No regulations in e-sports is a spoil sport

National Sports

Integration of e-sports under mainline sports has brought in new challenges and opportunities for the industry

 Lack of set rules, recognised regulatory bodies and ambiguity on the definition of e-sports has brought in many challenges despite government recognition. Players also face mental and physical health concerns.

“We have been waiting for a proper system for a long time, people think we are running a gambling place or doing some illegal activity,” said Sumanth, owner Colosseum E-sports, a gaming arena.

On  December 27, 2022, the Government of India (GOI) integrated electronic sports (e-sports) with mainline sports disciplines in India and recognized it as part of a ‘multisport’ event. E-sports will now come under the department of Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs and the nodal ministry for online gaming is the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Abhishek, an e-sports coach says that government is partly responsible for the ambiguity around e-sports because they’ve allowed the clubbing of online gambling under the umbrella of online games. He says, “As the market is growing government interference is required.”

Sumanth, a gamer from 30 years says that there is no licensing and no agency that regulates this whole system properly.

Sumanth said, during an e-sport tournament in his arena the cops and authorities have often come to question if it is a form of gambling. “They do not know any difference between gaming and gambling,” he said.

The government is yet to set down rules for the industry. In an  interview with CXOToday, Managing Director, Coda Payments, Yash Srivastava said, “We hope MeitY in the forthcoming policy  clearly spells out   the distinction between games involving real money, online gambling games, and e-sports that are played for entertainment and those that are skill-based. The framework will help in making the sector’s operations transparent.”

A report by The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Ernst and Young (EY) describes e-sports nothing like online gaming. It says, “E-sports is defined by online games of skill that are played in tournaments – different teams and individuals playing against each other to win the championship / league / title like physical sports. E-sports also include games which are the digital/virtual manifestations of traditional sports.”

Lot of e-sports players agree that delayed payments and fake organisations are major concerns among the community. Often dummy organisations come up in the market to sign up players, promising benefits and good salaries but evaporate after a while, and this has been a common occurrence in the e-sports world, said Abhishek. He said, in 2020 he was hired by an organisation and, “after three months it completely evaporated into thin air.”

He added, “The players can be exploited very easily. Delayed payments are one of the biggest problem creators as there are no government recognised bodies and self-appointed regulatory bodies approved by the government also end up exploiting the players.” There are no government recognised regulatory bodies particularly for e-sports but the MeitY on January 2, 2023 released  draft amendments to Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The proposed changes in the draft include regulating the online gaming industry by setting up self-regulatory bodies in the industry to check if platforms engage in online betting.

“Players will feel secure to see that the government is involved and there are set regulations to be save them from exploitation and a regulatory body is needed to help organisations to standardize things that will allow them to gain sponsors. Thus this will create a trickle-down effect for the players and the staff and other people working in the industry,” added Abhishek

Mental health and concerns of the families

Sameer also known as Hitzy in the gaming world says, “There is a lot of mental pressure that comes with gaming and we have to practise around eight to nine hours a day and be on top of our game otherwise we are under the fear of being terminated from the contract.”

Sameer is a professional e-sports player, who has played for organisations like GodLike e-sports, where they hire teams and players depending on their ranks to compete in e-sports tournaments. He currently plays Valorant, one of the personal computer (PC) games that are trending among the e-sports community. E-sport games can include mobile, PC and Play Station (PS) gaming.

He says, being sponsored or signed up by big companies on a contract basis was beneficial as the players are given fair salaries like any other job and allowed to practise with top-notch equipment. Further these organistions also take their players to tournaments organised at different places and all the cost is borne by them.

“The shelf life of an e-sports player is also very less. As you age your reflexes and your hand eye coordination starts to fade and then you are no longer valuable.” says Abhishek.

A lot of players also complain that e-sports are often a concern for the families where they do not understand the nature and the market of the sport. Government recognition has brought them relief but having set rules and regulation would help them and their families feel secure, they say.

He added, “Government intervention would not only help players receive support from their families but would help players who have given up their other stable careers to make one out of this one.” He said that it would help in standardization of organisations that would bring them more sponsors and limit the risks of games getting banned.

The government had banned widely played mobile and PC games like PUBG Mobile in 2020 and Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) and Freefire in 2022.

E-sports market and its players

“Most of the top countries in e-sports, have their own e-sports body, which keeps  track of all the athletes within the industry. I don’t know how soon it will be possible to implement this in India, but it will go a long way to regulating and streamlining everything,” says, Sudin, an e-sports tournament broadcaster. 

He also said the absence of a regulatory body does bring in a lot of ambiguity in the industry and government interference would be important along private regulatory bodies.

According to Federation of Electronic Sports Associations of India (FEAI) Revenues from E- sports put India in 16th place on the global scale, but significant growth is on the cards.

E-sports players in India grew from 3,00,000 in 2020 to 6,00,000 in 2021, with revenue growth from Rs.3 billion in Financial Year (FY) 2021 and is expected to reach Rs. 11 billion in FY 2025. According to the same  EY report, e-sports will create a total economic value of over Rs.100 billion through investments, direct industry revenues, in-app purchases and other revenues and create more than 11,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2025.