The Developing Legal Framework for Esports and Competitive Gaming

Author: Piyush Kumar, Student at: Faculty of Law, Delhi University


The world of competitive gaming, or esports, has exploded in popularity. Millions tune in to watch skilled players compete for victory in organized leagues and tournaments, with prize pools reaching staggering heights. This rapid growing industry, however, faces a unique challenge – the legal landscape surrounding esports is still under development.

Traditional legal frameworks often struggle to encompass the complexities of this digital playing field. Unlike traditional sports, esports rely heavily on video game licenses and intellectual property rights. Players, teams, and organizers navigate a web of contracts outlining everything from compensation to streaming rights.

This lack of a comprehensive legal framework creates uncertainties. Issues like anti-doping regulations, age restrictions for professional players, and the burgeoning world of esports gambling all require clear legal definitions. Visa regulations pose another hurdle, hindering international competition for players.

The esports industry is at a crossroads. As it continues to grow, a robust legal framework is essential. This framework needs to ensure fair play, protect the rights of players and teams, and foster a thriving competitive environment. This article will delve into these key legal challenges facing esports, exploring potential solutions and the evolving landscape of esports law.


Esports, short for electronic sports, is essentially organized, competitive video gaming. Imagine the intensity and structure of traditional sports, but applied to the world of video games. These competitions feature professional gamers, either playing individually or as teams, battling it out in various multiplayer video games. Popular genres include complex team-based games like Dota 2, fast-paced first-person shooters like Counter-Strike, strategic real-time games like StarCraft, and even survival games like Fortnite.

Esports boomed with the rise of online streaming platforms like Twitch, allowing millions to spectate these high-level matches. Tournaments are held worldwide, with some attracting millions of viewers online and even filling up arenas with cheering fans.

Just like traditional sports, esports comes with big prize pools, sponsorships, and lucrative careers for top players who hone their skills and strategies for years. It’s a rapidly growing industry with a passionate global fanbase, blurring the lines between gaming and entertainment.


India’s gaming landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. Competitive gaming, or esports, is rapidly transforming from a niche pastime to a mainstream sporting phenomenon. Esports in India boasts a surprisingly young history, but its growth has been nothing short of explosive. Here’s a quick look at its journey:

Early Days (2000s): The story begins with the rise of LAN gaming cafes. These hubs allowed gamers to gather, play together, and even host informal competitions.

Rise of Online Gaming (2010s): As internet connectivity improved, online gaming platforms took center stage. Tournaments gained momentum, with titles like Counter-Strike and Dota attracting a dedicated audience.

Mobile Gaming Boom (2010s onwards): The smartphone revolution marked a turning point. Affordable devices and popular mobile esports titles like PUBG Mobile and BGMI skyrocketed the industry’s popularity.

From Niche to Mainstream (Present): Today, esports in India is a thriving ecosystem. Professional gamers compete internationally, well-organized tournaments are commonplace, and broadcasts reach millions through traditional and online channels.

This rapid rise can be attributed to factors like increasing internet access, the dominance of mobile gaming, and a cultural shift that embraces esports as a legitimate form of entertainment and competition. Then, during the 2019 lockdown period, online games boosted revenue for gaming companies, and they noticed increased recognition and support from mainstream media, sponsors, and investors. The future looks bright for Indian esports, with predictions of continued growth and a potential global leadership role.


The legal landscape surrounding esports in India is still evolving, but here’s a breakdown of the current situation:

Official Recognition: As of December 2022, India officially recognized esports as a multi-sport event. This means it falls under the purview of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MoYAS). This is a significant step towards legitimizing esports and potentially opening doors for government support.

Regulation Gap: However, there are still no specific regulations governing esports itself. Existing laws like the Public Gambling Act (1867) and the Information Technology Act (2000) might be applied in certain situations, but esports generally doesn’t qualify as gambling due to the emphasis on skill.

Uncertainties Remain: The lack of dedicated regulations creates some uncertainties. For instance, the Esports Federation of India (ESFI), the main governing body, isn’t yet recognized as a National Sports Federation (NSF). This could limit its authority and impact on the scene.

