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Can eSports become a sport?

Fabio Schlösser Vila
December 15, 2017

From now on, German eSports will be supported by a national association. Can eSports become an actual sport in Germany? Violent games are still causing trouble in that regard.

eSports - Die chinesische League of Legends Pro League will Franchising als neues Liga-Format etablieren.
Image: lolesports.com

Germany's gaming culture was quick to embrace competitive eSports. Many important clubs were actually founded on German soil. Historic organizations such as SK Gaming, Alternate aTTaX or the Electronic Sports League (ESL) have transformed international eSports into this enormous industry that now attracts millions of viewers and sponsors such as Audi or Adidas. With all these important steps, however, one has constantly been omitted. Now, 20 of the biggest German organizations have caught up:

Last month, the eSports-Bund Deutschland (ESBD, or "eSports Association of Germany") was founded in the city of Frankfurt. The implications are huge, since virtually all the major German teams are aligning themselves with the new association. The responsibilities of the ESBD are numerous, Vice President Niklas Timmermann explains: "Potential examples would be creating models to govern how to set up registered clubs, professional teams, player contracts and so forth, or serving as an arbiter in disputes or when harmonizing sets of rules," Timmermann says. "Beyond that, probably the most important thing is that this field gets a voice that can politically represent players and teams alike." 

ESL Meisterschaft
The Mysterious Monkeys, one of Germany's top teams, is now part of an eSports federationImage: ESL

Players, teams no longer fending for themselves

The Mysterious Monkeys are one of the teams that have joined forces with the ESBD. The club is being represented by the company ad hoc gaming GmbH and its CEO, Ben Hamana. With the ESBD, he sees a chance to carry eSports right into the center of society. "It is crucial now to organize, to create professional structures and to act in unity. For too long every team had to look after itself on its own, now we can do this with one voice thanks to the association."

But how, exactly? Hamana explains that officers of the ESBD meet up in a committee to discuss important matters. There, a representative of the teams and players relays their questions and works with them closely on all issues. However, it's the job of the teams to come together: "The professional teams communicate in various groups about various relevant topics and the essence of this gets brought to the [ESBD] committee."

For a competitive industry that cannot rely on a long history of joint structures and unified rules, this comes as a refreshing and important step. It ensures that the voices of players and teams alike can be heard. "The association acts for its members and not for any other group or even for its own economic gain," Hamana asserts.

Gamescom 2017
Even Angela Merkel made her way to the Cologne games expo 'Gamescom' this AugustImage: Getty Images for BIU/F. Krug

A lobby group, even at the Olympic level

But it's not just the individual matters of the teams that are on the agenda, the ESBD will also promote German eSports on a political level. As a result of the ESBD's founding, an eSports representative has taking part in a meeting of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) for the first time ever. "The founding of this association is an important and satisfactory step, because now we have a body to turn to discuss this exciting topic," DOSB President Alfons Hörmann said at last month's meeting.

eSports hoping for favorable tax status

The prospects of eSports being formally recognized as a "sport" in Germany — with all the legal and tax benefits that can bring — now appear increasingly realistic.

ESBD Vice President Timmermann is optimistic and stresses how important this is for electronic competition: "We want to secure 'sports' status for eSports and thereby enable players to access the benefits that come along with it, like public funding, assistance with their travel, and so on. We will work towards this, and hopefully succeed."

The German government has also sent positive signals this year. Chancellor Angela Merkel's appearance at Gamescom in August showed that the topic had finally hit German politicians' radars. However, violent games in particular can cause a lot of trouble in this dialogue, as a recent statement from the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, has shown: "We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn't match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line."

An inclusion of non-violent games has not been ruled out however, and considering that the Asian Games will include eSports as a part of their 2022 competition, it's at least conceivable that eSports might be incorporated into the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Read more — Gamescom 2017 reveals boon and bane of the gaming industry

So can eSports become a sport in Germany? The scene knows how important a resolution to this question is for both teams and players, although there seems to be no concrete answer in sight. However, the ESBD's foundation lays the groundwork for more political talks on the matter.

Read more — What it takes for a computer game to make it big in eSports

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