Issues to Watch

The Meteoric Rise of Esports: What Legal Issues Threaten the Growth of This New Industry?

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*Taylor Kitzmiller

I.  Esports’s Popularity Explosion

The playing and watching of video games has gone from a casual hobby enjoyed primarily by kids to a brand-new multibillion-dollar industry.  See Wayne Duggan, Breaking Down the Incredible Rise of Esports, Benzinga (Jan. 26, 2019, 4:06 PM),  Esports is the fastest growing spectator sport in the world.  See id.  “The total number of esports viewers has more than tripled from 124 million in 2012 to 335 million in 2017” and “[t]he number could surpass 550 million by 2021.”  Id.

Increased popularity brings the promise of major investment opportunities.  See id.  In 2018 alone, esports generated $906 million in revenue.  See id.  This number is projected to vastly increase:

Research firms like Statista estimate that global revenues for the wildly popular, still nascent sector may even surpass that milestone this year — particularly because of the number of companies and investors getting in on the esports market.  Estimates from Newzoo project that the global esports market will exceed $1.6 billion by 2021.

Annie Pei, Here’s Why Esports Can Become a Billion-Dollar Industry in 2019, CNBC, (last updated Jan. 23, 2019, 10:04 AM).  Eye-popping revenue projections have attracted famous investors such as Michael Jordan, Mark Cuban, and Robert Kraft.  See id.  The culmination of sponsorship deals, streaming services, and the creation of leagues and teams has given esports the credibility enjoyed by other leagues like the National Football League (NFL) and the National Baseball Association (NBA).  See id.  The budding industry of esports has great potential, but at this early stage in its life, when there are few regulations and oversight, it is unclear what legal problems the esports community will face.

II.  The Intellectual Property Dilemma of Esports

The major difference between esports and traditional sports is that the “games” of esports are the creations of video game companies.  See Isaac Rabicoff & Kenneth Matuszewski, The Rise of ESports Creates a Complicated Relationship with IP, IPWATCHDOG (Mar. 25, 2017),  Unlike the NBA, which does not have intellectual property (IP) rights over the sport of basketball, creators of video games such as the uber-popular Fortnite have IP rights to any content created by the Fortnite game.  See id.  Thus, the creators of video games are able to exclude players, teams, and leagues from copying original artistic content from the game.  See id.

Currently, that control “is exercised by way of contract.  In the world of online video and streaming gameplay, individuals typically license the right to play a video game from the game publisher by way of an end-user license agreement or applicable terms of service.”  Richard P. Flaggert, Copyright in Esports: A Top-Heavy Power Structure, but Is It Legally Sound?, DLA PIPER (Sept. 27, 2018),  However, these agreements do not allow players to distribute content created through the game.  See id.  Some publishers have created exceptions that allow players to live stream gameplay “as that content is available without charge, and as long as the use of the game is non-commercial.”  Id.  Because members of the esports community may not easily discern which game publishers allow users to distribute their content from game publishers who prohibit sharing, it is likely this lack of uniformity in game developers’ policies will encourage members of the esports community to make mistakes, possibly leading to litigation for copyright infringement.  See id.

Furthermore, how much control do videogame publishers have over the distribution of content created through their games?  See id.  The esports industry acts as though they do not require publisher permission to publicly display content from the games.  See id.  However, if this presumption was challenged and reversed, it would alter the entire industry.  See id.  For example, esports tournament producers would not need to gain consent from a video game publisher or pay a licensing fee to stream the game, and individual streamers would be free to use game content in any form.  See id.

III.  The Lack of a Central Governing Body Threatens the Future of Esports

Esports is a unique industry because it involves many types of games, takes place in a virtual world, and involves players from all across the globe.  See Jacqueline Martinelli, The Challenges of Implementing a Governing Body for Regulating Esports, 26 U. Miami Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 499, 502–05 (2019).  Regulating this industry has been a struggle because it lacks a single, central governing body.  See id.  Currently, there are several regulating bodies of esports—the Esports Integrity Coalition, the World Esports Association, and International Esports Federation.  See id. at 506–08.  Despite these regulatory bodies’ attempts to create regulations that end issues such as match-fixing, cheating, doping, etc., these issues are still prevalent in esports.  See id.  Unlike a professional sports league, such as the NFL or NBA, that has unified oversight to the rules of the game, player policies, licensing agreements, and league structure, esports lacks unified oversight, which places the future of esports in jeopardy.  See id. at 509.  Esports will not be legitimized in the eyes of viewers if cheating and corruption are allowed to run rampant in the sport.

