A brief overview of Esports during Covid-19
Whilst Covid-19 put traditional sports on hold, esports were able to thrive through their online streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming. This has highlighted the versatility of esports and opened the minds of those who otherwise seemed uninterested in the sector. The shift online saw an emergence of sports simulated games including Formula One, Football and the Grand Prix Series. However, it has been suggested that in a rush to enter the esports market, traditional sports have acted without integrity due to a lack of knowledge and expertise from their governing bodies. The ongoing debates regarding esports governance are arguably more important now than they were before the pandemic. This is because esports are thriving in a time of chaos and without a consolidated framework to regulate its functions, the industry is vulnerable to unprecedented challenges.
There is no doubt that aspects of the esports ecosystem have benefitted from the pandemic, but esports have not been immune to its effects. With many live events cancelled (particularly International events such as the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational), the industry has suffered a loss of revenue. Consequently, many LAN (offline) leagues have transitioned to an online platform. Whilst this has enabled viewers to watch from the comfort of their homes, there have been significant legal and commercial challenges such as latency issues which meant splitting global events into regional divisions. The difficulties attached to remote competitions were also highlighted when Daniel Abt was disqualified from the Formula E Race at Home Challenge when he allowed a professional esports competitor to control his virtual car. This demonstrates how difficult it can be to maintain integrity remotely and how the physical aspect of esports is integral for ensuring compliance with the rules.
Can esports be regulated?
Esports is a sufficiently niche sector because it is heavily digitalised. This makes esports a difficult sector to regulate, particularly through one governing body. Whilst there have been many attempts to establish a world governing body, there has been little success so far. A reason for this could be because organisations such as the Electronic Sports League (ESL) have misunderstood esports as a single entity rather than recognising its specificities and the different games which operate under the umbrella of esports. The absence of an overarching governing body or arbitration body for esports creates confusion since multiple regulatory organisations are creating their own rules. This also means that there is no general forum for resolving disputes such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which is used by traditional sports or a specific internal forum for disputes which has been implemented by Formula One.
There is certainly an argument for developing a ‘CAS’ for esports because having experienced professionals resolving disputes would develop cohesive and specialised legal knowledge which could be applied to the industry. The World Esports Association have attempted to fill this void by launching their Arbitration Court for Esports in 2016 which is backed by the ESL (a key tournament organiser) and various other organisers such as Major League Gaming. However, there still appears to be a lack of judicially reliable decisions because the court is still in its infancy.
Esports as Entertainment
The recent convergence between esports and the entertainment sector has presented exciting opportunities for esports. Most recently, Riot Games partnered up with Spotify which has sought to create a holistic ecosystem which incorporates esports and entertainment. Esports may also be a viable option for artists to showcase their music with Travis Scott already taking the stage in the Fortnite arena to host a live concert to over 30 million viewers. These partnerships have also been amplified in a way which brings legitimacy to esports and could be a great catalyst for having the industry more heavily regulated.
Overall, there is no doubt that the pandemic has triggered a shift in the trajectory of esports. However, the industry needs to ensure that it addresses its complex legal and commercial issues as a matter of urgency if it is to continue expanding. If adequate consideration is not given to these issues, then esports risks developing a closed system which expands beyond the reach of control.
Lauren-Anne Hicks is a Edge Hill University Graduate