While fans of traditional sports may view eSports with some skepticism, the business people behind traditional sports leagues appear to see a promising investment opportunity. For example, in early February, the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, the creator of the NBA 2K video game franchise, announced the launch of an eSports league with teams controlled by the various NBA teams, according to Law360.
Experts caution that this new endeavor into eSports will be a legal “Wild West”—due to the unique intellectual property issues implicated by eSports (where corporations own the actual games being played, unlike with traditional sports), coupled with eSports’ rapidly expanding popularity and profitability, a number of novel legal problems will be implicated. Professional eSports players undoubtedly contribute to the popularity of individual games, and provide unique marketing and advertising opportunities. Indeed, the immensely popular 2016 League of Legends video game World Championship drew in 43 million viewers. On the other hand, corporations like Riot Games, the maker of League of Legends, expend all of the capital involved in creating the game, and also have typically set up and marketed the various eSports leagues. Because of this tension, it is unclear how eSports profits will be divided up in the long-term.
At least for now, eSports looks poised to continue to expand, spurred on by cash infusions from eager investors. “The mainstream leagues don’t quite know what to make of eSports,” said Aaron B. Swerdlow, attorney at Gerard Fox Law PC, but “if sports like basketball and baseball decline in popularity and eSports joins the top-tier… they want to have a skin in the game.”
Jacob Reinig is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2019).