Ultradavid, an attorney who specializes in law relating to entertainment and video games, just wrote a piece exploring that very question and how it could impact things in a handful of ways (Title IX, student athletes, coaching, unemployment, media, agents). He lists a few examples in an imaginary future in which such consequences are fully realized, then goes on to note how and why other athletic orginazations have skirted around specifically classifying themselves as "sports." If you have an interest in competitive gaming, the full article is an interesting read.
The sportsification of video gaming terminology may seem like a simple rhetorical issue, but to the law words can be everything. The terms we use amongst ourselves and in bringing our issues to the government could have a strong impact on what the ultimate legal regime governing competitive gaming looks like. The State Department endorsed the idea that video game players are athletes not just because Riot identified an easier legal route to obtaining visas for its players but because Riot’s representatives speak about video gaming usings esports-style terms.
Right now video games aren’t considered athletics under Title IX, so there are no requirements that video game clubs factor into this balance between men’s and women’s athletic programs. Overwhelmingly male clubs like the Fighting Gamers at the University of California Irvine and the University of California Berkeley’s collegiate Starcraft team don’t factor into Title IX considerations because they aren’t athletics.
But what if video games were esports and the government thought esports were athletic sports? Well, then the Fighting Gamers at UCI and the Cal collegiate Starcraft team would factor into Title IX calculations. Because they’re overwhelmingly male, they would add significantly to an athletic sex imbalance that would have to be addressed in some way. Maybe the schools would raise tuition or fees to pay to bring on new women’s teams? Maybe other men’s athletic programs would get cut? Or maybe the ones to be cut would be the Fighting Gamers at UCI and Cal Starcraft?
"Esports work in 20X6 can be grueling, and although the very best players live comfortably and enjoy long careers, others sometimes struggle. Jimmy Chen Jr. never quite managed to live up to his father’s fighting game prowess, but nevertheless carved out a steady semi-professional career. Unable to survive solely on his esports income, he grew accustomed to working elsewhere during the Road to Evo Circuit’s offseason. With the recession of 20X5, though, he could no longer find work. With six months until the next Evo season, he filed for unemployment benefits. His application was rejected."
Back in the 1980s, the public still wasn’t sure whether pro wrestling was a real sport or whether it was just "sports entertainment." When called to testify in front of the New Jersey State Senate, pro wrestling spokesmen surprised some people by claiming that their business wasn’t in sports but entertainment. They’d realized that if they could avoid classification as sports, they could avoid licensure requirements for wrestlers, referees, and promoters; physical exams for wrestlers, doctors near the ring, and insurance requirements; taxes on television rights; and more. Pro wrestling disclaimed sports terminology because it wanted to avoid the regulation that comes with being a sport. It worked.
But pro wrestling and theatrical ice skaters can still teach us a couple important lessons. One is that we should think about potential regulations in advance and openly discuss whether we think they’d make sense. The other is that if we’re willing to lobby in the right ways, it’s possible to convince the government that it should help us out without having to call ourselves athletes. That way, we can procure benefits without risking the unexpected regulations that can come with being sports.
What do you think? Personally, I find the idea of drug testing in "e-sports" to be particularly amusing... It'd probably help thin the field for me in a few circles I hang in, heh.
Is the rhetoric of esports worth the potential regulatory picture of 20X6? That’s something we need discuss, because it doesn’t just affect players or teams or leagues. It affects everyone with an interest in competitive video gaming.