This Policy Recommendation Briefing is based on the study on “Esports – Background Analysis”.
- A suitable and functioning strategy requires a shared understanding/definition of what esports is. It is important to differentiate esports from traditional sports. This can have an impact on the system of traditional sports as well.
- Esports is constantly and rapidly evolving, making it necessary to address it as soon as possible. Creating a working group regarding a holistic esports strategy is highly recommendable.
- The EU needs to foster interdisciplinary research on esports to gain a better understanding of the industry and on how to utilise esports for the European community. This knowledge can help to solve digital challenges in general.
- The creation of a dedicated research centre for esports at the European level is required.
- Esports-specific laws are needed just as they are in traditional sports.
- The issue of where the regulatory authority concerning esports lies (or should lie) should be resolved. In traditional sports, this tends to be local, but esports is much more international and heterogeneous.
- Esports stands for digital communication and innovation. In esports, Europe as a whole is more important than the individual Member States. Therefore, esports can be utilised for the creation of a (digital) European identity.
The following recommendations present policy solutions to address the needs identified in the Background Analysis. They aim to support a healthy and sustainable growth of esports in Europe, utilise esports as a testing ground for the digital society, and help create a digital European identity. Esports is a digital cross-sectional topic that ranges from gaming to entertainment and media, culture and art, education, business and talent, diversity and inclusion and sports. Through these cross-sectional connections, esports can help shape and develop the digital society. Moreover, esports highlights the challenge of regulating and shaping a digital phenomenon based on platforms that are owned by for-profit companies. It is up to the legislator to create a system that promotes the opportunities and advantages of esports and mitigates the risks and disadvantages. For a suitable strategy, a constant examination of the phenomenon in detail as well as constant adjustments to the strategy are required.
 This Recommendations Briefing is complemented by a study on ‘Esports – Background Analysis’. These two research papers were commissioned by the Policy Department as a part of concomitant expertise aiming to support the work of the CULT Committee on the own initiative report on ‘E-sport and videogames’.
1. Definition of esports
- A suitable and functioning strategy requires a shared understanding of what esports is. Therefore, it is important to work with one definition of esports. A scientific definition in the form of a so-called descriptive term that contains the fundamental characteristics of esports is recommended: (1) a human element, as in players, in order to differentiate from machines or artificial intelligence, (2) a digital element, as in video games, in order to differentiate from analogue types of competition (e.g. traditional sports), and finally (3) a competitive element in order to differentiate from non-competitive gaming. This type of scientific definition has a very broad scope. However, the term can be functionally restricted for the individual case.
- This also requires a rethinking of the definition of traditional sports and the separation of traditional sports from esports. The sectors have parallels and differences. The parallels refer to the competition between humans, whilst the differences refer to the mandatory requirement of a video game in esports. Due to their broad scope, the terms overlap. This has various disadvantages for both industries. At the same time, a separation would not stand in the way of collaboration. The separation of the two terms would provide clarity and legal certainty. A suitable separation of the phenomena can only be achieved by explicitly excluding video games from the definition of traditional sports. This means that, if necessary, the traditional sports system should also be adjusted accordingly.
2. Research on esports
- The esports industry is digital, very heterogeneous, developing rapidly and sometimes difficult to distinguish from other industries. Therefore, scientific research on esports is needed (e.g. data, legal framework, health, media literacy, sustainability). Some countries fund gaming research, but there is a lack of funding for esports research. The EU should fund specific grants for esports research, with the goal to evaluate the impact on the digital society and to build the framework for a healthy development of the industry in Europe. In turn, research on esports can be utilised to solve digital challenges in general.
- Esports research is sparse in many universities and there is a lack of focus to create rigorous research. A dedicated research centre for esports is missing, especially with an interdisciplinary and cross-sectional approach. The EU could fund such a project and create the world’s leading research centre in esports in order to gain an edge in knowledge within this field compared to other regions. A combination with research in the field of gaming would also be conceivable.
3. Regulating esports is highly recommended (and can be utilised for regulating digital phenomena in general, e.g., the metaverse)
- At the European level and in most Member States (except for France to some extent), there is no coherent and adequate strategy for the legal/regulatory handling of esports. In most cases, there is no esports specific law at all. Often the question arises whether sports law is applicable to esports. It is also unclear under which legislative authority esports falls (or should fall). Of course, esports is embedded in current law – there are regulations regarding advertising, protection of minors, events, etc. However, the same applies to traditional sports, yet traditional sports enjoy legal benefits in various respects. Comparable regulation is needed specifically for esports. An implementation of esports in the system of traditional sports should be avoided.
- Sports have been given a special role in regulatory terms. Legislative competences tend to be on the local level unless it is a matter of representing the respective country. Esports also needs such a basis, but it is unclear on which legislative level that should happen. It is noteworthy that esports is more international than traditional sports and regulations on EU level might therefore be more relevant than in traditional sports. Additionally, esports is a digital cross-sectional topic, which makes a coherent and consistent strategy essential. EU coordination would be required to achieve such an esports strategy, which is why it is so relevant for the EU to address this.
- Apart from this, further legal research is necessary. The legislative strategy should be integrated into a general digital strategy. This also requires the development of corresponding funding guidelines, as (comparable to traditional sport) subsidies are needed, especially for non-profit stakeholders.
- Furthermore, there are fundamental legal questions unanswered. Questions concerning the legal position of power of the publisher are particularly relevant for esports and the platform economy as a whole; e.g. the applicability of competition law (Art. 101, 102 TFEU) to publisher or consumer protection (especially Art. 169 TFEU). Furthermore, the competence regarding supporting, coordinating and complementary measures in Art. 6 TFEU and in particular Art. 165, 166, 167, 168 and 173 TFEU can be relevant.
4. Utilising esports for the European Union
- Esports is a digital cross-sectional topic that ranges from gaming to entertainment and media, culture and art, education, business and talent, diversity and inclusion, and sports. Thus, esports can help to shape the digital society and to create a digital European identity. Esports is global and local and can be a medium for communication, the revitalisation of cities, bridging borders, as well as fostering inclusion and gender equality. Esports is culture and can contribute to preserving culture. Esports can be used to educate young and old. Similar to traditional sports, esports is a carrier of positive values. The skills needed in esports are also required for digital work. Esports can be used to answer typical problems of European SMEs, especially concerning human resources and organisation. Esports can help to reveal the importance of digital archiving as well as the necessity of training and educating digital archivists. Esports can inspire people to enter the field of STEM. However, before the EU can harness the many opportunities esports has to offer, they should first be researched and tested. The EU needs to develop a suitable strategy on esports (especially on destigmatising the industry) and to provide support to the field (especially in the field of education).
- Esports can help in attaining the goal of creating a (digital) European identity. In order to foster a digital European identity, values need to be translated into the digital environment and also communicated amongst EU citizens within this environment. Therefore, it is essential to highlight the similarities between esports and the European vision (e.g. bridging [national] borders, equality, diversity). At the same time, a strategy that unites resources in Europe can help to achieve a degree of digital sovereignty, at least in entertainment. For that, the EU and the Member States need to fund more video game development and help grassroot communities create innovative hubs for esports start-ups.
- At the same time, due to its mandatory digital character, its heterogeneity and its relatively small size, esports can be utilised as a test laboratory for solutions that arise in the digital society as a whole (e.g. regarding toxic behaviour in digital spaces, power of platform owners, ecological, economic and social sustainability, digital health).
Esports is constantly and rapidly evolving, making it necessary to address it as soon as possible. Europe has a window of opportunity to utilise esports and play a vital role in its future. As a first step, creating an expert working group on EU level regarding a holistic esports strategy is required.