Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

New Event! Zoom In on International Skating Union v. European Commission - 20 January - 16.00-17.30 (CET)

On Wednesday 20 January 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret, is organising a Zoom In webinar on the recent judgment of the General Court in the case International Skating Union (ISU) v European Commission, delivered on 16 December 2016. The Court ruled on an appeal against the first-ever antitrust prohibition decision on sporting rules adopted by the European Commission. More specifically, the case concerned the ISU’s eligibility rules, which were prohibiting speed skaters from competing in non-recognised events and threatened them with lifelong bans if they did (for more details on the origin of the case see this blog). The ruling of the General Court, which endorsed the majority of the European Commission’s findings, could have transformative implications for the structure of sports governance in the EU (and beyond).

We have the pleasure to welcome three renowned experts in EU competition law and sport to analyse with us the wider consequences of this judgment.

Guest speakers:


Registration HERE

Zoom In webinar series

In December 2020, The Asser International Sports Law Centre in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret launched a new series of zoom webinars on transnational sports law: Zoom In. You can watch the video recording of our first discussion on the arbitral award delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the Blake Leeper v. International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) case on the Asser Institute’s Youtube Channel. Click here to learn more about the Zoom In webinar series.

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 3: The Curious Non-Application of Training Compensation to Women’s Football – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


As recently as September 2020, questions were raised in the European Parliament on the non-application of training compensation to women’s football. Whilst this blog will predominantly consider potential inconsistencies in reasoning for and against training compensation in men’s and women’s football, the questions before the Commission were largely on the theme of disrespect and discrimination. Somewhat unfortunately, the questions raised were side-stepped, with Ms Gabriel (Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth) simply stating that: “The TFEU does not give the Commission the competence to interfere in the internal organisation of an independent international organisation such as FIFA.” This might be true in theory, though one might feel some degree of uneasiness if privy to the Commission’s role in the 2001 FIFA regulatory overhaul.

It is currently explicit in the regulations and the commentary, that in women’s football, signing clubs are not required to compensate training clubs for developing players, through the training compensation mechanism that exists in men’s football. Though it is a contentious comment and as will be expanded below, this may not have always been the case.

At Article 20 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), one will find that the principles of training compensation shall not apply to women’s football. Further, in FIFA’s recently released Women’s Football Administrator Handbook (the handbook), it states that disputes relating to training compensation are limited for the moment to male players only.[1]

Regulations on solidarity contributions on the other hand do apply to women’s football, but given transfer fees are not so common, the use of the mechanism is not either. As an indication of how uncommon the activation of the solidarity contribution mechanism in women’s football might be, FIFA reported in the handbook just four claims with the Players’ Status Department in 2016 (three claims involving the same player), and zero since.[2] That is in comparison to hundreds of claims made per season in men’s football, where signing and owing clubs had not fulfilled their obligation to pay the solidarity contribution.

Given the aforementioned, this blog will largely focus on training compensation and how it came to be the case that this mechanism, often presented as critical in the context of men’s football, does not apply in women’s football. To do so, I will first discuss the reasoning advanced in an unpublished CAS award, which one may reasonably suspect played a fundamental role in shaping the current exemption. I will then turn to FIFA’s timely response to the award and the adoption of its Circular No. 1603. Finally, I will point out the disconnect in FIFA’s decision to adopt two radically different approaches to the issue of training compensation in male and female professional football. More...

New Event! Zoom In on Transnational Sports Law - Blake Leeper v. IAAF - 4 December at 4pm (CET)

The Asser International Sports Law Centre in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret is launching a new series of zoom webinars on transnational sports law: Zoom In. The first discussion (4 December at 16.00) will zoom in on the recent arbitral award delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the Blake Leeper v. International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) case.

In this decision, reminiscent of the famous Pistorius award rendered a decade ago, the CAS panel ruled on the validity of an IAAF rule that places the burden on a disabled athlete to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give them an overall competitive advantage. While siding with the athlete, Blake Leeper, on the burden of proof, the CAS panel did conclude that Leeper’s prosthesis provided him an undue advantage over other athletes and hence that the IAAF could bar him from competing in its events.

