Esports finds acknowledgement in Parliament, but acceptance still a long way off

Having a federation to manage this behemoth could bring a host of benefits that would include the implementation of regulations for eSports within the country. This would help to remove the confusion that revolves around online gambling that is exploited in a bid to piggyback on the popularity of eSports and online gaming.

Anand Krishnaswamy February 10, 2021 16:23:22 IST
Esports finds acknowledgement in Parliament, but acceptance still a long way off

The last week has been unforgettable for Indian gamers. On 4 February, Minister of State for Youth Affairs Kiren Rijiju brought up the topic of eSports in the Lok Sabha. Rijiju, among other things, acknowledged that eSports is an emerging platform and is a medal discipline in the 2022 Asian Games that are set to be held in Hangzhou.

The statements included the fact that sports is a state subject and as such the development of eSports would rest with respective states. Further, the minister acknowledged that eSports and gambling are different. "Esports is different from gaming or igaming and gambling, etc. as former is skill-based while latters are chance-based," he said.

It was also clarified that the government is aware of the fact that there are gambling companies masquerading themselves as gaming companies and this has given gaming a bad name among those unaware of the differences.

Coming to the point of eSports' governing bodies, it was mentioned that the government is aware of the existence of various federations such as Esports Federation of India (ESFI), Esports Development Association of India (EDAI) and Esports India (EI). However, as of now, none of these organisations are recognised by the sports ministry.

The opinion on eSports has changed post its inclusion as a medal event in Asian Games. In the last few days, there have been reports claiming that the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has acknowledged ESFI as the federation for eSports in India.

According to talkesport, Secretary-General of the IOA, Rajeev Mehta said, “The IOA would have no say in the team selection for the next Asian games. Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has authorised the Asian Esports Federation for it and the AEF has in turn given the responsibility to the ESFI. The IOA’s duty is to ensure the entry of teams in Asian Games and other such mega events.” There has been no official statement from ESFI on the matter at the time of writing.

Some questions that do come up are, what is the benefit of having a federation for eSports in India and what are the factors that need to be considered when recognising such federation?

Esports is a growing industry in India that is set to become more profitable in the years to come. As per a report by Statista.com in October 2020, the eSports industry was worth Rs 65 billion in 2019 and by 2022 it will be worth Rs 122 billion. This is a growth of over 87.5 percent. Today, India has approximately 300 million online gamers, showing the sheer size of the talent pool and how most of it is still left untapped.

Having a federation to manage this behemoth could bring a host of benefits that would include the implementation of regulations for eSports within the country. This would help to remove the confusion that revolves around online gambling that is exploited in a bid to piggyback on the popularity of eSports and online gaming.

The federation is likely to also bring clarity towards the selection of players for events such as the Asian Games and Olympics (if eSports is included). A better explanation of this point can be made by looking at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

In 2018, six eSports were featured - Arena of Valor, League of Legends (LoL), Hearthstone, Starcraft II, Clash Royale, and Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (PES 2018). India's Tirth Mehta won the bronze medal in Hearthstone while Karan Manganani recorded a fourth-place finish in Clash Royale. Other than this, India had representation in Arena of Valor, LoL, and PES 2018. Of these, Arena of Valor has been banned in India under section 69A of the Information Technology act.

One of the observations about the participation at the time was the fact that these players did not receive any form of support from the government during the event. This was in stark contrast to countries such as China that sent a full team of support staff along with their eSports athletes in a bid to ensure they remained comfortable during their participation at the exhibition event. Not surprisingly, China had the best medal tally for eSports at the event - two gold medals and one silver medal.

In India, one of the big challenges is to tackle the stigma associated with playing games for a living. A dedicated federation would be in a better position to address this issue and improve the viability of turning professional gaming into a viable career for the masses.

Given the scale of the eSports industry and how crucial a federation is in guiding this development, it is important to make several considerations regarding the selection and formation of the said federation.

The biggest concern when selecting a federation is in its neutrality. Today eSports are owned by the game developers who created the video game that is considered an eSport. If a federation were biased towards any one of these game developers, it could make decisions that promote the particular games owned by that developer and at the same time suppress developments for the games that compete with the games of the said developer.

The next big issue comes in the form of how dedicated the federation is towards the betterment of eSports in India. A corrupt federation that is interested in only making profits would result in a situation where prospective talents are exploited and in turn, fewer talented youngsters consider taking up eSports as a career.

India today is in a unique position to become the next superpower in eSports. The large talent pool can be expanded as stigma related to playing video games reduces along with the increase in the scale of the industry. A large-scale talent search across the country and the setting up of a pan India eSports League that offers opportunities for players of all the popular eSports are also ideas worth considering.

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