[Author – Manu Abhishek Bhardwaj, a registered lawyer with the Bar Council of Delhi, completed B.A LL.B from University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIPU, Delhi and masters in Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law from the University of Miami; Manu is currently working independently and drafting Sports Contracts for Sports Agencies.]
Political Speech in E-sports
Conventional sports and political speech have always intertwined whether it be the Black Power Salute in the 1968 Olympics or the more recent Brexit comments by Gary Linekar, the former England captain. Thus, it is not surprising that the e-sports industry, probably the latest form of sports, is facing the same challenge.
The Blitzchung incident in 2019 sparked a debate regarding political speech in the world of e-sports and put pressure on the strategies of the big gaming houses to regulate and tackle such incidents. While Blizzard Entertainment faced huge backlash over the suspension and fines against Blitzchung, Epic Games (developer of Fortnite) took the stance of not punishing their players for political speech.
A bipartisan group of United States and Congress members were critical of Blizzard as well and emphasized how the freedom of speech must always be protected and preserved. It is just a matter of time before a precedent will be set in this regard, and as to what the court’s position would be regarding such speech with respect to the First Amendment.
That being said, the growth of esport streaming, via twitch and other platforms, also raises concerns over the regulation of the content of games with regards to the age of the viewer audience. Children as young as 4-year-olds have access to such streaming services without any restrictions. Thus, parents may have concerns over the effect of any violence or explicit content shown in such streams on young children. The relevant authorities should look into this matter and introduce regulations with regard to these streaming services in light of political speech and violent content.
E-sports and Gun Violence
E-sports, the latest and probably the most explosive billion-dollar industry in the world right now, could have used a real step up with being recognized as an Olympic sport. Unfortunately, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), had his reservations about the move, claiming that an Olympic program which promotes Violence or Discrimination is not in line with the Olympic values and thus cannot be included. With other issues such as ownership rights, lack of governing structures for video games etc. acting as hurdles in the development of e-sports, there are still some loose ends to be tied before e-sports is formally accepted into the Olympics.
The discrimination of video games from other combat/violent sports such as Boxing, Fencing, or Muay Thai, which are included in the Olympic program, is unreasonable prima facie, but still has been shielded through barely convincing justifications. There have been numerous studies which have indicated that there is no connection between violence and video games. Yet, the gaming industry has always been made a scapegoat in debates related to incidents involving gun violence. This is probably because the ‘stereotypical’ gamer is often considered as a young antisocial male, the same demographic as several recent mass shooters. An inclusion in the Olympics will, apart from an influx of sponsorship money, help in breaking stereotypes about the video gaming industry and bringing in new recognition.
The Jacksonville video game tournament shooting in Florida, as well as President Trump’s statements suggesting a link between video games and real-world violence, did not help the case of e-sports being included in the Olympics. In September 2018, a Pennsylvania state representative even announced their intent to introduce legislation that would impose a 10 per cent tax on video games with violent content and use the funds to support school safety programs. This did end up being Pennsylvania House Bill Number 2705, last referred to FINANCE on 12th October 2018.
There was a ray of hope when e-sports featured at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games for the first time as a medal event in a multi-sport competition sanctioned by the IOC. Again, the selected titles were in line with the values of the IOC and ‘not promote violence or gambling’. Even with certain restrictions, it was a positive step nevertheless, and one that accelerated the process of taking e-sports to the next level.
Even if the IOC decides to include the non-violent titles in their Olympic program, the obvious question of where one draws the line arises. Should only the video games involving real sports be allowed in the Olympics? Will it be fair to separate titles like Fortnite or League of Legends, which include weapons/combat in a more animated scenario, from their more violent counterparts like Call of Duty or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive? There are a lot of questions and a lot of controversies which still need to be addressed, but there cannot be any doubt that e-sports is soon going to conquer the last remaining mountain and be a part of the Olympics program.
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PREFERRED CITATION – Manu Abhishek Bhardwaj, Issues in E-sports: Political Speech and Gun Violence, <https://sportslawandpolicyreviewreporter.com/2020/10/22/issues-in-esports-political-speech-and-gun-violence/> October 22nd, 2020.