eSports vs. the Law

19 May 2021

Gone are the days of computer gaming being viewed as a secluded activity; gaming is now a thoroughly social experience that attracts a global audience of millions and players can compete for large sums of money and celebrity. This burgeoning industry is largely in a virtual world and has developed in a blockchain, decentralised fashion. Often the UK government talks up the UK gaming industry and how keen the government is to support this sector, and there have been instances that show support, but when it comes to playing games competitively, law and regulations have not yet caught up.

Many issues appear to stem from the definition of ‘sport’ and whether eSports are indeed sports. For example, the UK’s immigration system includes categories for sportspersons wishing to come to the UK but UKVI has confirmed to us that it does not consider computer gaming to be a sport. Furthermore, certain immigration categories require that there be an overarching regulatory body, such as the Football Association or the Rugby Football Union, which can act as an authority, endorsing individuals and organisations in their sector.  eSports in the UK does not yet currently have a central regulatory body, although there are some organisations that could potentially step into this role. 

Most gaming is done online but for large real-world events, for example, where teams in leagues for games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty and others compete (before and hopefully after the pandemic) in front of large audiences, the restrictions of the UK’s immigration laws create an obstacle that needs to be negotiated by some gamers coming to the UK. Furthermore for teams which would like to be based in the UK, unless a player’s personal circumstances provide them with immigration options, there is not currently an immigration category under which they could apply.

Like many fast-emerging markets, there is currently a lack of comprehensive regulation for eSports. This is an odd state of affairs given the high level of regulation for conventional sports.  Tournaments such as the FIFA eWorld Cup, for instance, face little regulatory scrutiny as opposed to its real-life counterpart, yet both are highly profitable and involve substantial commercial interest. There are concerns around eSports with regard to the obvious risks of match manipulation and betting fraud, but also some broader issues surrounding child protection, anti-corruption and even anti-doping.

Whilst the eSports industry has largely self-regulated to date, there has been some progress in the UK in recent years. The British eSports Association (BESA) was established in December 2016 (following the establishment of the World eSports Association) to promote eSports in the UK, increase its level of awareness, improve standards and inspire future talent. As a major national body, it could have taken the lead on regulating the industry for UK gamers, however the Chairman of BESA stated in 2017 that the organisation is not a governing body and does not have any intention of getting involved with regulation. 

Instead, the eSports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) has perhaps come the closest to taking the lead on regulation, with a mission to be the “recognised guardian of the integrity of eSports”. It has published a series of Codes in relation to ethics, conduct, anti-corruption and anti-doping for participants. True to its name, it is a coalition, formed by key eSports stakeholders who recognised that the industry’s integrity was at risk without an agreed set of rules in place. It is a good development, but the fact remains that neither it nor any other organisation has officially adopted the status of being the overriding regulator for the world of eSports.

Against the exciting and fast-paced gaming world there are many, perhaps slightly less-exciting, legal and regulatory issues that arise which the law and regulatory bodies do not yet appear to adequately address. The government can hopefully give some attention to updating the UK’s laws, including the immigration rules, to better provide for this sector whilst the eSports industry awaits an authoritative regulator to emerge. 

Further Information

If you wish to discuss any issues raised above or any other immigration matter, please do not hesitate to contact our immigration team.

 

About the authors

Robert is an Associate in the Immigration team, and has extensive experience of assisting individuals wishing to relocate to the UK with their immigration and nationality matters. His experience covers all kinds of immigration and nationality applications but with a particular emphasis on corporate immigration matters, helping high net worth individuals and partners of British citizens or those with indefinite leave to remain.

Claire is an Associate in the Regulatory team. She specialises in advising individuals on safeguarding, disciplinary and anti-doping investigations as well as investigating fitness to practise concerns on behalf of regulators.

Alfie is a trainee solicitor in our Regulatory team. He has historically managed a plethora of sensitive cases, deciding and advising on the defence strategy on cases ranging from death by dangerous driving and child sex offences to domestic assaults and drink driving.

 

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