Electronic sports (otherwise known as “eSports”) refers to competitive video gaming whereby players (both professional and amateur) belonging in teams compete against each other in different leagues and tournaments hosted around the world. With an estimated global spectatorship of 335 million people in 2017 to becoming a billion dollar industry by 2020, it is clear why major brands (such as Red Bull, Coca Cola and Nissan) have bought into one of the fastest growing forms of electronic media.

Whilst competitive computer gaming is not new, the growth of eSports over recent years has ultimately resulted in sold out stadiums with 40,000 fans watching teams play against each other for prize money in the millions.  If you are unfamiliar to the world of eSports, there a number of games played but the most popular being a multi-player online game called the League of Legends (“LoL” to those who have already been initiated). The eSports world consists of the publishers of the games (such as Riot Games for LoL) the teams, events and leagues. This is an industry which is now big business especially when you consider top eSports players are earning upwards of a $1m and estimated global revenue to hit $465m next year.

The professional eSports industry is almost completely consumed via internet streaming with companies such as the Amazon-owned Twitch providing millions of spectators with 24/7 coverage and the ability to engage with other users in real-time. It is this streaming element which has allowed eSports as an industry to flourish and gain significant traction. Interestingly, it is estimated that 40% of all eSports viewers do not themselves play any of the top games but purely consume content as spectators. Whilst this statistic is intriguing and some may argue a non-playing spectatorship demonstrates eSports as akin to “traditional sport” there remains substantial academic debate as to whether eSports constitutes a “sport”.

Nevertheless, and as with any growth industry, there are issues which must be tackled to ensure eSports develops a well-structured and trusted regulatory and legal framework. For example, there have been instances of players being poached, players not being paid and with any sport, there are those which seek to cheat, take performance enhancing substances, or match-fix for their own financial gain. Despite all of the challenges, there is a desire to develop eSports governance and we have very recently seen the creation of the British eSports Association which will seek to help and represent players as well as the interests of teams, game publishers and broadcasters. The ongoing development of eSport governance will not only enhance integrity within the industry but also externally by attracting key sponsors who are seeking to “activate” in a potentially very lucrative market.

Whilst the world of eSports may still have a number of challenges to face, the combination of the levels of spectatorship and fan engagement as well as real desire to mature the industry from a regulatory and governance perspective, demonstrates that eSports is certainly on an upwards, and perhaps (from a sponsor’s perspective) extremely lucrative, path.

For more information on esports or sports law matters please contact Mohit Pasricha.