The legal situation surrounding esports in India is still taking shape. While there are existing laws like the Prize Competition Act (1955) that touch on online gaming, esports itself remains largely unregulated. The key distinction lies in the separation of skill-based games from games of chance. The Gambling Act primarily targets activities with a strong element of luck. Esports, with its emphasis on strategic thinking, reflexes, and practice, doesn’t neatly fit this definition.

Overall, the legal status of esports in India is in a state of flux. While official recognition is a positive development, a clear legal framework is still needed to fully address issues like contracts for professional gamers, taxation on esports earnings, and proper age verification for tournaments.


In terms of recent amendments specifically targeting esports regulation, there aren’t any as of June 2024. However, there have been developments in online gaming regulations that indirectly impact esports. IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023, introduced in April 2023, aim to regulate the online gaming sector in India. While not directly targeting esports, they establish a framework for online gaming platforms, including those hosting esports tournaments. This includes Know Your Customer (KYC) norms for user verification, transparent withdrawal and refund of money, and fair distribution of winnings, which could impact esports players participating in online tournaments with cash prizes.

It’s important to note that these amendments have received mixed reactions. While some see them as a positive step towards protecting users and the industry, others raise concerns about potential restrictions and a lack of clarity on how they apply specifically to esports.


India’s online gaming industry is experiencing a meteoric rise, transforming from a niche pastime into a mainstream cultural phenomenon. Fueled by a young and tech-savvy population, this sector is witnessing explosive growth, with data painting a clear picture of its dominance:

The Indian gaming market is estimated to be worth a staggering USD 3.49 billion in 2024, and is projected to reach a colossal USD 7.24 billion by 2029, boasting a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15.68%. This exponential trajectory positions India as a potential global leader in the gaming landscape.

India holds the title of the world’s largest gaming market by user base, with a whopping 568 million gamers actively engaging in online play. This immense player pool creates a robust ecosystem for developers, publishers, and esports enthusiasts.

The driving force behind this growth is the dominance of mobile gaming. India leads the world in mobile game downloads, with a staggering 9.5 billion downloads recorded in 2023 alone. This surge is fueled by affordable smartphones and accessible data plans, making gaming readily available to a vast audience.

These numbers paint a clear picture: India’s online gaming sector is experiencing a golden age. With a burgeoning youth population, increasing internet penetration, and a thriving mobile gaming ecosystem, the future looks even brighter. This industry is poised to not only entertain millions but also create significant economic opportunities and redefine the landscape of competitive entertainment.


Esports, or electronic sports, is a rapidly growing form of competition that involves video game play. Competitive gamers, often called esports athletes, train rigorously and compete in organized leagues and tournaments for prize money and prestige. The esports industry has become a multi-billion dollar business, attracting significant investments from sponsors, media companies, and game developers. As esports continues to grow, so too does the need for a legal framework to govern these competitions and the rights of the players involved. Some of the key legal issues facing esports includes:

·  Player contracts: Esports contracts are complex legal documents that outline the rights and obligations of players, teams, and organizations. These contracts can cover a variety of issues, such as salary, intellectual property rights, streaming rights, and sponsorship obligations.

·  Game licensing: Esports games are often licensed products, and the terms of these licenses can have a significant impact on how esports competitions are conducted. For example, some game publishers may restrict the use of their games in commercial settings or impose limitations on how esports tournaments can be broadcast.

·  Intellectual property rights: Esports involves a variety of intellectual property rights, such as copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. These rights can be owned by game developers, esports organizations, and even individual players. The ownership and use of these rights need to be carefully considered in the context of esports competitions.

·  Anti-doping and age restrictions: As esports becomes more professional, there is a growing concern about the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and the participation of underage gamers. Regulatory bodies are starting to develop anti-doping rules for esports, and some countries are considering age restrictions for professional gamers.

·  Visa issues: Esports players are often international competitors, and they may need to obtain visas to travel to compete in tournaments. Visa regulations can be complex and time-consuming, and they can pose a significant challenge for esports organizations.

