More people are watching eSports, and for longer periods of time.
Triple-A publishers are investing heavily in the space. And the prize pools are growing in size, with players competing for massive piles of cash.
As these sums grow, so does the pressure and desire to win. To this end, we’ve seen reports of players using drugs such as ADHD medication Ritalin to aid focus, or utilising software to hamper their opponents.
Thus the question of whether pro-gaming requires regulation has arisen. Various bodies have been founded in order to keep an eye on the eSports scene, including World eSports Council, the World eSports Association and, recently, eSports Integrity Coalition.
Meanwhile, government organisations like the UK Gambling Commission as well as DCMS are looking into the sector in the UK. In Korea, where pro-gaming is almost the country’s national sport, the sector is looked after by KeSPA – an organisation with strong ties to the region’s government and police.
“eSports needs regulation in a very specific way,” says eSports Integrity Coalition’s (ESIC) integrity commissioner Ian Smith. “I don’t believe that eSports needs governance in the broad sense of a FIFA-type organisation. eSports doesn’t work that way. It’s more akin to an Olympics because it involves 20 different sports. There’s no crossover between Counter-Strike and League of Legends, yet they fall under the same banner.
“What eSports does need is regulation in certain, specific areas. For example, it should try to address things like child protection and issues around that because we have a lot of young participants. But what ESIC is focused on is integrity. In particular, we’re very focused on cheating. There’s ‘cheating to win’, using software or hampering your opponent with DDOS attacks and online attacks, or doping – ways of trying to win unfairly. There’s also ‘cheating to lose’, match fixing and betting fraud, which is the danger that eSports has not properly confronted and is not adequately geared up to deal with. That’s a problem for everybody, this isn’t a problem that’s unique to one game or one organiser or one publisher or one book maker. This is a common problem.”
Gambling and drugs are the two areas that Andrew Nixon, partner at law firm Sheridans, identifies as big potential issues.
“Integrity is a key part of any industry, in particular one in which betting markets exist,” he says. “That’s true of both traditional sports and eSports. By next year it is anticipated that all major bookmakers will offer markets on pro-gaming events – that creates commercial opportunities, but it opens the industry up to the risk of match manipulation.
“Another area is doping: it is different in eSports compared with traditional sports, with the issues revolving around psycho stimulants and relaxants rather than physical enhancers, but it is an issue that needs to regulated. I don’t see it being as big an issue as match manipulation, but it must not
However, Peter Lewin, an associate at law firm Purewal and Partners, believes some of these problems have been overblown: “In some form, on certain issues, eSports probably does require regulation. While anti-doping and match-fixing are often flagged by the media as two of the key areas requiring regulation in eSports, there’s little evidence that either of these are actually systemic problems within the industry. Other areas that are actually more at the forefront of recent eSports problems include player protections, tournament organisation and visa issues.
“Does regulation mean ‘legal’ regulation or involvement by government? Not necessarily. What’s important is that the right parties are being involved in the right discussions on the right issues, since at the moment no single body within eSports is in a position to address all of these alone.”
Spike Laurie, the boss of pro-gaming league ESL, agrees that eSports needs to be monitored, but not by an outside force. He believes that the industry is already doing a good job of keeping its house clean.
“Regulation is not required,” he says. “The industry itself is setting best practice and that’s really important because in this instance, a hands-off approach is working in terms of regulation. The industry is self-regulating and doing what’s best for eSports and what’s best for the players.”
This is a view shared by Gfinity CEO Neville Upton: “We have our own rule set for each game. We have our Gfinity Code of Conduct. We have very high standards and rigorous checks with our online anti-cheat systems. We have over 100 admins and they are very well trained so they can properly adjudicate on games. At the moment we’re just building our own standards. We’d like to share those with other tournament operators.
“We probably need a UK body and an international body where we can all put in our ideas, that way you have someone independently taking all those pooled ideas and making decisions. Let’s hope we can get to a commonality over time.”
Much like their ‘traditional’ sporting counterparts, eSports firms want to attract big sponsors, such as the Cokes and Visas of the world, and Smith insists that some form of regulation in the space will make pro-gaming more attractive to these bigger corporations.
”I don’t believe that eSports needs governance in the broad sense of a FIFA-type organisation. eSports doesn’t work that way. It’s more akin to an Olympics because it involves 20 different sports.”
Ian Smith, ESIC
“eSports’ demographic and numbers indicate that it should have 30 and 40 per cent non-endemic sponsors, the likes of Emirates, Coke, Toyota, Visa, Mastercard, AMEX and so on,” Smith says.
“But eSports has less than five per cent. The biggest reason for this is a complete lack of regulation, in particular, around integrity issues. Major sponsors have been stung by scandals, like FIFA, in the past.
“They want to promote their brand, but also want to protect it. They are fearful of eSports because it has none of these protections in place. So when salesmen say: ‘Look at our brilliant numbers’, the reply is: ‘I like those numbers but I don’t understand your broadcast method as you’re not on TV and I don’t understand how you reach your market’. The other is: ‘Where is my protection?’. It was blindingly obvious to me when I started this exercise that putting something like this in place should give potential sponsors more confidence in what eSports is doing.”
The fact that the industry is growing up and approaching things with a greater deal of professionalism is something that Purewal’s Lewin is keen to highlight.
“While eSports regulation is a worthwhile topic of discussions it’s important not to forget the massive leaps that the industry has made in terms of professionalisation,” he says. “We now have eSports appearing on places like ESPN, we have larger tournaments, prize pools and player salaries, there has been an influx of non-endemic investment both in terms of sponsors and team owners, and an increase in the involvement of traditional business advisers.
“Although there is room for improvement, there’s certainly already a lot to celebrate.”