teams are divided into leagues that are headed by stakeholders. These business-savvy individuals recruit top talent and train them to be part of their leagues. Incentives and compensation are provided for the top-performing individuals in each league. Similarly, teams who advance through the knockout stages get bonuses and rewards. These leagues are structured and run much in the same way other sporting teams are, too.

Legal Issues in Esports

The rise in esports has introduced some novel legal issues. Several key areas demand some form of legal intervention seeing as things aren’t exactly clear. These concerns range from issues relating to contracts, endorsements, team composition, etc. Given also that esport is a form of entertainment, entertainment law has to come in, too. Some of the specific legal concerns are discussed below.

  • Regulation

At the moment, the focus is on trying to determine exactly the classification of esports. As a result, many countries have not developed strong laws to regulate esports. In the international scene, the International Esports Federation (IESF) was founded in the United States in 2008 to regulate esports. However, the body faces some serious challenges, one of which is the lack of seriousness by its members.

In 2015, an anti-fraud agency for esports was established. This body is known as the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC). It has the duty of identifying and prosecuting players who engage in match-fixing, cheating, and e-doping.

  • Contract

    Contract paper and pen
    Contract paper and pen; image courtesy of the US Army via Wikimedia Commons,

Just like in most sports, contracts are a huge concern in this field. The terms, duration, pay, and other aspects of players’ relations with the leagues can be covered only with a contract. Similarly, league owners sign contracts with several other agencies in furtherance of their objectives. Expectedly, issues often arise from esport contracts. Notably, in the early stages of the sport’s development, players did not pay a lot of attention to their contracts. Hence, they were mostly taken advantage of by league providers. These days, it is not uncommon for players to seek legal representation when offered contracts . This is to avoid rip-offs by the league and tournament providers.

  • Endorsements

One of the main means for players to make money in esports is through endorsements. An endorsement contract allows a company to exploit a player’s likeness, image, or reputation to further their brand. Players then obtain benefits in the form of monetary compensation, use of the company’s product, etc. Legal concerns here often relate to the nature and types of these endorsement contracts. Players need to be careful to be sure they are adequately cared for under the endorsement contract. For instance, the player has to make sure the payment is adequate. Similarly, players need to watch out for unfair clauses such as any prohibiting the support of any other brand.

  • Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is another area of law that impacts esports. The law recognizes that a game’s content is the property of the game developer. Hence, there could be issues of copyright infringement when organizers fail to obtain approval before publicly using the games. Event organizers need to obtain the consent and perhaps pay compensation, before making use or profiting from any game.

Apart from organizers, players also have to recognize the property rights of game developers. Players who stream on YouTube or other platforms need to be sure they have permission to do so. A developer will be within their rights to ban the streaming of their games on any platform.


The truth remains that esports has come to stay. Because of this, new prospects and challenges will continue to spring up. It is thus necessary that all stakeholders – players, league owners, tournament organizers, etc. – pay attention to these emerging trends.

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