To reflect on the key aspects of the decision and its implications, we have invited scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds to join the zoom discussion. 

Confirmed guests


The webinar is freely available, but registration here is necessary.

Last call to register to the 2021 edition of the Sports Law Arbitration Moot - Deadline 1 December

Dear all,

Our Slovenian friends (and former colleague) Tine Misic and Blaž Bolcar are organising the second edition of the Sports Law Arbitration Moot (SLAM).

The best four teams of the SLAM competition will compete in the finals, which will be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on 30th and 31st March, 2021.

This is a great opportunity for students to familiarise themselves with the world of sports arbitration, to meet top lawyers and arbitrators in the field, and to visit beautiful Ljubljana.

Go for it!

You'll find more information and can register at

Pistorius revisited: A comment on the CAS award in Blake Leeper v. IAAF - By Marjolaine Viret

On 23 October 2020, a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) rendered an award in the matter opposing Mr Blake Leeper (‘Mr Leeper’ or ‘the Athlete’) to the International Association of Athletics Federation (‘IAAF’).[1] The CAS panel was asked to make a ruling on the validity of the IAAF rule that places on a disabled athlete the burden to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give such athlete an overall competitive advantage.

The award is remarkable in that it declared the shift of the burden of proof on the athlete invalid, and reworded the rule so that the burden is shifted back on the IAAF to show the existence of a competitive advantage. Thus, while the IAAF won its case against Blake Leeper as the panel found that the sport governing body had discharged its burden in casu, the outcome can be viewed as a victory for disabled athletes looking to participate in IAAF-sanctioned events. It remains to be seen how this victory will play out in practice. Beyond the immediate issue at stake, the case further presents an illustration of how – all things equal – assigning the burden of proof can be decisive for the real-life impact of a policy involving complex scientific matters, as much as the actual legal prerequisites of the underlying rules.

This article focuses on some key aspects of the award that relate to proof issues in the context of assessing competitive advantage. Specifically, the article seeks to provide some food for thought regarding burden and degree of proof of an overall advantage, the contours of the test of ‘overall advantage’ designed by the CAS panel and its possible bearing in practice, and potential impact of the ruling on other areas of sports regulations such as anti-doping.

The award also analyses broader questions regarding the prohibition of discrimination in the regulation of sports, as well as the interplay with international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which are not explored in depth here. More...

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 2: The African Reality – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

Having considered the history and justifications for the FIFA training compensation and solidarity mechanisms in my previous blog, I will now consider these systems in the African context. This appears to be a worthwhile undertaking given these global mechanisms were largely a result of European influence, so understanding their (extraterritorial) impact beyond the EU seems particularly important. Moreover, much has been written about the “muscle drain” affecting African football and the need for such drain to either be brought to a halt, or, more likely and perhaps more practical, to put in place an adequate system of redistribution to ensure the flourishing of African football that has essentially acted as a nursery for European football for at least a century. In the present blog, I intend to draw on my experiences as a football agent to expand on how FIFA’s redistributive mechanisms function in practice when an African player signs in Europe via one of the many kinds of entities that develop or purport to develop talent in Africa. I will throughout address the question of whether these mechanisms are effective in a general sense and more specifically in relation to their operation in Africa.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

The Headlines

Aguero and Massey-Ellis incident: An Opportunity for Change and Education?

In mid-October a clip went viral of Argentinian star Sergio Aguero putting his hands on sideline referee, Sian Massey-Ellis. A heated debate ensued in many circles, some claiming that Aguero’s conduct was commonplace, others taking aim at the appropriateness of the action, around players touching official and a male touching a female with an unsolicited arm around the back, the squeeze and pull in. Putting the normative arguments aside for a moment, the irony of the debate was that all sides had a point. Football, almost exclusively, has grown a culture of acceptance for touching officials despite the regulations. Male officials who have let such conduct slide, have arguably let their female colleague down in this instance.

