Global Recognition of ESports and Laws and Regulations All Over the World
E-Sports or Electronic Sports and Online Gaming are now the prominent sports activity in the world. So basically, E-Sports are a part of online gaming only, nonetheless, when these games are played in a professional manner and in a competitive form just like other forms of traditional sports, it is termed E-Sports. It is estimated that there are approximately 1 billion people who play online games all around the world.1 Some countries have now recognized E-Sports as proper sports while some have seen this as a flourishing industry and hoping to regulate it in the coming future. It is expected that by 2024, the E-Sports industry would reach a revenue level of $1617.7 million with a compound annual growth rate of 11.1%. These revenues are drawn from sponsorship, media rights, digital platform, publisher fees, merchandise and tickets, and streaming.2 However, as this industry has seen such a global rise, the sports regulators as well as the concerned bodies have shown apprehension over unregulated access to online games and specifically E-Sports. As a result, measures have now been taken by countries in the last 23 years to ensure that there is a system in function to monitor the growing area of online gaming and at the same time, make E-Sports rewarding, competitive, fair, and duly managed. In this article, major laws have been discussed regarding how the booming countries are regulating the online gaming sector as well as E-Sports.
In China, E-Sports has been recognized as an official sport since 2003 by China’s General Administration of Sports. This move resulted in the Sports Ministry including E-Sports in the list of 99 officially recognized sports in China. After that in 2004, the First China E-Sports Games were also launched by the Ministry. Even in 2016, the booming of E-Sports in China resulted in becoming the largest E-Sports market in the world by surpassing the U.S. Now in 2019, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has included E-Sports operators and E-Sports professionals as a type of profession. Through this move, E-Sports is not just seen as a hobby but rather as a full-fledged profession to be pursued.3
However, as the statistics states that 62.5% of the China’s minor population is involved in playing online games for more than 2 hours a day, the government found it an issue of concern as it could result in unhealthy lifestyle and depravation of physical and mental health. Hence in order to tackle this problem, the government came out with the rules in 2021 that would set a limit for minors on the time they spend playing games online. As per this restriction, the population who is below 18 years of old would be only allowed to play online games on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays, and on public holidays only from 8pm to 9pm. This curtails the number of hours to 3 per week excluding any hour due to public holiday.
According to the government, this measure sought to effectively protect the physical and mental health of minors and also tackles the concern about the issue of damaging eyes. Similar but less restrictive rules were earlier announced in 2019 where children were allowed to play online games for 1.5 hours each day on weekdays and 3 hours on weekends and public holidays. These laws put an onus on the gaming companies to monitor these time restrictions, however, there are no penalties for breaking the rules. Nonetheless, companies are now incorporating facial-recognition technologies and algorithms to keep a check on compliance with the rules.4
South Korea which is known as the birthplace of E-Sports officially recognized this form of sport in the year 2000.5
As a result, the Korean E-Sports Association was formed in the same year after seeking approval from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. This organization had the onus to establish basic governing rules on E-sports at the national level. The rules included but were not limited to broadcasting rights, player contracts, the formation of new events, etc.
Not only this, the law of South Korea is even more stringent on the part of curbing illicit practices in the E-Sporting industry. As per the Game Industry Promotion Act, 2017, any person who logs into another person’s account and plays a game in order to improve their ranking is liable to be punished with up to a 2-year jail term and an 18,000$ fine.6 This act is called boosting and is thus, severely punished. In a similar manner, the Act has also incorporated Social Security System-Based Login through which all players engaging in E-Sports have to login system through the registered Social Security system only so that authorities can keep a track of players who have indulged in harmful in-game practices and can eventually punish them. Hacking activities in online gaming is also a punishable offence. Therefore, usage of aimbots and cheats falls under the ambit of hacking and is punishable by up to 5 years of imprisonment or 43,000$ fine.7 Resultantly, South Korea has been stringent with the flourishing industry of E-Sporting and has visioned it to be fair and neutral in practice.
In a recent move, the President of India, using its Constitutional powers provided under Article 77 of the Constitution of India has recognized E-Sports as multi-sport events.8
As the President is empowered under Article 77(3) to make rules for the convenient transaction of the business of the Government of India, and for the allocation among Ministers of the said business, it has amended the regulations governing esports and has requested the Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to include esports in multi-sport events. After this specific amendment, ‘Matters relating to online gaming’ would be under the jurisdiction of MeitY who would be the nodal ministry for online gaming and ‘E-Sports as part of multi-sports events’ under the ambit of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs.
Recently, MeitY has also released a draft amendment to incorporate regulations in order to deal with ‘online gaming’. The draft amendment is aimed to introduce an amendment to Information Technology Intermediate Rules, 2021.9 These amendments have been proposed to regulate the online games growing in India so that they are brought in conformity with Indian laws and the users of such games be safeguarded against potential harm.10 According to the draft amendment, online gaming “means a game that is offered on the Internet and is accessible by a user through a computer resource if he makes a deposit with the expectation of earning winnings”. The draft amendment seeks that an online gaming intermediary shall focus on the requirement of due diligence under the rules while discharging its duties.11 Moreover, the intermediary should observe and show reasonable efforts to cause its users not to host, display, upload, publish, transmit or share an online game not in conformity with Indian law, including any law on gambling or betting. Further, as part of the due diligence, the online gaming intermediary is liable to display a demonstrable and visible mark of registration on all online games registered by the self-regulatory body. Additionally, more transparency has been sought from online gaming intermediaries in terms of financial dealing including details about the risk of financial loss, KYC procedure, manner of distributing prizes, etc. Therefore, these laws are in tune with ensuring a safe environment for the functioning of online games in India. Furthermore, these draft amendments and the change of business by the President expresses the desire of the government to properly regulate the industry and to make it a safer experience for society.
Other than the above-mentioned countries, Finland in 2017, Ukraine in 2020, Pakistan in 2021, Germany in 2018, the USA 2013, Thailand in 2021, Russia in 2000-01, North Macedonia in 2022, and Uzbekistan in 2022, are some of the major countries that have also recognized E-Sports as a sport. According to the E-Sport Research Network report that was submitted to European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, 66 countries have now recognized E-Sports as a sport. However, the report has highlighted that no European Union State has fully recognized E-Sports as sports and at most, E-Sports has been given partial legal equivalence in rare cases.12
Significantly, the regulations as discussed which are implemented by some nations are a good start to regulate this sector however, it can be understood that there is still a lacuna that is required to be addressed. Just like doping laws that are implemented in traditional sports, there is likely an element of doping in E-Sports as well where consuming these substances of choice can result in concentration for longer periods of time.13
Similarly, performance-enhancing drugs can also result in violating the fairness element in E-Sports. As a result, there is an urgent need to curb this issue for fair implementation and competition. South Korea has tried to tackle at least an issue of Boosting by criminalizing it, nevertheless, the laws are required to be advanced and cover the facets that are not properly unearthed. Moreover, it is required that a Global E-Sports Federation should try to incorporate uniform measures in all the member countries and at the same time, try to convince non-member countries to adhere to minimum due diligence in the field of E-Sports. The day is not far when E-Sports would be equally viewed and celebrated as traditional sports and therefore, a proper regulatory framework is certainly a need.