The eSports industry is in a very interesting position. It has enough popularity and momentum to bring it to the forefront of society, yet just enough backing to keep the ball rolling. If we do not begin to take this industry seriously, this will be an industry that fails to reach its full potential. Per usual, the United States is one of the last nations to accept eSports.Given the lack of support the industry has received, its no wonder that the North American (NA) competitive scene is seen as the weakest. It is time to change that.
It all started back in 2000 when the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism founded KeSPA, a body which manages eSports in South Korea. The “official” goal of KeSPA is to make eSports an official sporting event, and to solidify the commercial position of eSports in all sectors. Because of their mission, Korea has roughly sixteen channels dedicated to eSports (basically, ESPN on steroids). In October of 2014 KeSPA, in partnership with Riot Games and Ongamenet, made changes to the professional welfare of the eSports scene. Specifically, requiring a minimum competitive minimum salary and a minimum 1-year contract with a team.
KeSPA’s actions solved problems that are currently effecting American eSports, specifically players not getting paid enough (or at all) and teams disbanding (breaking up) at the drop of a pin. The industry is at a different position than it was sixteen years ago and a United States eSports Association would likely not be an option, but the industry needs some sort of structure otherwise the industry will not have the support it needs to continue to grow. There are three events that have happened recently which the US Government and US eSports industry should recognize.
First, a bill was presented to French parliament in late March. In general, this Bill touches on four main issues: (1) Status of Competitions, (2) Distribution elements, (3) Player Status, and (4) Structuring eSports. There are certain elements of this Bill that are necessary for the French to touch on. Specifically, under current French Law, eSport tournaments/competitions are considered gambling. By changing the status of competitions, it will hopefully bring in more competitions. This issue, however, is not present in the US. Distribution does not seem to be much of an issue now thanks to game developers new found acceptance for streaming websites such as Twitch and YouTube gaming. The biggest points I think the US could take from this proposed Bill is the Structure. Specifically, for tax purposes since winning a tournament is usually a cash prize and who should oversee the industry. While I am fond of the leagues being run by the teams, like other professional sports, some extra steps may need to be taken by the Government to help incentivize it.
Second, the United Kingdom’s government, as of early April, has backed a push to have eSports run along side of the Rio 2016 games. The proposed “eGames” would also coincide with both the Winter and following Summer Olympics in 2018 and 2020 respectively. The competition will be overseen by the establish International eGames Committee (IEGC). The US does not need to adopt the rules the IEGC adopts for the eGames nor does it need to follow the same structure. But the IEGC will provide a road map on how to handle issues that have started to infect the industry such as Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs…yes video game players use them too).
Finally, the industry has a new found, player-focused league thanks to Twitch and FaceIt. Most tournaments, competitions, and “leagues” are run and overseen by the game developer themselves. For example, Riot Games, creator/developer of League of Legends (LoL), a popular eSports title, has the League Championship Series (LCS) for LoL. The LCS is split between NA and EU (Europe) and there is a world championship at the end of the “season.” This new league, the eSports Championship Series (ECS), is player focused. The teams actually run the league . . . sound familiar? There will be 10 NA teams and 10 EU teams. The teams, as co-owners of the league, will participate in revenue sharing, setting a governing body, and have a say on how to grow the league. Now this . . . this is what the industry needs. But with this will come a whole world of issues. What games will be available for this league? What is the likelihood that games such as LoL or Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm will be available for play in this league? If the teams run the league, are we likely to get unions and a commissioner and a structure that looks similar to the NFL or NBA? It is difficult to say how the EGC will do given its level of infancy; however, I firmly believe this is a step in the right direction to protect players (who seem to get shafted the most).
These recent developments in the industry are great. I believe these developments are necessary. These developments can help lay the foundation for regulations on eSports and give the industry some sort of structure. With no structure, the industry is doomed to fail. It is time to accept eSports as an industry that is here to stay and grow with it.