Arbitration in esports

arbitration in esport

The esports competition – although it causes a lot of controversy in more traditionalist circles – is a sport within the meaning of the Polish Sports Act. There are many similarities between the two industries, one of which is also the specificity of the legal relationship between the parties. In most sports, special rules are established to ensure that the specific features of a given sport are taken into account. For this reason, many sports have their own arbitration courts, ensuring that these internal rules are respected by all participants in sports competition. For the time being, such courts are only in their infancy in the world of esports, so we will take a moment to discuss the necessity of such a solution.

Arbitration in esports – internal rules

Many sports decide to adopt – depending on the popularity of the sport – worldwide, continental or at least national regulations related to the practice of a given discipline. At the global level, an example of such regulations is the Regulation on Status and Transfer of Players issued by FIFA (soccer). Another example is the Internal Regulations adopted by FIBA (basketball). In Poland these regulations are issued by Polish sports associations on the basis of the Sports Act. However, these regulations are binding only for members of the respective federations and are respected mainly because of the threat of disciplinary penalties. No state bodies monitor compliance with these regulations – including the courts. If a case were to be brought before a state court, the court would most likely not examine the rules established by the individual federations at all.

What is the role of arbitration courts?

The role of arbitration courts is to ensure that the internal rules of a particular discipline are respected by all participants in the competition. Polish law, but also regulations of most European countries, allow for creation of so called arbitration courts. These are independent organizations that resolve disputes in cases where both sides agree to it. Such courts often do not even have to rule on the basis of state regulations, but may adopt their own rules or simply rule according to principles of equity. Thus, the creation of such courts in esports would allow for the enforcement of internally established regulations specific only to specific games or gaming in general.

Current arbitration courts

At the moment, arbitration in esports is just beginning to sprout. There are already some organizations aspiring to the name of arbitration, such as the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC), about which we have already written during the so-called “coach scandal”, but they are not yet universally and uniformly recognized by the gaming community. There are also special units within the structures of tournament organizers that specialize in dealing with certain cases. However, these are mainly of a disciplinary nature, although in most cases the organizer still decides. However, there are still no independent bodies that can resolve conflicts involving players, coaches, clubs, organizers and game producers.

How to create an arbitration court?

In order to create an arbitration court, it is necessary, first of all, to build its structures by adopting appropriate statutes, regulations or other documents being the basis for its functioning. Such aspects as the rules for selection of arbitrators and dispute resolution rules should be included therein. An arbitration court does not have to have legal personality – it does not have to be a separate legal entity in the form of a company or an association.

It may simply be a separate cell of an existing organization, e.g. from the structures of the entity that manages the league. For such a court to operate, the participants in a particular competition must jointly agree to have their disputes resolved by this authority. Any deviation from this will give the possibility of circumventing arbitration and the rules set by the organizers. In traditional sports, the provision of adequate agreements in this matter is protected by disciplinary sanctions.

Arbitration in esports – benefits

The creation of arbitration courts in esports would unify and create, and above all, secure the observance of general rules regarding esports competition. These rules could cover issues such as the relationship between players and esports organizations or clubs and tournament organizers. It would also ensure that any disputes in esports would be resolved as independently and impartially as possible, while providing basic guarantees to protect the rights of those involved. Moreover, such judgments would have the same force as the judgments of normal state courts. The current practice is for esports entities to challenge arbitrary decisions of tournament organizers in cases of greater importance, and to take the path of litigation with them before ordinary courts.

Such steps can be expected in important cases when maintaining at least neutral relations with one party is not more important than the subject of the settlement. So, for example, legal action could be taken by players disqualified by a tournament organizer without proper grounds.

The main benefit, however, would come down to safeguarding the rights and interests of the players and establishing uniform legal principles for players from all countries. It is therefore primarily in the interest of the players and the organisations fighting to secure their rights. At present, clubs can abuse their dominant position in relation to players.

Obstacles to the creation of arbitration courts in esports

The biggest obstacle to the creation of arbitration courts in the world of gaming is primarily the youth of the phenomenon that is esports. The immaturity of the sport results in the fact that it is the tournament organizers who have the money and the show window in which teams with their sponsors can present themselves. The consequence of this in turn is a dominant position vis-à-vis the participating clubs, for whom the only possible form of resistance is a boycott. However, as long as the cooperation is mutually beneficial, the organizers will be able to impose their arbitrary decisions on the clubs.

An additional disadvantage could be the decentralization of tournaments – especially in a game like CS:GO, there are many tournaments that are unrelated to each other, each hosted by a different entity. It would be easier, at least from the technical side, to introduce an arbitration system in the model known from League of Legend. In League of Legend, all of the prestigious (or “official”, so to speak) tournaments report directly to Riot Games. In Counter-Strike, however, such an initiative would have a better chance of success if it came from the grassroots.

Arbitration in esports – summary

Arbitration would provide an opportunity to introduce uniform rules for esports competition worldwide. It would also secure the interests of the players and protect them from abuse of their dominant position by the clubs. Currently, there is no unified system of arbitration, although the first such creations are already appearing and some tournament organizers decide to use their services.