Whilst a partial defence of Aguero might be that this kind of conduct takes place regularly, the incident could serve as a learning experience. If Massey-Ellis’ reaction was not enough, the backlash from some of the public might provide Aguero and other players the lesson, that touching a woman in this way is not acceptable.

Returning to football, the respect and protection of officials in sport, the key here appears to be cracking down on touching officials entirely. This is not a foreign concept and football need only look at the rugby codes. Under no circumstances does the regulations or the culture permit that a player from the rugby codes touch a referee. It is likely the case that the obvious extra level of respect for officials in these sports derives from a firm culture of no touching, no crowding officials, communicating with officials through the team captain only, with harsh sanctions if one does not comply.

The Football Association of England has decided no action was necessary, raising questions of how seriously they take the safety of officials, and gender issues. This is ultimately a global football issue though, so the confederations or international bodies may need step in to ensure the protections that appear at best fragile.  

Rugby Trans issue

The World Rugby Transgender guideline has been released and contains a comprehensive unpacking of the science behind much of the regulatory framework. Despite many experts applauding World Rugby on the guidelines and the extensive project to reach them, the England Rugby Football Union is the first to defy the World Rugby ruling and transgender women will still be allowed to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels of the game in England for the foreseeable future. This clash between national bodies and the international body on an important issue is concerning and will undoubtedly be one to keep an eye on.


CAS rejects the appeal of Munir El Haddadi and the Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football (FRMF)

The refusal to authorise a footballer to change national federation is in the headlines with the CAS dismissing the appeal of the player and Moroccan federation, confirming the original determination of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee.

This has been given considerable recent attention and seemingly worth following, perhaps best summed up by FIFA Director of Football Regulatory, James Kitching, where in a tweet he notes: “The new eligibility rules adopted by the FIFA Congress on 18 September 2020 have passed their first test. We will be publishing our commentary on the rules in the next fortnight. Watch this space.” More...

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part.1: The historical, legal and political foundations - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

In 2019, training compensation and solidarity contributions based on FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) amounted to US$ 75,5 million. This transfer of wealth from the clubs in the core of the football hierarchy to the clubs where the professional players originated is a peculiar arrangement unknown in other global industries. Beyond briefly pointing out or reminding the reader of how these systems work and the history behind them, this blog series aims to revisit the justifications for FIFA-imposed training compensation and the solidarity mechanism, assess their efficacy and effects through a case study of their operation in the African context, and finally analyse the potential impact of upcoming reforms of the FIFA RSTP in this context.

First, it is important to go back to the roots of this, arguably, strange practice. The current transfer system and the legal mechanisms constituting it were largely the result of a complex negotiation between European football’s main stakeholders and the European Commission dating back to 2001. The conclusion of these negotiations led to a new regulatory system enshrined in Article 20 and Annex 4 of the RSTP in the case of training compensation, and at Article 21 and Annex 5 in the case of the solidarity mechanism. Before paying some attention to the historical influences and how we arrived at these changes, as well as the justifications from the relevant bodies for their existence, let us briefly recall what training compensation and the solidarity mechanisms actually are. More...

Invalidity of forced arbitration clauses in organised sport…Germany strikes back! - By Björn Hessert

Editor's note: Björn Hessert is a research assistant at the University of Zurich and a lawyer admitted to the German bar.


