Turkey’s booming esports market

Posted in eSports

Authors: Ç. Olgu Kama*, A. Ece Sürmen**

While people argue whether esports, i.e., competitive and organized video gaming,[1] is actually a sport, the industry is expected to grow by more than US$1 billion in revenue this year, which is a 26.4 percent boost from 2018[2]. It is predicted that the industry will keep growing. To give an example, the 2018 finale of the League of Legends (LOL) World Championship, which has approximately 100 million monthly players,[3] was viewed by more than 200 million people[4] and the total number of hours of LOL views on streaming sites is over one billion[5]. In the first quarter of 2019, the amount of awards won at esports competitions totalled nearly US$32.8 million[6].

The approach to esports and online gaming is no different in Turkey. Turkey has the youngest population compared to countries in the European Union[7] and half of the population is under 32. These figures, as well as statistics regarding the rise of esports in Turkey, make the country very enticing for esports investments.

Facts about esports in Turkey

  • Turkey is one of the 16 countries that represent 84 percent of the global revenue in the games market.
  • The total income from digital games is approximately US$878.8 million.
  • The first esports team was Dark Passage, established in 2002, for Counter Strike.
  • There are more than 14,000 unprofessional esports teams.
  • The Ministry of Youth and Sports provides licenses to esports professionals. There are currently more than 4,000 licenced esports professionals.
  • In 2016, the Turkish Counter Strike Global Offensive team won the world champion title.
  • In 2018, the Turkish Esports Federation was established within the body of Youth and Sport Ministry.
  • In 2019, Riot Games, an American video game developer and also an esports event organizer, will open Turkey’s first and the world’s biggest esports arena in Ataşehir, Istanbul.
  • Vodafone sponsors the LOL Championship League in Turkey. Vodafone anticipates that it will invest in TRL 30 million (approximately US$5,208,000) in esports in the next five years.
  • Beşiktas Esports, a Turkish team associated with the football club Beşiktaş, is the first professional esports team established by a professional sports club worldwide.
  • In the first quarter of 2019, a total of 60 Turkish players won approximately US$107,000 at esports competitions around the world.

Legal issues

Even though the sector is growing, the legal framework of esports in Turkey is still developing. Countries like France and South Korea have laws that cover esports. While Turkey does not have any specific laws regarding esports, there are applicable references in the general rules of law.

Intellectual property and broadcasting rights

Intellectual property issues in esports have different aspects than the ones in traditional sports. Turkish Intellectual Property (IP) law defines “work” as products that can be counted as scientific and literary, musical, fine arts or cinematographic work with the individuality of its creator. There are no specific clauses that define digital games as “work”. However, the software is categorized as “work” under computer programs and the overall product is categorized under cinematographic “work.”

A digital game consists of many components such as images, music, animations, motions, underlying code etc. In this context, game creators should act diligently to make sure that they do not violate IP rights of others, such as image rights, copyrights, and trademarks.

Game developers own the intellectual property rights of the games. These ownerships provide the creators with certain exclusive financial and moral rights such as the right to publicize, right to be named, right to deny any changes to the game, right to process, right to produce, right to publish, right to represent and right to publicize through signs; audio and/or video. Such exclusive rights also affect broadcasting since broadcasters do not have the right to publicize the event without authorization. There are also questions about the status of the esports tournament itself, i.e., whether the streamed tournament itself can be deemed as a derivative work under the law and what conditions must be met to consider the streamed tournament as derivative.

Contracts

Contracts constitute an important place in esports. There are several contracts that have to be enacted; e.g. (i) the esports team has to have an agreement with the game developer and also with brands, (ii) the player has to have an agreement with the team and also with the sponsors. It is recommended for every stakeholder to work with an independent lawyer while negotiating and enacting these agreements.

In Turkey, contracts with esports players fall under the Turkish Code of Obligations since the Turkish Labor Law does not regulate agreements with athletes. The players are generally very young, around the ages of 15-16 when they start their careers and they sometimes retire around the age of 25. At such a young age, players may not realize the seriousness and power of the legal provisions.[8] The lack of legal knowledge and anticipation of becoming a professional player can lead to significant consequences for a young esports professional. France, which is the third largest esports market in the EU, enacted the Numeric Law regulating esports contracts and esports competitions. With the Numeric Law, France sought to protect the young professionals from these possible outcomes.

