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eSports players rights: or how I made my wife care about eSports

View profile for Andy Moseby
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My wife isn’t a gamer. Actually, it’s more accurate to say she’s a lapsed-gamer. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who finished Ghouls and Ghosts, but she lost interest some time after GoldenEye and since then it’s been one long fallow period interspersed only with SingStar, RockBand and the three-month Angry Birds obsession which required an intervention. So it’s fair to say the rise of eSports is just one of the many game-related things that passed her by. We got onto the subject the other day because my 8 year old son had declared his intention to take up videogames professionally after squeezing a victory against me at Fifa 16 (after a pretty ill-tempered game with two very dubious penalties). To get her up to speed, I showed her Valve’s excellent Free to Play: The Movie (full length version freely available on YouTube) the 2013 film focussing on three professional gamers competing for $1 million in prize money at the first annual Dota 2 tournament.

As well as being a great documentary in the Hoop Dreams mould, it’s also works as something of a time capsule, showing the emerging eSports scene in 2011. Compared to The International 2015, the inaugural competition looks like a ramshackle village fête. Valve reported over 20 million unique viewers for last year’s competition – about the same number of people in the US who watched the TV series finales of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad combined.  The total prize pool for The International 2015 reached over $10 million, putting it alongside the Cricket World Cup ($10.2 million) and the Masters Golf ($10 million).

However, whilst eSports may be on a level footing with some traditional sports when it comes to viewing figures and prize money, it still lags behind when it comes to players’ rights. Measures safeguarding the rights of eSports competitors such as unions, player contracts and licensing agreements are only just starting to creep into eSports, whilst they have been a mainstay in traditional sports for decades.  Focussing on contractual issues is just the start, though – with no robust functioning governing body or regional governing bodies – it is difficult to address industry-wide regulation.  This will come, though, and with it will no doubt come some of the issues inherent in all sports. As the divide between eSports and traditional sports shrinks, we expect to be addressing the following within the next few years:

  • EU players unions and prescribed minimum player contract terms;
  • disciplinary issues and disputes;
  • image rights contracts and industry-wide commercial agreements (with distribution of sponsorship or broadcast money);
  • consolidation of teams or organisations;
  • integrity issues on betting markets (protection from match-fixing and use of insider information); and
  • restrictive covenants and regulation around the poaching of players.