The discussion revolving around the invalidity of arbitration clauses in organised sport in favour of national and international sports arbitral tribunals has been at the centre of the discussion in German courtrooms.[1] After the decisions of the German Federal Tribunal[2] (“BGH”) and the European Court of Human Rights[3] (“ECtHR”) in the infamous Pechstein case, this discussion seemed to have finally come to an end. Well…not according to the District Court (LG) of Frankfurt.[4] On 7 October 2020, the District Court rendered a press release in which the court confirmed its jurisdiction due to the invalidity of the arbitration clause contained in the contracts between two beach volleyball players and the German Volleyball Federation[5] (“DVV”) – but one step at a time. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – September - October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

The Headlines

Human rights and sport  

Caster Semenya

Human rights issues are taking the headlines in the sporting world at present. A short time ago, Caster Semenya’s appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal against the CAS decision was dismissed, perhaps raising more questions than answering them. Within the last few days however, the message from the Semenya camp has been that this is not over (see here).  See the contributions from a range of authors at Asser International Sports Law Blog for a comprehensive analysis of the Semenya case(s) to date.

Navid Afkari

As the sporting world heard of the execution of Iranian Wrestler Navid Afkari, a multitude of legal and ethical questions bubbled to the surface. Not least of all and not a new question: what is the responsibility of sport and the governing bodies therein, in the space of human rights?  And, if an athlete is to acquire a high profile through sporting excellence, does that render athletes vulnerable to be made an example of and therefore in need of greater protection than is currently afforded to them? There are differing views on how to proceed. Consider the following from the World Players Association (Navid Afkari: How sport must respond) and that from the IOC (IOC Statement on the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari) which shows no indication through this press releases and other commentary, of undertaking the measures demanded by World Players Association and other socially active organisations. (See also, Benjamin Weinthal - Olympics refuses to discuss Iranian regime’s murder of wrestler).

Yelena Leuchanka

As this is written and relevant to the above, Yelena Leuchanka is behind bars for her participation in protests, resulting in several sporting bodies calling for her immediate release and for reform in the sporting world around how it ought to deal with these issues. As a member of the “Belarus women's national basketball team, a former player at several WNBA clubs in the United States and a two-time Olympian”, Leuchanka has quite the profile and it is alleged that she is being made an example of. (see here)

Uighur Muslims and Beijing Winter Olympics

British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab does not rule out Winter Olympics boycott over Uighur Muslims. ‘The foreign secretary said it was his "instinct to separate sport from diplomacy and politics" but that there "comes a point where that might not be possible".’ Though Raab’s comments are fresh, this issue is shaping as a “watch this space” scenario, as other governments might echo a similar sentiment as a result of mounting pressure from human rights activist groups and similar, in lead up to the Winter Games. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Introducing the new legal challenges of E-Sports. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Introducing the new legal challenges of E-Sports. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

Editor’s Note: Emre Bilginoglu[1] is an attorney in Istanbul and the co-founder of the Turkish E-Sports Players Association, a non-profit based in Istanbul that aims to provide assistance to professional gamers and to work on the relevant laws affecting them. 

The world is witnessing the rise of a new sport that is growing at an incredible speed: E-Sports. We are only starting to understand its legal implications and challenges.

In recent years, E-Sports has managed to attract thousands of fans to arenas to see a group of people play a video game. These people are literally professional gamers (cyber athletes)[2] who make money by competing in tournaments. Not all video games have tournaments in which professional players compete against each other.

The most played games in E-Sports competitions are League of Legends (LoL), Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). LoL and DotA are both Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, a genre of strategy video games in which the player controls a single character in one of two teams. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent’s main structure. CS:GO is a first-person shooter (FPS) game, a genre of video games where the player engages combat through a first-person perspective. The main objective in CS:GO is to eliminate the opposing team or to terrorize or counter-terrorize, planting bombs or rescuing hostages. Other games that have (popular) E-Sports competitions include Starcraft II (real time strategy), Hearthstone (collectible card video game), Call of Duty (FPS) and FIFA (football).

The gaming requires cooperation between team players, a high level of concentration, rapid reactions and some seriously fast clicking. E-Sports is a groovy term to describe organized competitive computer gaming. The E-Sports industry is exponentially growing, amounting to values expressed in billions of dollars. According to Newzoo, a website dedicated to the collection of E-Sports data, there are some 250 million occasional viewers of E-Sports with Asia-Pacific accounting for half of the total amount. The growth of the industry is indubitably supported by online streaming media platforms. This article aims to explain what E-Sports is and to give the readers an insight on the key legal questions raised by it. 

