By Casey Goodrich – Thompson Rivers University JD Student
Over the last few years there has been an enormous explosion in popularity for the eSports scene. The International – one of the biggest tournaments in the industry, featuring the game Defence of the Ancients 2 – is a fantastic example of the exponential growth that the industry has recently experienced. Last year, the International had over two million concurrent viewers and a prize pool of over $10 million. This year, the tournament had over 20 million people watching, with a prize pool of over $18 million. The winning team received $6.6 million, resulting in approximately $1.32 million for each player. With eSports becoming such a lucrative industry, it is truly puzzling how and why the rules and regulations are so poorly conceived.
A recent and perhaps unsurprising issue that has arisen is the use of performance enhancing drugs. In July, a professional Counter-Strike player publicly admitted in an interview that his entire team was using Adderall during tournaments. This prompted the Electronic Sports League (“ESL”) to implement drug tests for its competing players. It is disappointing that it took the ESL almost two decades to realize that drug testing was necessary for fair competition. Core skills for any professional gamer include possessing quick reflexes, swift reaction speed, and incredible concentration, all traits that are easily enhanced through over-the-counter medication, such as Ritalin and Adderall. Also factoring in that a large amount of the professional gamers are teenagers, who are vulnerable individuals that are still undergoing mental maturation, making the hands-off approach of the ESL even more alarming.
Another substantial issue that is prevalent in eSports is based on the contracts that professional players sign. A good proportion of the players are either teenagers or young adults; they are generally not advised to hire a lawyer, and there are very few agents looking out for players. The end result of this is that many players do not adequately review contracts and end up agreeing to inequitable deals, and are also not always paid what they are owed. Until eSports are run like a professional sport, there will be no resolution for this issue. The issue with eSports is that players don’t have the adequate representation and protection, so they sign their own contracts without the legal expertise necessary and frequently receive the short end of the stick.
An important distinction between eSports player contracts and other professional sports is that revenue is shared between players and teams in eSports, whereas it is a separate source of income for most other sports. The income comes from streaming, sponsor endorsements, and the developer of the game (which in turn can come from consumers who make purchases in the game that are contributed to the prize pool). So depending on the contract, a fixed salary and income is rarely guaranteed in eSports, whereas it is the norm for most other professional sports.
These issues garner the impression that the regulatory framework governing eSports lacks both competitive integrity and ethical obligations to the players involved. One would think that the professional players that are helping to generate interest, popularity, and subsequently more sales of these games would be treated more fairly. It is plausible that the root of these issues is the absence of any universal, overarching organization to regulate this emerging industry. While the ESL is a large and influential organization, it does not have full autonomy over eSports, but rather regulates specific game tournaments. For certain popular games, such as Defence of the Ancients 2, the competitions are managed by the developers of the respective games (in this instance – Valve Corporation).
Interestingly enough, there is also currently no Players’ Association to represent professional players in eSports. The lack of a true regulatory organization, and no representation for players, has led to an imbalance in power and protection for players when negotiating deals with teams. Hopefully the recent growth and popularity in eSports will prompt stronger regulation and a universal organization to rectify these painfully apparent issues.