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eSports Regulation: Where Are We Now?

Benjamin McGlinchey

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eSports regulation
Benjamin McGlinchey, Solicitor – Tech & Commercial at Burness Paull, discusses the eSports landscape in the UK and beyond.

In case you missed it, January of this year saw further details revealing the exciting 4,000-seater multi-purpose arena on Dundee’s waterfront.  

The development, which promises to offer a sizeable eSports arena, educational facilities and working space for game developers and eSports businesses alike, builds on Dundee’s already established legacy as the birthplace of the Scottish gaming industry.  

Dundee’s portfolio historically includes, among others, the development of the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto by games studio DMA Design (which later became Rockstar North) and presently 4J Studios, which develops the console versions of Minecraft.  

All being well, the latest string in Dundee’s gaming bow in the form of the new arena will be finished by 2024. This, tied with the prediction that by 2025 the eSports industry is forecast to triple in size to USD$3 billion per annum from its current value of around $1bn per annum, paves the way for an exciting time for eSports worldwide and in the UK.  


What does the current regulatory landscape of eSports look like?

At present, there is no dedicated legal or regulatory regime applicable to eSports in the UK.  

Much of the piecemeal regulation is left to third parties to create through contractual means or by relying on the voluntary adoption of common rules and regulations.  

For example, the British eSports Association and global bodies, including the World eSports Association and the eSports Integrity Commission (ESIC) all play a part in promoting and regulating eSports for their members.  

ESIC have historically banned players for participating in acts of cheating and have joined forces with betting regulators and providers such as Betway, Skybet and the UK Gambling Commission to detect cheating, match-fixing, and any suspicious betting activity.  

Individual eSports tournaments, game publishers and developers set the rules – and penalties – within their own games.  


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Other approved third-party tournament organisers (such as Gfinity, FaceIt/ECS, GAME and ESL UK) or the publishers themselves, will enforce these during tournaments and can provide for their own regulations and codes of conduct for participants.  

For example, EA Sports sets the rules for participants in the EA Sports FIFA 21 Global Series, with age requirements and a specific code of conduct for participants.  

It is worth mentioning that individual games are also age protected, with the PEGI (Pan-European Game Information, which is owned by Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE)) being the standard rating system used.  

Of course, there are other issues to consider in the regulation of eSports depending on the nature of the activity and stakeholders involved.  

These include eSports events sponsorship, eSports participants and the scope of the advertising laws in the UK; issues around gambling in eSports and the scope of the Gambling Act 2005; the scope of data protection laws; intellectual property legislation such as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 / Trade Marks Act 1994 and the common law in relation to passing off; and UK employment legislation.   


What obstacles does the eSports industry face?

The rise, both in popularity and value of eSports, has caused concerns within the industry around regulation – all things considered, this is a lucrative new market for sports teams, advertisers, bookmakers, and event planners.  

Lack of regulation could present a host of challenges around things like match manipulation; doping; gambling; child protection and protecting the welfare of eSports participants, including their potential employment rights; and the liability of large sponsors entering the eSports market concerned by reputation management. 

In March 2017, the UK Gambling Commission published a report suggesting that Betting on eSports is treated in line with betting on any other live event.  

This is a step in the right direction but is only trivial in view of the discernible regulatory issues, and the sector has grown exponentially since the Gambling Commission’s report was published.  


What next for the eSports sector?

The increasing growth of the sector, accompanied by exciting developments like the new Dundee arena will inevitably lead to the tightening of eSports regulation.  

Whether there is any appetite for an overhaul of the current self-regulating regime is up for debate, but for the industry to continue to develop and retain its present audience, there is a requirement to ensure its integrity is maintained to a high standard, which can only be achieved with proficient regulation – regulation that protects all the key stakeholders.  


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Benjamin McGlinchey

Solicitor – Tech & Commercial, Burness Paull

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