The popularity of eSports is booming. In 2014, the number of eSports ‘enthusiasts’ grew from 90 million in 2014 to 131 million in 2016 with the number estimated to rise to 180 million in 2019.
The rise both in popularity and in prize funds over the past few years has caused concerns within the industry around regulation. Regulation of eSports requires governance that can cross-over between twenty different sports. Yet eSports requires regulation in certain, specific areas particularly the threat that match manipulation and betting fraud and other integrity challenges pose to eSports, but also child protection and issues around young participants.
Doping in eSports revolves around psycho stimulants and relaxants rather than physical enhancers. There are reports of players using drugs such as ADHD medication Ritalin to aid focus.
Other regulatory concerns include player protections, tournament organisation and visa issues. In recent years the industry has been self-regulating and doing what is best for eSports and what is best for the players.
Integrity is a key part of any industry, in particular one in which betting markets exist. All major bookmakers now offer markets on pro-gaming events, which creates commercial opportunities, but it opens the industry up to the risk of match manipulation.
In April 2017 the UK regulator, the Gambling Commission published a seventeen-page ‘position paper’ on eSports, clarifying that the existing regulatory framework is sufficient to mitigate the risks it presents. This relates particularly to the use of virtual currencies and other trade-able in-game items such as ‘skins’ and their appeal to under-age gamblers. The commission state “Where facilities for gambling are offered using such items, a licence is required in exactly the same manner as would be expected in circumstances where somebody uses or receives casino chips as a method of payment for gambling, which can later be exchanged for cash.” This also means that anyone offering betting markets on eSports must obtain a UK gambling licence.
Since 2016 there is now an independent UK body and an international body for eSports where industry ideas have been pooled and decisions on regulation agreed. Regulation has given potential sponsors more confidence and enabled eSports firms to attract big sponsors, including Emirates, Coke, Toyota, Visa, Mastercard, AMEX and more.
This eSports league regulator was founded in March 2016. A number of eSports leagues including Major League Gaming (MLG) and the eSports League (ESL) and some of the most renowned, industry-leading eSports teams spent more than a year in intense negotiations in an effort to create a professional, open and inclusive organisation to oversee standardised tournament regulations, player representation as well as revenue sharing for teams.
Eight of the world’s biggest multi-gaming brands have contributed to the founding of WESA, with the Association aiming to add more members. The founding teams are Fnatic; Natus Vincere; EnVyUs; Virtus.pro; G2 Esports; FaZe; Mousesports, and Ninjas in Pyjamas.
WESA includes a Player Council, elected by the players, that represents, strengthens and advocates on behalf of pro gamers on league policies, rule-sets, player transfers and more. The aim is to empower players when it comes to influencing decision-making in tournaments operated under WESA regulations.
The WESA is not to be confused with the World eSports Council that helps unify business leaders who are joining forces to help bring organization and stabilization of this fast growing industry and do not make the rules that govern the industry.
Established in 2015 by key eSports stakeholders to deal with regulatory concerns of common interest, ESIC is a coalition of businesses that are usually in competition with each other, but recognise that they are all threatened by attacks on the integrity of eSports. Members are bound by their own Code of Ethics.
ESIC has published a participants’ Code of Conduct, an Anti-Corruption Code and an Anti-Doping Policy to create a common regulatory framework for dealing with threats to integrity. The Codes are bound together by common definitions and a unified disciplinary procedure.
ESIC also provides a comprehensive education programme for members and participants that consists of face to face presentations, an online interactive tutorial and printed materials, text and email alerts and updates.
Founded in December 2016, the British eSports Association was established to support, promote and instil good governance for amateur eSports players and teams.
BESA are working to educate the Government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport of the benefits of eSports.
The BESA chair is Andy Payne OBE and the board include some of the leading figures within the industry, offering guidance and advice to constantly develop eSports in the UK. The first board meeting took place in January 2017. The new website www.britishesports.org is an information hub, providing expert advice and support.