The E-sport market is today the most profitable segment of the world market with a value estimated at 121 billion euros in 2020. E-sport is not experiencing the crisis and its growth is exponential. In order to become even more professional, E-sport must now structure itself and face the challenge of regulation. Two tough questions in an industry where publishers dominate.
A growing sector
A mercato newspaper dedicated to E-sport? The idea might have seemed crazy a few years ago, much less today. The League of Legends transfer window has never been so lively. Transfers are now real marketing moves for structures that do not skimp on the means to attract the best players in the world. The Swedish Martin Larsson “Rekkles”, a true icon of the game for several seasons, has signed with Karmine Corp, the structure which continues to grow but which does not yet have its ticket for the LEC (the League of Legends champions league) . The other big move is the arrival of the Croatian Luka Perkovic “Perkz” at the French company Vitality. Eight times European champion with the well-known G2 team, his arrival would have cost the biggest French team around 4 million euros. A sum unimaginable a few years ago but which risks becoming commonplace in a few years. For comparison, some Ligue 1 clubs in Football are not able to pay such a sum!
The biggest LEC roster ever seen, we gathered the best EU players.
— Team Vitality (@TeamVitality) December 8, 2021
The sum is so high that it is unimaginable in some sports. Never has such a sum been disbursed in the world of Rugby, even to disburse the best players in the world. The biggest transfer in the history of the oval ball is estimated at 1.8 million euros (Cheslin Kolbe in Toulon). He is granted the sum for the transfer of “Perkz” remains an exception in the world of E-sports which has only a handful of movements over one million euros. However, these XXL transfers continue to grow in the industry and are the result of a flourishing sector. In 2023 Newzoo, the leading gaming market analyst, estimates that sector revenues should reach 1.37 billion euros).
The amount of the transfers is also due to the lengthening of the duration of the contracts. Until recently, structures favored short contracts to have room for maneuver in the management of their team. However, the teams realized that this system would not allow them to earn enough money and the risk of losing their best player for free was significant. They therefore began to offer longer contracts in order to resell their more expensive players. It is also a way to secure their assets.
This method is not that simple in reality. Indeed, the notion of contractual commitment is new in E-sport. The sport is young, precarious and ultimately still unstructured on a global scale. There are CDDs with variable durations, players who play under the status of individual entrepreneur. In some games where E-sport is in its infancy, we can see some questionable or even illegal practices. “The new generation does not see precariousness in the same way as the old” explains Stéphan Euthine, president of France Esports, the unofficial French Federation of the discipline. “For her, a short commitment is a way to keep her freedom. You have to find a balance between opportunities and precariousness. »
No common rules
It would then be necessary to define a framework specific to E-sport with an authority that would regulate practices. However each game is a universe in itself, with its own players and stays its rules problems. Rules which are decided by the editor and which vary with each season. Riot Games, the publisher of League of Legends very strongly regulates the competitive universe of its game: period for the transfer window, uniform contracts, etc.). Valve, the publisher of Counter Strike, on the contrary, lets the environment regulate itself. Ubisoft, publisher of Rainbox Six adopts a hybrid mode. “Everything about the athlete is still very vague, because everyone does a little what they want,” summarizes Nathan Laprade, director of Evolved.
E-sport would therefore be a jungle where the lion would be the publisher. “Concerning the statutes, it is important that we can protect the players, protect the structures, that there is a virtuous model that goes in the right direction” explains Fabien Davide, the co-founder of Vitality. In France, the State seems to want to play an important role in this regulation. The Secretary of State in charge of digital Cédric O affirmed last November: “We need to be able to make e-sport a field in its own right. Questions arise in terms of regulations, player contracts, their adaptation to labor law. We must create the framework that allows this activity to develop. »
France is very interested in E-sport, particularly in a logic of soft power. However, the State will not make it possible to sustain the sector. “The competition is global. Something that we would impose in France would not necessarily be so in the United States or South Korea, and we could have an exodus of talent to these countries because the tax system or the status of the contract would be more advantageous., recalls Fabien Devide.
Is harmonization, at least at European level, possible? It’s worth a try, anyway. “The sector is special because it is dematerialized. You can hire a player without them being in your territory. Normally, when a player works on a territory, he responds to the labor law of this territory. This is not the case here, foreign actors can have service contracts with young people on French soil and not comply with French law. » details Stéphan Euthine.
Patience is key
Another important element to enable the sector to structure itself is the recognition of the profession of agent to better support athletes, particularly in the area of signing contracts. Today anyone can claim to be an agent, without any license or training. Thus we have seen the appearance of unscrupulous people in the sector in recent years. “There should be regulation, that’s for sure. The first problem is knowing by whom. It must come from the publishers, but afterwards, how and what to put forward? We have the impression that they do not yet grasp the real added value for the player. We are afraid that if they regulate overnight, it will not be in the right direction. explains Nathan Laprade, who set up the European branch of the Evolved Talent agency in 2016.
E-sport therefore finds itself at a major turning point in its history and has to face multiple problems in the fiscal, legal and social fields. “ It is no longer an immature sector, but it remains a sector in the process of being armed. The rocket is taking off, it still takes patience and above all coordination”, believes Fabien Devide. “Sport took 80 years to get structured, and we have been recognized by law since 2017. You have to test things, make them evolve”, supports Stéphan Euthine. There is also no official international federation like FIFA in football, which also complicates the harmonization of rules.
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