Is E-Sports a Sport?

The introductory legal question regarding E-Sports is whether it is a sport. There are different definitions of “sport”. According to the Council of Europe, “sport” means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.

SportAccord a non-profit association which is composed of autonomous and independent international sports federations and other international organisations contributing to sport in various fields, also offers a definition of sport. According to this definition, sport:

1) includes an element of competition;

2) does not rely on any element of “luck” specifically integrated into the sport;

3) does not pose an undue risk to the health and safety of its athletes or participants;

4) is in no way harmful to any living creature;

5) and does not rely on equipment that is provided by a single supplier.

Sport categories designated by SportAccord are primarily: physical sports (e.g. basketball); mind sports (e.g. chess); motorized sports (e.g. motorcycle racing); coordination sports (e.g. snooker); and animal-supported sports (e.g. equestrianism).

SportAccord also states that activities with limited physical or athletic activity would be carefully considered. E-Sports indeed involves a limited physical activity. The professional gamer generally sits in front of a designated computer. However, at this point it is important to highlight the existence of multiplayer video games that involve a considerable amount of physical activity. Home video game consoles that detect movement were released in early 2000s, paving the way for true E-Sports cyber athletes in the near future. Until now however, games that require physical activity have not been played at a professional level.

Having said this, E-Sports does involve a clear element of competition, does not rely only on luck, does not pose an undue risk to the health and safety of its competitors and is not harmful to any living creature. At some point, it does rely on equipment that is provided by a single supplier, as the subject game that is played is in general produced by a single supplier. In other words, E-Sports clearly complies with the remaining criteria (2 to 5) suggested to be defined as a “sport”.

Even though there are a myriad of multiplayer games, one mostly categorizes E-Sports as a primarily mind and coordinated sport. It does not require lots of physical activities except for very fast finger movement. A similar sport is chess. It is challenging to oppose the argument of David Papineau, professor of philosophy of science at King’s College London, who, as regards chess, said that “(t)he activity is playing a game, therefore it is not a sport but a game”. However, chess is a strategy board game and at the same time it is an organized sport with an international governing body, namely FIDE.

Can E-Sports Be an Olympic Sport?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the supreme authority of the Olympic movement. The IOC decides which sports are included in the Olympic Games. Choices of the IOC always bring forth discussions and debates in the sports community. Some sports are discontinued and some are re-introduced. Wrestling was announced to be dropped from the 2020 Olympic Games in 2020, but was reinstated seven months after losing its place. Even though wrestling is one of the founding sports of the Olympics, the IOC could have removed it from the Olympic Games. The IOC recently reinstated baseball and softball, and added skateboarding -, karate, climbing and surfing- to the sports programme for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Therefore, it is possible to say that popularity is one of the crucial elements for a sport to be included to the Olympic Games. Chess, led by FIDE, is attempting to be an Olympic Sport. Although the attempt for Tokyo 2020 was not successful, things may change in the future.

In my opinion, E-Sports can very well be regarded as an Olympic sport in the near future. Whatever game that is played on a professional level, may be regarded as its discipline. The crucial setback is the perishability of games. Video games become “obsolete” with time. This is especially the case with sports games. Squads and the game play changes every season. That is one of the reasons why FIFA releases a new video game every single year. Therefore, video games such as FIFA are unlikely to make it to the top E-Sports games awarding prize money.

What type of Governance for E-Sports ?

The formation of a single internationally recognized E-Sports federation would be a first step in a long journey to reach the Olympics. Currently however, several international E-Sports organizations exist.

In South Korea, where E-Sports is what football is to Brazil, the South Korean E-Sports Association was founded in 2000. The Association regulates the working conditions of cyber athletes. The highest earnings in E-Sports by countries are listed as: China, the United States, South Korea, Sweden and Canada. As for international associations, three of them need to be mentioned.

