When we talk about the business of sports, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the best thing to have happened in Indian sports in recent decades. In this very year, the League took another huge step in its evolution when the women’s edition of this world-class property was launched. Again it was an investment, whose full and final dividend will be realised by the Indian sporting ecosystem in the years to come. Additionally, the League has become an instrument which helps to catch the initial trends and understand the direction in which the wind is blowing. In the first few weeks of the present League, another major initial trend needs to be understood and a decisive action taken.
Making cricket Entertaining
One of the novelties of the League has been the manner in which it has been able to merge the country’s two biggest obsessions, the love for cricket and film superstars. In the current edition of the League, while we are watching the matches in the evening, our television screens gets flooded with the advertisements of one of the premier gaming company, Dream 11, wherein actors and players engage in light banter, subtly calling upon the fans to make their dream teams and play the game. But more than the content per se, what indicates a strong trend is the frequency of such trends.
Across the globe, the search for the ideal model in terms of regulations is still a work in progress
According to the TAM Media, gaming and pan masala advertisements have dominated ad volume shares on television. The other top categories are aerated beverages, cellular phone services and biscuits. E-commerce gaming advertisement garnered a 20 per cent share of the advertisement volume in the first few matches when compared to 17 per cent in the previous season. In the previous edition of the Indian Premier League, e-commerce gaming, pan masala, e-commerce education, e-commerce online shopping and e-commerce pay wallets dominated the advertisement volume pie? Clearly, if we take both the editions in totality, the gaming companies are in the dominant position in terms of the advertisement space. Amidst the backdrop, we need to understand the repercussions of the dominance of the e-gaming sector and the policy guidelines of the government of India on the same.
Flourisning Gaming Industry
What is the reality today? Among all businesses in India, the online gaming industry has been growing at a very impressive rate. Skill-based games and fantasy games are the two genres growing at the fastest pace in India’s online gaming market. As per the key market watchers, rising digital usage and increasing online population, affordable smartphones, and low data pricing are all driving India’s gaming industry forward. Smartphone gaming has been one of the most significant contributors to the business of real money and skill-based gaming in India. This industry’s GGR (Gross Gaming Revenue) is expected to reach $1 billion by 2025. The country has traditionally been the centre of skill-based games, whether it is Chess, Rummy, or Teenpatti. Indians have been playing these games long before video games and online games became popular. For the youth in India, this is also an entire industry that offers a stable career path, with opportunities in data analytics, UI/UX, and software development. However, developing games and mastering the technology underlying them are not the only ways to make a living in this industry. Becoming a professional e-gamer is now a popular option. Professional gamers are signing contracts with gaming companies and are earning monthly pays. So, can we stop the idea whose time has come? No. Would we like to puncture the tyres of the vehicle just when it’s gathering momentum in terms of speed and potential? No. But, do we need to regulate the speed and direction of the vehicle? Yes.
What’s the broader trend worldwide?
The country with the most developed e-sports infrastructure is South Korea. The Government formed the Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) as part of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism way back in 2000. The body licenses and regulates pro-gamers and e-sports teams and controls the broadcasting rights. KeSPA’s policies and actions have gone a long way in enhancing the legitimacy of e-sports. The Government maintains tight control of online gambling, with e-sports excluded from the purview of gambling. France has a less developed e-sports infrastructure, but its move towards regulations by classifying it as a sport and setting up Federations to oversee its growth made the country to be a model for Western European countries. In France, rules were passed to limit the players’ contract to a minimum period of 12 months and a maximum period of five years. Moreover, players under the age of 12 years were prohibited from participating in the monetised tournaments. In the United Kingdom, British E-Sports Association serves as the national body in this area. However, it does not seem to have any powers to actually impose rules on the industry, with the betting aspects of e-sports falling within the domain of the UK Gambling Commission. There is a strong school of thought which emphasises the need for a single overarching international organisation for the uniformity of standards across the wider e-sports industry. Clearly, if we closely look at the international landscape, the search for the ideal model in terms of regulations is still a work in progress.
For e-sports governance, India needs a body set up for licensing gamers, lobbying for favourable rules, and increasing awareness
E-sports, which includes e-gaming, has so far enjoyed immense success in the country by following a policy of self-regulation. However, the industry in the country is fast reaching a point of inflection. This necessitates framing of the laws which should regulate its future growth. An Indian model has to be evolved, taking into account the governance models existing in other jurisdictions. An Indian system for e-sports governance should ideally consist of a body set up with the express purpose of licensing gamers and lobbying for favourable rules, and increasing awareness. This will enable the government to maintain a traceable link between a real person and her or his gaming avatar. This will ensure that the authority will be able to clamp down on the offences like match-fixing and doping, which are the biggest threats to the legitimacy of the industry. The licensing system will also help to protect minors from the excesses of the competitive gaming industry and they could apply for the license only when they reach a certain age. At the public discourse level, there should be enough awareness campaigns to dissuade kids from getting hooked on online gaming, compromising on their physical and emotional growth. Though KeSPA in Korea also regulates the broadcast of e-sports to determine which channels get the right to telecast e-sports live tournaments, the Indian Government should steer clear of such attempts. The Government of India in a major move, in the exercise of the powers “conferred by clause (3) of Article 77 of the Constitution” amended the rules governing e-sports and asked the Ministry of Electronics and IT and the Sports Ministry to include “e-sports as part of multi-sports events”. Earlier, on November 24, 2020, the Advertising Standard Council of India, issued guidelines for online gaming, for real money winning. The guidelines became effective from December 15, 2020 onwards. Pursuant to this, the Ministry of I&B, issued an advisory dated December 4, 2020, to all the private satellite television channels for advertisement for online gaming and fantasy sports, amongst others. The idea was to inform the advertisers about the criteria which shall be used for scrutinising advertisements against which the complaints are received. The users should be aware of the financial and other risks which are associated with online gaming for real money. Based on these baby steps, the time has come to have a holistic approach to the overall scenario of e-sports and e-gaming with the purpose of reaping the dividends from this phenomenally growing industry and safeguarding itself from its likely side effects.