Many esports enthusiasts believe an organization similar to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) should be created to regulate esports.  See id. at 515.  FIFA is the governing body of the World Cup that oversees the teams and games all over the world.  See id.  Creating a FIFA-like organization would “define an overreaching parent organization that can delegate regulation to smaller more ‘game specific’ bodies.”  Id.  Creating oversight will be difficult, but if esports ever wants to be considered a legitimate sport, it will need a standardized set of rules and regulations.

*Taylor Kitzmiller is a second-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he serves as a staff editor for the Law Review.  Taylor is a Distinguished Scholar of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society.  This summer, Taylor will be working for Staples Law Group in Annapolis, Maryland.











Issues to Watch

Affirmative Action Still Being Challenged—Could the College Admissions Process Be in for a Change?

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*Evan Raigrodski

Even in 2019, affirmative action in the college admissions process continues to be challenged.  Anemona Hartocollis, Harvard Won a Key Affirmative Action Battle.  But the War’s Not Over, N.Y. Times, (last updated Nov. 5, 2019).  The latest lawsuit brought by the Students for Fair Admissions challenged Harvard University’s admissions practices arguing that the University discriminated against Asian-Americans in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  See Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard Coll., 397 F. Supp. 3d 126 (D. Mass. 2019).  In a decision laid down by Judge Allison Burroughs of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the court held that Harvard’s admissions process and its consideration of race were not discriminatory towards Asian-Americans.  Id. at 203–04.  However, this decision likely will not be the end of this action, as an appeal has already been filed and it has the potential to reach the Supreme Court.  Hartocollis, supra.  With a new conservative majority on the Court, the incorporation of race considerations in college admissions processes may be reconsidered, challenging the precedent set over forty years ago.  See id. (more…)

Issues to Watch

The Third-Country Rule and United States Asylum Law

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Cassandra Brumback*

Four months after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, he committed suicide in his Louisiana jail cell.  See Teo Armus, A Cuban Immigrant Asked for Asylum. After Months of Detention, He Killed Himself, ICE Says, Wash. Post (Oct. 17, 2019, 7:28 AM),  Hernandez-Diaz was one of approximately 590,000 asylum seekers to cross the southern border of the United States in 2019.  See Daniel Connolly, et al., Asylum Seekers in US Face Years of Waiting, Little Change of Winning Their Cases, USA Today (Sept. 25, 2019, 12:40 PM),  His death is the latest shock to arise from a particularly chaotic and volatile few months at the border, where the Trump Administration’s ever-changing set of asylum guidelines have instilled fear and hopelessness in the migrant community.  See Armus, supra. (more…)

Issues to Watch

What Is Maryland Doing to Combat Violence in Our Schools?

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Kelsey Lear*

On March 20, 2018, a 17-year-old student shot two others at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland before a school resource officer intervened.  See Eric Levenson, Maryland School Officer Stops Armed Student Who Shot 2 Others, CNN, (last updated Mar. 20, 2018, 7:24 PM).  The shooter killed one student and shot one other student before turning the gun on himself.  See Maryland High School Shooting: ‘I Was Just Shot in My School,’ Great Mills Student Says on 911 Call, Balt. Sun (Mar. 27, 2018, 10:50 AM),  This tragic incident triggered Maryland’s legislature to take swift action against gun violence in schools through the Maryland Safe to Learn Act (MSLA).  See Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7-1501-12 (West 2018). (more…)

Issues to Watch

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: Legal & Regulatory Concerns Surrounding the Announcement of Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency

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 Kristin McManus*

On June 16, 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg formally announced the company’s plans to create a new digital cryptocurrency to be known as “Libra,” which will operate under Calibra, a subsidiary of Facebook.  See Bill Chapple, Facebook Unveils Libra Cryptocurrency, Sets Launch For 2020, Nat’l Pub. Radio (June 18, 2019, 12:12 PM),  The Libra Association released a white paper detailing its mission and outlining its plans for “a new decentralized blockchain, a low-volatility cryptocurrency, and a smart contract platform that together aim to create a new opportunity for responsible financial services innovation.”  Libra Ass’n Members, An Introduction to Libra (July 23, 2019).  The principal aims of Libra are: increasing financial inclusion worldwide, providing a system that will reduce transaction costs of monetary transfers, and providing alternate means of funding for small businesses that have been declined by traditional lenders.  See Osman Gazi Güçlütürk, Facebook’s Libra and Regulatory Issues, Medium (June 22, 2019),  On paper, this sounds like a compelling addition to the current system, however, the Libra Association’s white paper is short on details and big on promises.  Eric Posner, The Trouble Starts if Facebook’s New Currency Succeeds, Atlantic (June 25, 2019), (more…)