Bryce Blum

(@eSportsLaw)

An emerging field in sports industry is eSports (competitive gaming). As new fields emerge and grow, so too will the need for attorneys. Attorney Bryce Blum is a leader in eSports law. Attorney Blum graduated 3rd in his class from Trinity College and from George Washington Law School with honors. Attorney Blum is a co-founder of IME Law. This past week I had the opportunity to exchange emails with Attorney Blum about eSports.

For our readers that may not be too familiar with the subject, what is “eSports?”

Esports stands for electronic sports, which is the umbrella term for professional, competitive video gaming. Yes, that is a thing. And it’s much, much bigger than you probably think. The final match of the 2015 League of Legends finals had 36 million viewers. To put that in context, that’s more people than tuned in for the final game of the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, or World Series.

Even though “sport” is in the term “eSport,” there is the debate about whether video game competitions are a sport. Are eSports, a sport? Do you consider the competitors to be an athlete?

I’ve always found this debate to be a bit of a red herring. I don’t consider eSports players athletes—they’re not doing anything athletic, after all—but I also don’t think that matters. Sports aren’t inherently better than competitions. Baseball isn’t better than poker simply because it’s a “sport.” I find baseball painfully boring, and certain eSports unbelievably engaging. That will remain true no matter what labels we put on the activities or their competitors.

How did you get where you are now through your experiences both in law school and once you graduated?

I started following eSports when I was in my first year of law school. As my interest in the industry grew, so too did the amount of time I spent thinking about eSports-related legal issues. When I started practicing at Foster Pepper (one of the largest firms in Seattle), I decided to write an article highlighting some of the issues I had spent a lot of time thinking about but never got to put on paper. I published that article on the League of Legends Subreddit* and it wound up hitting the front page. From there, everything snowballed—some major figures in the scene contacted me with specific issues and I helped out. I also kept writing articles since people seemed to enjoy them. The articles consistently did well on reddit and other social media fora, and more people noticed me and got in touch. Eventually, I decided it was time to leave Foster Pepper to co-found an entertainment boutique called IME Law. You can find more details about the types of clients I work with and representative matters on the firm’s website.

Esports are incredibly popular in Korea (notorious for being the leader in video game competitions) and has been for the past 10+ years. Why has North America, specifically the US, just started to welcome this industry?

Gaming is huge in the US and is growing so rapidly, it was really only a matter of time before eSports would catch on. I think it’s a basic part of human nature to want to watch others compete at the highest level in an activity they also enjoy. It’s why I love watching basketball, football, poker and various eSports as well.

Korea also has about fourteen television channels dedicated to broadcasting esports, do you think the U.S. will ever accept esports to this degree? Will we ever see a true ESPN Esports channel?

It’s probably inevitable. WME and Turner are running a Counter-Strike league that will air on TNT this summer, ESPN is broadcasting Heroes of the Dorm for the second year in a row, and other eSports TV deals are in the works as we speak. Eventually, TV broadcasting of eSports will be commonplace, but I doubt the industry will ever transition away from its primary focus on internet-based broadcasting. The living room is dying; so few people in our generation subscribe to cable TV, and it’s only trending down. Esports are the perfect type of programming to reach a younger audience where it wants to consume media: online.

You mentioned internet-based broadcasting, websites such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming allow individuals to stream themselves playing a video game. Why aren’t we seeing copyright claims against these streamers?

The terms of use for almost every popular game specifically grants users permission to broadcast themselves playing the game. It’s free advertising for the games—publishers love streaming.

Finally, what do you see as current issues that have not received as much attention as the immigration issues**? What do you foresee becoming an issue as the industry grows?

There are too many to list. If you check out my whitepaper series, I dive into a few of them, and try to forecast what other new issues will arise as we continue to grow. Esports have only begun dealing with various IP issues, antitrust, unionization, and so much more. We have a fun and legally interesting future ahead of us.

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We cannot thank Attorney Blum enough for taking the time to discuss the emerge eSport industry and his experience in the field. We wish Attorney Blum the best in his future endeavors.

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*Subreddit is a term used to describe a content specific board on the website Reddit.com (a social media forum). Topics range from sports to fitness to video games and many other areas. League of Legends is a video game which boast a highly competitive gaming market.

**Prior to this Question and Answer session, Attorney Blum wrote a very interesting article for ESPN’s new eSports page which highlights the immigration issues League of Legends has been facing over the years. I asked Attorney Blum to speak these issues; however, to avoid oversimplifying the issue Attorney Blum has asked I link the ESPN article which can be found here.

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