Esports: a global challenge

In 2020, the video games industry generated only in Italy revenues of 2.2 billion euros, with a growth of 21.9% compared to 2019 and of 100% compared to 2016[1]. Worldwide, the video game industry's 2020 revenues reached $159.3 billion[2], almost surpassing the combined revenues of the North American film and sports industries[3].

With specific regard to the esports sector, i.e. competitions and tournaments with an audience of spectators in which individual players or teams compete in the most popular video games, revenues generated at global level reached 947.1 million dollars in 2020 and are expected to exceed 1 billion dollars in 2021, with an annual growth trend of 14.5%[4]. According to recent data, there are more than 1.6 million people in Italy who are passionate about esports events and competitions[5].

These data show how the world of gaming is increasingly becoming a relevant matter in our country’s economy. Just consider the number of events and initiatives organised only in 2021, a year in which Italy started a slow recovery after the traumatic event of the pandemic that hit it hard.

Indeed, in chronological order, the very recent "Milan Games Week & Cartoomics", namely the ambitious union of the Milan Games Week and Cartoomics in a single event dedicated to video games, esports and digital entertainment in general and of course the world of comics, has just ended. Among the many gaming events on the programme, it is worth mentioning the finals of two important national tournaments[6], as well as a series of meetings such as "in my shoes", an initiative organised by PG Esports to discuss and reflect on how new models of inclusion can be effectively launched within the gaming industry.

Moreover, the Amazon University Esports, a tournament between Italian universities sponsored by Amazon, is still in progress with several prizes, as well as the possibility for winners to access international tournaments. Such initiative shows how this sector has finally attracted the interest of Italian institutions, which, in partnership with major tech industry giants, have grasped its potential in terms of visibility and self-promotion.

All these examples show that esports and the world of gaming in general represent a sector with a very high economic potential. In fact, the existing tournaments are already countless and continue to increase year after year. The skills required to take part in such tournaments are within everyone's reach and this allows the continuous entry of new players, who in turn feed the audience of people potentially interested in buying new consoles, virtual objects to be used during the game, targeted advertising.

There are also many types of tournaments, from online tournaments to those organised in physical locations, and their success depends mainly on the organisers' ability to create interesting events that entertain players and spectators. One example is the possibility of hosting concerts and fashion shows in the context of tournaments, as demonstrated by the collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Riot Games for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship.

The growth of the sector therefore appears to be exponential in every respect, and big investors are realising this.

It is precisely the major economic interests in question, however, that highlight the absence of an ad hoc regulatory framework capable of protecting investors on the one hand and players and spectators on the other. At the moment, in fact, in Italy there is no specific regulation of the phenomenon in question.

Those approaching this sector must therefore rely on professionals who understand the different issues, from copyright on new games developed to the drafting of a sponsorship contract.

In this regard, the recent initiatives promoted by CONI (Italian National Olympic Committee) for the recognition of esports as a legitimate sport are certainly worth following with interest.

In fact, it is clear that, once official recognition as a sporting discipline has been obtained, the next step for esports will be to identify and establish shared rules specifically designed for this sector. This brave initiative has, however, been criticised and in fact many doubts have been raised that esports will be superficially assimilated to traditional sports competitions, managed by national entities and subject to strict rules that do not seem to be in line with a creative and innovative context such as that of video games.

Our hope is that the legislator will understand as soon as possible the importance of ensuring a clear and easy-to-apply regulatory framework for an ever-changing sector, able to dictate clear directives on what is admissible - think, for example, of the thriving sports betting market - and at the same time that will be able to grasp the peculiarities of the technological context that has allowed esports to become a global phenomenon.


[5]  See footnote 1 above
[6]  PG Six Nationals Winter 2021 and Italian Rocket Championship