First, there is the World E-Sports Association (WESA), founded in 2016 by a group of E-Sports teams and ESL (i.e. largest video game event company in the world). WESA aims to professionalize the industry, regulating matters regarding revenues and schedules. WESA even has an internal arbitration court, namely WESA Arbitration Court. It operates independently from WESA and is open to everyone involved in E-Sports, such as players, teams, organizers and publishers.

The second is the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF), an international organization based in Seoul, South Korea. A total of 46 nations are member of the IeSF. It has listed seven objectives in its Statute, the first one being as follows: to “constantly improve e-Sports and promote it in the light of its values - humanitarian, educational, cultural, unity of purpose and ability to promote peace”. IeSF is a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC). ESL also endorsed the WADC and conducts doping tests on cyber athletes. Stimulants- drugs that improve reaction time and concentration are prohibited.

The third association worth mentioning is the International eGames Committee (IEGC), a non-profit E-Sports organization, supported by the government of the United Kingdom. It aims to positively shape the future of competitive gaming.

In my view, countries that seek to be a part of the E-Sports world should establish their own national federations and apply to IeSF. IeSF should collaborate with WESA, which is founded by the most significant organizations in the industry. IeSF is capable of growing into an internationally recognized authority that is in charge of international competitions between national teams, whereas WESA would be in charge of all competitions between clubs.

E-Sports and Free Speech
Since there is a certain amount of (virtual) killing and planting bombs involved, some games are not suitable for children. Deciding who can play which game is up to certain institutions around the world. One of them is Pan European Game Information (PEGI). PEGI is the age rating system for video games in Europe, Israel and Quebec. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is another institution providing an age rating system for video games, this time for North America. PEGI and ESRB standards are generally not legally binding. PEGI standards are legally enforced in few jurisdictions, one being the United Kingdom. Another example is Austria. In Austria, protection of minors are implemented by states. Two of the nine states, Vienna and Carinthia, legally adopted PEGI standards.

California passed a law that prohibited the sale of certain video games to minors. It was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that video games were protected speech under the First Amendment.[3] The Supreme Court had its own reasons, such as “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.or “This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence.”

E-Sports and IP Law
Apart from constitutional law, video games can be subject to other fields of the law. Intellectual property law is one of such fields. For example, DotA is a fan-made custom map originated with Warcraft III, a strategy video game created by Blizzard Entertainment. It was not a separate game until published by Valve Corporation as Dota 2. Blizzard sought to prevent registration by its competitor Valve of the trademark Dota by resorting to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Subsequently, Blizzard and Valve reached a settlement agreement and Valve went on to publish Dota 2.

Playing Dota 2 is free of charge and Valve speedily hosted its first competition in 2011, with a prize pool of 1.6 million dollars. The International became an annual Dota 2 E-Sports tournament. The prize pool for the tournament in 2016 was approximately 20 million dollars. The team Wings Gaming of China completed the tournament in first place and was awarded 9.1 million dollars. The final was viewed by almost 6 million spectators. Dota 2 tournaments have awarded a total prize money of approximately 90 million dollars so far. League of Legends took the second place with 36 million dollars, followed by Counter Strike: GO (nearly 27 million dollars) and Starcraft II (nearly 22 million dollars). 

E-Sports Clubs, Athletes and the Law
The E-Sports teams that participate in these kind of high level competitions have different rosters for different games. They are starting to become more and more important business entities with their superstar players. The teams are mainly sponsored by tech firms, consumer electronics companies, gaming equipment producers, web hosting companies, automobile manufacturers, energy drinks manufacturers and business people who dream of owning a sports team but who cannot afford to acquire a professional football club. Football clubs themselves are also keen on forming their own E-Sports club, not only limited to football games. PSG (FIFA, LoL, Starcraft, CS, Call of Duty and Hearthstone) Schalke 04 (LoL) and Manchester City (FIFA) have already signed their own E-Sports players. Besiktas was the first football club in the world to form an E-Sports team in 2015. Fenerbahce has also entered the arena in 2016 and will be competing in the upcoming Turkish League of Legends season with a roster of accomplished players. As for football, FIFA and EA Sports organise the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2017. FIFA announced that the winning prize would be 200 thousand dollars.

