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LimeGreenIP News

Gearing up for esport: Seizing opportunities and tackling legal issues

On 27 March, Partner Eugene Low and Associate Arthur Ng from our Hong Kong office gave a presentation on esports at a reception event organized by the Association of Corporate Counsel, Hong Kong. The event inspired lively discussion over refreshments and feedback following the presentation was very positive, especially as it was the first time many attendees had discovered this increasingly popular phenomenon.

So what is esport?

Here we’re talking about competitive video gaming at a professional level but it’s not video gaming as you know it in the comfort of your home. Esport is more like traditional sports with professionals competing in arenas with huge live and online audiences as well as match commentators. The rapidly increasing popularity of esports generated US$696 million in revenues in 2017 and is expected to grow to US$1.5 billion by 2020. Asia is at the forefront of this phenomenon and already taking esport competition to the next level with the announcement of a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou.

The leading esports game types include the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre, first person shooters and virtual sports. The key stakeholders here are game publishers, competition organizers, sponsors, streaming platforms, teams, players and let’s not forget the fans!

What are the untapped opportunities?

A powerful attraction of esports emerges from the prize pools for major competitions which exceeded US$20m. The locations for this level of competition are equally attractive and include iconic venues such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. It’s important to note that the opportunities here are far from being a “flash in the pan” with many  large events on the horizon such as the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou.

What legal issues are raised by esports?

IP issues feature among the top legal issues, others being gaming law, sponsorship/merchandising (exclusivity, territory etc.), governance and disputes. Sponsors’ brands, competition titles, team/user names and tags perhaps come to mind first as IP rights (IPR) that must be protected and enforced.

Another key focus should be on copyright protection, whether it be for broadcasting/streaming rights, game content or competition content. High profile conflicts already exist in this area, such as a 3-way case between a streamer, an online platform and a game publisher.

Of course there is hardware involved too so design rights also need to be taken into consideration. A myriad of specialist equipment is ripe for this kind of IPR protection; gaming chairs, keyboards, mice, controllers and computer cases to name a few.

LimeGreen IP News will be keeping track of developments so watch this space for more esport news.