·  Gambling and betting: Gambling on esports is becoming increasingly popular, but it is a largely unregulated market. Regulatory bodies are starting to grapple with the issue of esports gambling, and they need to develop frameworks to protect consumers and ensure the integrity of competitions.


India’s esports scene is flourishing, but its legal framework is still in its nascent stages. To unlock the industry’s full potential and ensure its healthy development, a multi-pronged approach is needed.

1. Define and Differentiate: A clear legal definition of esports is crucial. Carving out a distinction between esports and games of chance is paramount. Esports, with its emphasis on strategic thinking, reaction time, and honed skills, should be recognized as a distinct entity from activities heavily reliant on luck. This differentiation would pave the way for specific regulations tailored to the esports ecosystem.

2. Establish a Regulatory Body: A dedicated regulatory body with the power to create and enforce regulations for esports is essential. This body could oversee aspects like player contracts, age verification for tournaments, anti-doping measures, and dispute resolution mechanisms. Collaboration with existing bodies like the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MoYAS) and the Esports Federation of India (ESFI) can ensure streamlined governance.

3. Address Taxation and Revenue: As esports tournaments generate significant prize pools, a transparent and industry-friendly taxation framework needs to be established. This would attract sponsorships and investments, while also generating revenue for the government. Esports athletes should also have a clear understanding of tax implications on their earnings.

4. Foster a Safe and Inclusive Environment: Regulations should ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all esports participants. Measures to prevent cheating, harassment, and age-inappropriate content are crucial. Protecting the well-being of players, especially minors, is paramount.

5. Encourage Innovation and Infrastructure: The government can play a key role in fostering innovation within the Indian esports ecosystem. This could include supporting the development of homegrown esports titles, creating dedicated training facilities, and encouraging educational programs focused on esports management and game development.

6. Collaboration is Key: Effective regulation requires collaboration between various stakeholders. Industry leaders, esports organizations, legal experts, and government bodies need to come together to create a framework that fosters growth while safeguarding players’ rights and promoting responsible practices.

By implementing these measures, India can create a robust legal framework that fosters a thriving esports scene. This framework will not only protect players, teams, and organizations, but also unlock the immense economic potential of the industry, propelling India to a leadership position in the global esports arena.


The legal landscape surrounding esports and competitive gaming is in a state of flux, struggling to keep pace with the industry’s explosive growth. While existing legal frameworks from traditional sports offer a foundation, they often fall short in addressing the unique aspects of digital competition. Collaborative efforts between legal professionals, esports organizations, and game developers are crucial for establishing a robust legal framework. This framework should address issues like intellectual property rights, player contracts, visa regulations for international competition, and potential gambling concerns. By fostering a clear and adaptable legal environment, esports can navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, ensuring fair play, protecting players and organizations, and solidifying its position as a legitimate and thriving industry.


1. Is esports considered gambling?

This is a tricky one! Esports legality often hinges on the distinction between games of skill and chance. Many countries don’t have specific esports regulations, and existing gambling laws might apply. Generally, games where success relies more on player ability than luck are considered exempt from gambling restrictions.

  1.  Are there any organisations governing eSports globally?

Two major organizations, the International Esports Federation (IESF) and Global Esports, are pushing for esports’ legitimacy on the world stage. The IESF, founded in South Korea, focuses on gaining official recognition for esports as a whole. They organize international tournaments like the World Esports Championship.

  1. Are there any actions undertaken by the Indian government to regulate Esports?

India’s eSports scene is booming, but there are no specific laws governing it yet. However, there are signs that the government is paying attention. For instance, in February 2021, the former Sports Minister Mr. Kiren Rijiju acknowledged the growth of eSports in Parliament. Additionally, a draft paper by NITI Aayog on regulating online fantasy sports platforms suggests that the government may be considering regulations for eSports as well.

  1. Has any country recognised Esports formally?

A growing number of countries are recognizing the potential of eSports. For instance, the United States has begun issuing athlete visas to professional eSports players. Similarly, South Korea’s national sports regulator, the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, has recognized the Korea Esports Association. There is no doubt that eSports is steadily gaining international recognition.


The Developing Legal Framework for Esports and Competitive Gaming

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