Doping, e-doping and match fixing

Doping, defined as “the use of artificial enhancements and methods to gain an advantage over others in competition, is cheating and is fundamentally contrary to the spirit of sport,”[9] has always been a significant problem in traditional sports and is an issue for esports as well. In esports, there is another method of doping which is sometimes referenced as e-doping. Advantages gained by external factors such as software, malwares and drugs count as doping and e-doping tools[10]. For example, software can be integrated into the system to enhance performance. Additionally, hardware based doping, such as cheat injectors or hardware triggerbots, can create unfair competition. Organizers try to prevent the use of such enhancements by providing computers and hardware to the players at the arena.

In addition to doping through software and hardware, players may use performance enhancing drugs to get ahead. Turkey applies World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Rules and prohibits the use of substances mentioned in the prohibited list. WADA prohibits the use of stimulants such as amphetamine and according to Instruction on Fight with Doping in Turkey, all licensed athletes in Turkey shall abide by WADA prohibitions. It bears great significance to have adequate laws or regulations that define what doping is in esports to ensure a sportsmanlike atmosphere[11].

Besides doping, match fixing[12] is another threat to integrity in esports, where the team or some of the players are bribed by third parties. Match fixing is a crucial concern as it may affect the popularity of the games among the viewers and the sponsors while the sector is still growing[13].

Violence in sports

According to the Law on Prevention of Violence and Disorder in Sports, supporters are prohibited from insulting players or other supporters. It is also prohibited to act or speak offensively about religion, language, ethnicity, sex or sects in and around sports arenas. There are criminal and administrative liabilities for the above mentioned actions, such as banning. In traditional sports, violence happens in real life and the perpetrators are usually at the arena. It is problematic to pin the scope in esports as esports are generally broadcast through online platforms, which raises the question: Is it possible to be banned from online esports platforms when someone contravenes these regulations, i.e. when a viewer uses racial slurs or use sexist swear words?

Next?

Laws are implemented and practised in accordance with the requirements of the ever-developing world. Esports is an area that is gaining increasing attention and investment. It is crucial to implement provisions that are tailored to esports’ technicalities and broad scope, and that grasp the irregularities such as match fixing, doping and violence in esports.

 

*Partner at İnal Kama Attorney Partnership (affiliated to Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP)

**Associate at İnal Kama Attorney Partnership (affiliated to Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP)

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2018/08/27/us/esports-what-is-video-game-professional-league-madden-trnd/index.html

[2] https://www.businessinsider.com/esports-revenue-billion-2019-2?r=US&IR=T

[3] https://www.polygon.com/fortnite/2018/9/20/17884036/how-many-fortnite-monthly-players-2018

[4] https://escharts.com/blog/worlds-2018-final

[5] www.foxsportsasia.com/esports/906136/league-of-legends-main-channel-breaks-twitchs-1-billion-views-record/amp/

[6] https://t24.com.tr/haber/turkler-espordan-644-bin-lira-kazandi,819779

[7] http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/investmentguide/investorsguide/Pages/DemographyAndLaborForces.aspx

[8] In June 2018, Counter Strike player Sudhen “Bleh” Wahengbham exposed the Esports Federation of India (ESFI) in a Twitter rant about the contract that must be signed by the players to participate the Asian Games. The contract consisted of clauses such as waiver of the rights for players on the internet under conditions that it is royalty free, exclusive and irrevocable. Following this event, ESFI said that they will revise the agreements however, the contracts were already in effect remained valid as it is.

[9] https://ukad.org.uk/our-organisation/what-we-do/about-doping/

[10]https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/articles/anti-doping/item/three-key-legal-issues-currently-facing-the-esports-industry-a-perspective-from-asia?category_id=121

[11] In 2018, OpTic India was disqualified from a game due to hacks used by their player. The player uploaded the cheat and then tried to delete the evidence. OpTic India fired the player right after and claimed that they had no information about the cheat.

In 2015, Kory "SEMPHIS" Friesen claimed that all the players are on Adderall. Later the same year, Electronic Sports League announced that they will have a screening procedure for tournaments.

[12] https://www.unodc.org/documents/corruption/Publications/2016/V1602591-RESOURCE_GUIDE_ON_GOOD_PRACTICES_IN_THE_INVESTIGATION_OF_MATCH-FIXING.pdf

[13] In 2016, Korean StarCraft II player Seung Hyun “Life” was arrested and prosecuted for fixing two matches. He was sentenced for 3 years and fined. He was also banned from South Korean esports for life. In another case, it is alleged that one of the best LOL players Cheon Min-Ki was conspiring with their team manager to manipulate the game results.

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