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What Is Esports?

Definition

The International Esports Federation (“IESF”) defines esport as a competitive sport where gamers use their physical and mental abilities to compete in various games in a virtual, electronic environment[1].

In more practical terms, esports commonly refer to competitive (pro and amateur) video gaming that is often coordinated by different leagues, ladders and tournaments, and where players customarily belong to teams or other “sporting” organisations which are sponsored by various business organisations. During recent years, esports (electronic sports) have become one of the most rapidly growing forms of new media driven by the growing provenance of (online) games and online broadcasting technologies[2].

eSports are commonly organized around specific genres of games, such as multiplayer online battle arenas (e.g. League of Legends, Dota 2), first-person shooters (e.g. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive), real time strategy (e.g. Starcraft 2), collectible card games (e.g. Hearthstone) or sports games(e.g. FIFA-series), therefore they form many sub-cultures within eSports, in the same way that “traditional” sports do.

Esports are commonly organised around specific genres of games, such as multiplayer online battle arenas (“MOBA”) (e.g. League of Legends, Dota 2)and real time strategy (e.g. Starcraft 2), first-person shooters and tactical shooters (e.g. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive), sports games (e.g. FIFA-series) as well as close combat games, therefore they form many sub-cultures within esports, in the same way that “traditional” sports do[3].

Esports and Olympic movement

ICO monitors the development of esports since the sixth Olympic Summit held in Lausanne on 28 October 2017.

In 2017, the sixth OlympicSummit agreed that:

  • "esports" are showing strong growth, especially within the youth demographic across different countries, and can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic Movement.
  • Competitive "esports" could 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.
  • In order to be recognised by the IOC as a sport, the content of "esports" must not infringe on the Olympic values.
  • A further requirement for recognition by the IOC must be the existence of an organisation guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement (anti-doping, betting, manipulation, etc.)[4].
  • In October 2017, the Olympic Summit asked the IOC together with the Global Association of International Sports Federations (“GAISF”) in a dialogue with the gaming industry and players to explore this area further and to comeback to the Olympic Movement stakeholders in due course[5]. In 2018, the IOC co-organised the Pyeongchang IEM, on Starcraft II, on the sidelines of the Winter Games, followed by a Forum on Sport in Lausanne in July. During the Esport Forum held in Lausanne, The IOC and the GAISF have announced the formation of an Esports and Gaming Liaison Group (“EGLG”) as discussions continue over the potential inclusion of competitive gaming at the Olympic Games. In 2019, following the report of the EGLG, The Olympic Summit agreed on a two-speed approach[6]:
  • With regard to electronic games simulating sports, the Summit sees great potential for cooperation and incorporating them into the sports movement. Many sports simulations are becoming more and more physical thanks to Virtual and Augmented Reality which replicate the traditional sports. The International Federations are encouraged to consider how to govern electronic and virtual forms of their sport and explore opportunities with game publishers.
  • With regard to other electronic games, the Summit concluded that, at this stage, the sports movement should focus on players and gamers rather than on specific games. This focus on individuals should promote the participation in sport and its benefits as well as healthy lifestyle at all levels, including a health management model for elite esports competitors incorporating both physical and mental health.

On 10 January 2020, during the135th IOC session, David Lappartient, President of the EGLG, presented a report on esports and ten collaborative guidelines for the practice of esports.

For now, the IOC is not trying to integrate Esport into the Olympics as its own discipline. However, the Committee wants to develop the two-speed approach described above and waits on the work done by the EGLG on the guidelines presented in January 2020 at the135th IOC session[7].

On 22 April 2021, the ICO launched the Olympic Virtual Series that has been held between 13 May and 23 June 2021.The Olympic Virtual Series will be played on the following games: Zwift (cycling), Virtual Regatta (sailing), eBaseball 2020, Gran Turismo (car racing)and a rowing simulator. The ICO President Thomas Bach said that “The Olympic Virtual Series is a new, unique Olympic digital experience that aims to grow direct engagement with new audiences in the field of virtual sports. Its conception is in line with Olympic Agenda 2020+5 and the IOC’s digital strategy. It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values with a special focus on youth[8]”,

The IOC has taken a new step recently. On 1 June 2021, Kit McConnell, the ICO's Director of Sport, explained that the organisation is considering making virtual sports a medal-winning discipline at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games[9].He opens the door to the possibility of physical forms of virtual sports such as Zwift (virtual cycling) or rowing, these types of physical simulations could become part of the Olympic programme in the future[10].

Alongside this Olympic Virtual Series, Intel confirmed on 5 May 2021 that the World Open Esports, that was schedule before the 2020 Tokyo Games but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be held on Rocket League and Street Fighter during the Olympic Games[11].

Even though the Rocket League and Street Fighter competitions were finally maintained, it is noted that with theOlympic Virtual Series, the IOC is definitively moving away from esports on the major games of the competitive scene. It will be interesting to see in the future if the ICO will take an extra step and considers organising events on the major games in esports.

Is esport considered a sport?

In parallel to the work of the IOC and as you will see in the Section “Overview and Structure of Esports” below, there is currently no global esports federation which is recognised by and includes the majority of esports national federations. This situation, with the economic and financial importance of esports as well as the evolution of the esport phenomenon, led to many countries putting this topic on the sports agenda and to address the legal status of esports in their national legislation without the lead of a powerful global federation.

As it will be developed below, this situation led to a differential treatment in respect of the status of esports across countries’ legislation. More than sixty countries recognise esport as an official discipline, including the United States, China and Korea, while other countries developed specific legal rules without recognising esport as a sport. Other countries simply do not recognise esport as a sport and did not promulgate any legal rules on the topic.

The recognition of esports as a sport is an important step for national federations in order to develop esports in their respective country. Indeed such recognition allows, for example, national federations of esports to receive government subsidies.

Footnes

[1] https://ie-sf.org/esports

[2] HamariJuho, Sjöblom Max, What is eSports and why do people watch it?,Emerald Insight, 2016

[3] HamariJuho, Sjöblom Max, What is eSports and why do people watch it?,Emerald Insight, 2016

[4] https://www.olympic.org/news/communique-of-the-olympic-summit

[5] https://www.olympic.org/news/communique-of-the-olympic-summit

[6] https://www.olympic.org/news/declaration-of-the-8th-olympic-summit

[7] https://www.lequipe.fr/Esport/Actualites/Esport-et-cio-une-relation-qui-va-au-dela-des-discussions-sur-les-jo/1116875

[8] https://olympics.com/en/featured-news/olympic-virtual-series-2021-things-to-know

[9] https://www.lequipe.fr/Esport/Actualites/Esport-le-cio-envisage-des-sports-virtuels-pour-les-jo-2028/1257730

[10] https://www.lequipe.fr/Esport/Actualites/Esport-le-cio-envisage-des-sports-virtuels-pour-les-jo-2028/1257730

[11] https://esportsobserver.com/intel-world-open-tokyo-olympics/

Dominique Lecocq
Dominique Lecocq
Founder and Managing Partner
Romain Rolland
Romain Rolland
Associate