Laying the perfect pitch: There is a need to recognise and regulate eSports in India

July 10, 2020 4:45 AM

Currently, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) confer recognition on any sport and its federation(s).

Unlike other sports, the competition takes place in the virtual world, controlled by the players through a console.Unlike other sports, the competition takes place in the virtual world, controlled by the players through a console.

By Vatsal Gaur

To the uninitiated, eSports implies competitive online gaming in electronic sports. Much like Indian Premier League for cricket, the English Premier League for football, or the Pro Kabaddi League for kabbadi, eSports constitute a class of sports played online, including in a league format. ESports also includes many ‘types’ of games. Players can compete amongst each other in strategy games like League of Legends, DOTA, Starcraft, Smite, to name a few or in regular sports such as football, cricket, basketball, and so on. However, there are fundamental differences between eSports and physical contact sports. The primary difference is that there is no physical contact. Unlike other sports, the competition takes place in the virtual world, controlled by the players through a console.

While the market is nascent in India, there is a definite buzz around eSports in India, especially with the recent deal involving Airtel and Nodwin Gaming. To put things in perspective, the global eSports industry is estimated to be worth $1.1 billion and has grown 16% from 2019. By the end of 2020, Statista, an industry-specific statistic and data service provider, predicts that the revenue from eSports shall be at $2.4 billion. India ranks second to China in the top list of countries with most smartphone users, thereby accounting for approximately 350 million users with a 25.3% smartphone penetration rate. For India, this could mean a significant share of the global eSports market brimming with untapped potential.

Currently, there are over two million fans and two million occasional viewers for eSports, and the country is fast becoming a destination for conducting eSports leagues such as Indian gaming league, ESL gaming. In the recent edition of Asia Games 2018, 24-year old Tirth Mehta from Gujarat created history by winning the country’s first-ever eSports medal, a bronze for a card-based video game tournament called Hearthstone.

To sustain the positives, government regulation in the field of eSports is essential. Government regulation will give legitimacy to eSports. Regulation is also critical to address the problems in the eSports business today, for instance, match-fixing, fraud, and doping issues.

The eSports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) was founded in 2015 to tackle various integrity issues that the sector is facing, particularly concerning match-fixing and fraud. In fact, the ESIC has already produced multiple pieces of regulatory literature, including a code of conduct and an anti-doping code. If the regulation in India adopted the ESIC codes, it would imply that the government intends to promote eSports amongst the youth in this country, and it would repose confidence of investors to invest in an eSports ecosystem in India.

Currently, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) confer recognition on any sport and its federation(s). Upon due recognition, any sporting association may send teams to represent India in international competitions like the Olympics.

MYAS and IOA may currently look at foreign models to understand the nature of regulation. For instance, in the South Korean model, the government, while recognising eSports, outsources the regulatory mechanism to Korea E-Sports Association (KeSPA), which was set up in the year 2000. KeSPA is a member of the Korea Olympic Committee and the International ESports Federation. KeSPA controls the broadcasting framework concerning eSports, thereby promoting the sport and creating a fan base. KeSPA also establishes various leagues, tournaments, regulates the selection of professionals to represent South Korea in international contests. KeSPA has its own rules and regulations that all players must follow. KeSPA plays a role in regulating contracts, and professional players earn between $40,000 and $105,000, with the best making up to $3 Million per year. KeSPA also takes full ownership of matters on gaming revenues from broadcasting rights (including redistribution of revenues with the Korean eSports framework), planning tournaments, player contracts and codes of conduct and has created an active ecosystem of fans, players, and sponsors in the eSports sector.

India can adopt a similar model. A representative eSports federation such as the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) for example, which is a not for profit organisation and the apex body that focuses on policy advocacy, research, and creates a forum for discussion among various stakeholders in the gaming industry, could ideate a regulatory model in conjunction with the government agencies. AIGF, for example, could use its industry experience in (a) managing sponsorships for eSports gaming in India, (b) determining broadcasting frameworks, (c) conducting leagues tournaments in India, (d) engaging with various publishers (creators of eSports games); and (e) setting the rules for playing eSports on a competitive basis and the overall promotion of eSports in India. One has seen the success of a self-regulatory framework in broadcasting and advertising in India, and the same success could be replicated in the eSports sector, where the MYAS and IOA could place reliance on AIGF’s expertise and learnings in the eSport business and can delegate authority to AIGF to regulate eSports in India. Effective regulation of eSports can legitimise the sport, build revenues, increase employment and create a transparent model for governing eSports in India.

The author is Associate partner, HSA Advocates. Views are personal

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