eSport: everything to play for

Author:Stephen Townley - Annie Townley
Position:Active Rights Management Limited, London, United Kingdom

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has declared that eSport, or competitive video gaming, could be considered a sporting activity. That is a momentous decision. eSport is an important way of reaching young people and a vitally important market for media businesses, game producers and sports themselves. There is everything to play for.


But the issues at stake are not clear cut. Is eSport really sport? What are the potential benefits and challenges for the sports industry of recognizing eSport? And – crucially – what are the implications in terms of intellectual property (IP)?

Is eSport sport?

At a summit on October 28, 2017 in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC decided that “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.”

It also said that any eSport would need to fit with the rules and regulations of the Olympic movement in order to gain IOC recognition, and agreed to carry on discussions with the gaming industry and players along with the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

The key word in the IOC decision is “competitive” – the analogy is perhaps the difference between a morning run around the park and a race. The IOC has recognized that a competition element – “the winning or losing” of an event run according to a predefined set of rules – is essential. Competitive eSports must tick that box. Indeed, as the computer code behind an eSport game avoids the subjective and possibly fallible input of a referee or judge, one could argue that it is a competition but a fairer one.

For some people, the IOC’s focus on competition and athletes’ training may not be enough. Some would argue that the definition of sport must include a sports performance, the outcome of the interaction between the mind and body of the athlete – as seen, for example, in a golfer swinging a club and striking the ball. The role of the body and physical activity in eSport is different. The body is not involved beyond interaction with the input device and the game software, for example in hand-eye coordination. However, objections to eSport on this ground are confounded by the widespread acceptance over recent years of mind sports, such as chess, and the increasingly important technology-aided aspects of, say, motor sports.

Why sport can’t ignore eSport

So why are the IOC and the sports industry interested in eSport? In a word: potential. eSport offers great opportunities to attract and retain a global following, especially among younger people.

Traditional sport has a problem: media fragmentation – the increasing choice and consumption of content across different media – is changing the way sports fans wish to receive and engage with sport content. Any content that may build a deeper level of fan engagement, particularly...

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