E-Sports, Simply a Competition or Something More?


From nearly 3000 years people has been engaged in mental and psychological games[1], from the origin of Chess in the 6th century AD, passing from the Chinese Xiangqi[2], but these were not only intended as a recreational activity, but they were also something more, strategic training, food for higher minds, instrument for competitions and, in particular in the last 2 centuries, people started to play not only for fun, investing in them as a work, as a sport, constructing careers and leagues. In the last 50 years we witnessed the birth of a new phenomenon, e-sports, with this term we intend, as defined from the Cambridge Dictionary:

“The activity of playing computer games against other people on the internet, often for money, and often watched by other people using the internet, sometimes at special organized events.”

The world of gaming and so e-sport has had exponential growth since day one, with a boom in the last 20 years, which ranks it directly among the most profitable jobs of this decade, thousands of contracts are stipulated every day and private companies tried to achieve some sort of framing for these contracts, replacing sometimes even national legislations. The main problem remains the recognition, the legislator all around the world must stop consider professional players as people with only a mere gaming hobby with a money round millionaire environment. It is not possible to keep ignoring a similar phenomenon and this could lead as to economically harm ourselves and the protagonists of this new universe. The question is simple, should we consider esports as proper sports activities? Or we should consider it as a new type of thing and stop framing it as something that we already know? The topic is a hot one, and in the following paragraph I will try to explain the motivations from the two points of view.

The debate has been discussed for the last 10 years, some scholars think that the presence of personal skills, training, and even if minimal psychical activity merged with an organization, and even team-play in some cases, cannot fail to be classified as a sport[3], but that’s not all, for example, in 2019 researchers from the German Sport University of Cologne tried to understand if a classification was possible, starting from the words of the Council of Europe’s European Sport Charter, where sport “means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organized participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels”. Esports can be, indeed, considered as a physical activity with an organized participation and a focus on improving mental well-being while forming social relationships and obtaining results, but it is clearly impossible to define it as an activity that can improve physical fitness, if we exclude the fitness programs organized by each teams for their players, the activity during the competition cannot be classified as the same of a soccer game, the researchers from Cologne continued in analysing a definition from a 1995 research paper, where the physical activity is classified through the use of the metabolic equivalent of task(MET)[4], a measurement used to calculate the amount of energy required by an activity, usually to be classified as sport this number has to be in-between 3-6 MET, but of course the only use of a mouse and keyboard while sitting on a chair nearly reach the 1.5 MET, from another point of view we can consider also the stress and mental activity that players are subjected to, in fact, the level of the stress hormone cortisol and the hearth rate in esports games are quite similar to that of auto racing drivers[5]. So, as saw in the latest research, it is not easy to answer the doubt about esports as a sport, the data push more towards the position of esports not comparable to athletic activity, but here we have to think more legally than strictly scientific, this was just an example of how data can drive us out of the focus. The esports world is, indeed, a particular one, streamer and pro-players range from 14 to 30 years old[6][7], and in particular the first sector can comprehend minors or people at the first job experience, without a particular preparation in labour law, naïve at the sight of a contract and without a lawyer that can check the agreements and defend their interests, this can lead to contracts totally unbalanced towards companies trying to exploit the commercial power of these “stars”, in which the players have literally no rights but only duties, sometimes presenting disproportionate working hours at very high mental intensity. There are fundamental values to defend, in my opinion in this case it is crucial to set aside scientific debates about definitions and focus our reasoning on “a contrario” one.

What could happen if we continue to ignore esports and decide not to classify it as a sport? In case we decide not to classify it as a sport, we should still find a regulation to the phenomenon, or we risk leaving sensitive categories without a proper protection, as we already said, it is in no way possible to ignore such a huge revolution. So why would we fossilize ourselves on a position that would only require more legislative effort? For example in Italy, we have the Sports Law ready, maybe it needs some trick to be improved and perfectly applied to esports, but it is still unparalleled the amount of work required for some changes in comparison to writing a legislative apparatus from scratch, furthermore, the actual worldwide position regarding the regulations about esports it is too fragmented, and lack of precision, only few State that we are going to analyse later in the paragraph have tried to do something to frame the pro-gaming. Moreover, as already claimed in the article “Esports as sport”[8] from the Lawyer Giulio Coraggio, the recognition would finally remove the prejudice of gaming as an activity for teenagers, and especially in Italy, we have to seize the moment and set our country to be the centre of esports in Europe, this would be a huge leap for internal economy and attract foreign investments, for one time we have the possibility to be the first true pioneers in an environment, because even if France and Germany have done some regulations we could do so much in implementing from scratch, or with the simple adaptation of the sport law system, a perfect system to attract investments, but as usual we are losing the train for innovation.

As just said, some countries already implemented regulations, even if there are only few and the rest of the world seems to be not really interested in regulating this precise environment. We have seen some actions from China, France and Germany in particular, if we exclude Korea where through KeSPA it is all organized and regulated, in China the government was at first worried about competitive gaming and its implications, but in 2019 due to the large spread of esports through China, and the fact that Chinese players were obtaining top tier results in online gaming ( the proof lies in Chinese “Invictus Gaming” winning League of Legends World Cup, and the Dota 2 professional player “Somnus” reaching the enormous amount of 3 million dollars carrier gain[9]), formerly recognized e-sport as a profession. Meanwhile, Germany from the 2020’s spring has even introduced a new visa category for esports players, where the main conditions are to be at least 16 years old, a minimum salary and the necessity to be confirmed by the German Esports Federation. Last but not least, there is France, the most complete regulation in Europe for now, where after the creation of the French Esports Organization as a representative body counselling the government, it stated that the association will represent the common interests of all the categories of esports workers, and in particular protecting 4 aspects, citing the regulation:

  • reassuring the families of players who are often young;
  • allowing fair conduct of the competitions;
  • preventing financial stakes from leading to abuses and fraud;
  • and, above all, protecting the players themselves.

In conclusion, as we can see, the situation in Europe is still precarious, despite the great work done by France, which could certainly at least inspire an Italian intervention. Do we want to miss the innovation train for the umpteenth time?


[1] The earliest forms of chess date back to around that time

[2]  Ancient strategic Chinese Game from the Chess Family played from the IV Century and still practiced.

[3] S. A. KAAKYIRE, “Is esport, a sport?”, 2018. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/37515040/IS_ESPORT_A_SPORT

[4] M. de A. MENDES, I. Da SILVA, V. RAMIRES, F REICHERT, R MARTINS, R FERREIRA and E. TOMASI, “Metabolic equivalent of task (METs) thresholds as an indicator of physical activity intensity”, PLoS ONE, 2018, Vol. 13, No. 7. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200701

[5] GRAY P. B., VUONG J., ZAVA D. T. and McHALE T. S., “Testing men’s hormone responses to playing League of Legends”, Computers in Human Behavior, 2018, Vol.83, No. C. Available at: https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1016/j.chb.2018.02.004

[6] G. MILLER, “What does it take to become an esports star?”, 14 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2O81FWU

[7] Data available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/189582/age-of-us-video-game-players-since-2010/

[8] CORAGGIO G., «Esports as sport», DLA PIPER, 22 June 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3uCrwan

[9] https://liquipedia.net/dota2/Somnus%E4%B8%B6M



© Cover Image: Florian Olivo

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