The first, very low key, ‘eSports’ event actually took place in 1972, when Stanford University students played competitive Space Wars for the none-more-groovy prize of a subscription to Rolling Stone.
But, despite a 45 year-plus history, there’s no doubt that something rather big, special and turbo-charged is happening in the field right now. The global audience for eSports last year was 226m, and the industry is forecast to generate nearly half a billion dollars in revenue in the US alone in 2016.
Around this growing sport/business a number of companies and organisations are attempting to establish standards, codes and best practices, be that in the realm of competition, rules, broadcast or monetisation.
Bastion recently helped launch the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC), a not-for-profit body which, as the name suggests, will focus on creating “a unified vision for what the rules should be and how they should be implemented”, backed up by a responsibility for the “disruption, prevention, investigation and prosecution of all forms of cheating, including, but not limited to, match manipulation and doping”. In traditional sports language: a governing body, but one that is currently welcoming input from all areas of the eSports community and the wider gaming industry.
Examples of why there is a need for clear rules and a strong independent infrastructure that ensures they are adhered to have been thrown up by the Russian Olympic team debacle, the ongoing FIFA meltdown and, closer to home, the CS:GO gambling controversy.
The Esports Integrity Coalition is headed up by Ian Smith, a lawyer with 20 years’ experience in ethical standards in sports including football, cricket and rugby. He and his team have a huge but important job ahead of them as eSports gains wider recognition and reaches out to a more mainstream audience who want to know what they are seeing is honest competition.
ESIC emerged at around the same time as the British eSports Association was formed and there was some concern about jostling for position. But, the Association’s stated aim is to provide eSports training facilities and help create British champions as well as bolster grassroots participation.
That’s obviously a very different job to establishing and policing universally agreed rules and ethics that make sure eSports is fair and clean. Both bodies, it is to be hoped, will achieve their separate but connected goals by working together.
At the moment eSports is big and boisterous and just a little ungainly. In a year or two’s time, with the input and influence of the ESIC and others, it should be even bigger, but fairer, clearer and accountable.
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