High level cyber athletes are mostly men. However, the industry is trying to tackle gender discrimination and promote women cyber athletes. Cyber athletes sign contracts with their teams and sometimes receive salaries from video game developers. The developer of League of Legends, Riot Games chooses to pay salaries to competitors. Cyber athletes may want to make some extra money by streaming on online platforms, an important issue while drafting a contract. Therefore, E-Sports concerns both labor law and contract law. It also concerns criminal law, as there have been several incidents of betting-related match-fixing in E-Sports. In one such case, the manager of a LoL club was inciting his players to lose against big teams, claiming that the organizers would kick them out of the league should they win. The players allegedly did so, believing their manager. In the end, the manager was found to be betting against his own team, which finished the season with no wins. A player of the team attempted suicide, leaping off a building. Fortunately, he survived. In another case, a Dota 2 player placed a bet against his own team in a major event and won $322. “322” is now a nickname for players who deliberately fail in a game.

In Turkey, where I practice law, E-Sports players became athletes licensed by the “Federation of Developing Sports”, established by the Sports Ministry. There are about three thousand licensed players. The level of professionalism in elite clubs is surprising, and they are actually pretty successful in international tournaments. Space Soldiers (CS:GO), SuperMassive (LoL) are followed by tens of thousands of fans, even though they were founded only a few years ago.

The primary concern of the athletes and their families in general is the lack of opportunities after their brief but intense careers. Successful cyber athletes require a superordinate level of reactions and excellent reflexes. These attributes become slower with time. Consequently, cyber athletes are usually active between the ages 18-23. It is arduous for them to find time to study, as they need at least eight hours of training per day. National legislators around the world should also focus on devising E-Sports regulations, as more and more professional contracts are being signed. Cyber athletes are transferred from clubs to other clubs as in any other sport and foreign cyber athletes may encounter problems regarding their visas. France recently tackled the legal vacuum and granted a specific legal status for cyber athletes.

Call it a sport or not, E-Sports is growing exponentially. It is an industry worth billions and watched by millions. Although the industry is a commercial success, there are still lots of legal issues to tackle. These legal issues fall within the scope of various fields of law causing lawyers to work on improving their respective national laws.

Transfers of cyber athletes, drafting contracts for cyber athletes and the resolution of contractual disputes are some of the key issues, as well as tackling doping and match-fixing, intellectual property rights, broadcasting rights in particular, and the exploitation of minors or professional gamers. WESA and IeSF are significant international organizations that can endeavor on unifying E-Sports regulations and tackling legal problems faced by the players and the clubs.

The 21st century will offer more new games to play. Considering the current growth in the industry, I would dare predict that the industry will be worth hundreds of billions in the near future. I would recommend the countries and E-Sports governing bodies leading the industry to work together and bring forth certain essential regulations. This would also benefit game developers, as their games and gamers would find a place in the industry on a legal basis. I would also suggest the industry to incite women cyber athletes and facilitate their involvement in professional competitions, so that possible instances of discrimination are proactively precluded.

[1] Nurettin Emre Bilginoglu, LLM, Attorney-at-law - Istanbul, Turkey.  E-mail:

[2] Although there is no precise definition of a “professional E-Sports player”, the approach of FIFA could be deemed applicable by analogy. According to Article 2 of FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, a professional is a player who has a written contract with a club and is paid more for his footballing activity than the expenses he effectively incurs. In E-Sports, certain players are paid more for their gaming activities than the expenses they incur.

[3] Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. 786 (2011).

Comments (1) -

  • Adem Yaşar

    2/6/2017 4:55:32 PM |

    A new milestone has been recorded in the history of eSports. So, that is very good to deal with this matter in terms of legal implications.
    Good luck from Heidelberg University

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