eSports during Covid-19: Why it should have place in the Sun of sports bodies, custodians and sports lovers

August 27, 2020 11:09 AM

In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, followed by the Great Global Financial Crisis of 2009, while most countries were at their wits end, South Korea started building mass broadband internet infrastructure.

eSports, Covid-19, Gen Z,  Korean e-Sports Association, Online gaming, eSports players, video gaming,digital gaming, International Olympic Committee, 2024 Summer Olympics, sports newseSports describes the world of competitive, organized video/digital gaming.

By Aahna Mehrotra

The current Covid-19 pandemic has set the world on a course of social mutation, the likes of which haven’t been witnessed before. Business impact apart, this is already affecting our social behaviour in more ways than one. The traditional ways of playing sport, the gladiatorial voyeurism of watching sport are all set to undergo a drastic change in the years to come. This is a perfect disruption to extricate opportunity out of a crisis. It is time now to introduce some new paradigms of sport to attract the millennials and Gen Z.

In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, followed by the Great Global Financial Crisis of 2009, while most countries were at their wits end, South Korea started building mass broadband internet infrastructure. The high unemployment rate led to the mushrooming of internet cafés in South Korea, popularly known as PC Bangs, which virtually became LAN gaming centres. Three years later, in 2000, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism set up the Korean e-Sports Association to promote and regulate esports in the country.

Two decades later, the disruption caused by the pandemic yet again presents an opportunity for the global community to adopt social trends into mainstream and adapt the same into a cohesive, regulated structure beneficial to the society at large. Indeed, eSports, now more than ever, deserves its place in the figurative Sun of sports bodies, game custodians and sports lovers.

eSports describes the world of competitive, organized video/digital gaming. Neither does it have much to do with online card games like poker or rummy, nor is it all about violence or luck. Online gaming today is a multi-billion-dollar industry that tests a player’s skills, strategy, team co-ordination and various other motor and mental faculties. In essence, eSports is the collective term used to describe competitive gaming at a professional level amongst eSports players.

Countries all across the world are realizing the potential of eSports both, in participation and viewership. China was among the first countries to recognize eSport as a real sport way back in 2003. By early 2019, China officially recognized eSports’ players as professionals within the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and By July 2019, more than 100,000 people had registered themselves with an anticipation of 2 million more such professionals over a period of five years.

Evidently the cry for legitimacy of eSports is gaining ground and in future, eSports becoming a part of the Olympic Games will be the ultimate legitimization granted to eSports. A summit held by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in October, 2017 acknowledged the growing popularity of eSports, concluding that while "Competitive eSports may be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports “but any sport being assessed to be included as a part of the Olympic Games would require such sport to meet "with the rules and regulations of the Olympic movement”.

The Tokyo Olympic Committee, as a lead up to the 2020 games, plans to organize a number of esports events. The organization committee for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris is in discussions with the IOC and the various professional eSport organizations to consider organizing esports as a demonstrations sport, citing the need to include these elements to keep the Olympics relevant to younger generations.

The President of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, during the 127th IOC Session in Monaco, in 2014, said, “We need to change because sport today is too important in society to ignore the rest of society. We are not living on an island, we are living in the middle of a modern, diverse, digital society.”

The statistics too work in favour. According to a report from Newzoo, a market analytics company, over 380 million people worldwide watched eSports in 2018, including 165 million eSports enthusiasts, a term that describes frequent viewers, as opposed to occasional viewers. The bulk of these enthusiasts watch from North America, China and South Korea.

India is not lagging far behind either. According to a March 2020 report published by Ficci-EY, the online gaming segment grew 40% in 2019 to reach Rs. 650 crore and is expected to reach Rs.1,870 crore by 2022 at a CAGR of 43%. Such growth has been enabled by the increase in the number of online gamers from 183 million in 2017 to 365 million in 2019. Increased popularity is also a result of the increase in the number of fantasy sport operators, who ride on the back of popular sports like cricket and football, which grew over 100% since 2018.

Last but not the least, as eSports is inherently virtual in nature, in this new social mutation, it will support the new normal of not congregating in large numbers, maintaining social distancing, and tickling the coffers of broadcasters and sports custodians. India could benefit a fair amount by bringing eSports into the limelight.

(The author was selected to play cricket for the India Under-19 women’s team. She has earned her credentials in sports law from across ISDE, Madrid and UCLA, School of Law. She is the Founder of AM Sports Law and Management Co. and a Partner at TMT Law Practice. Views expressed are personal.)

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