Veröffentlicht am 13.12.21

eSports in Germany: competition for recognition

Sales in the three-digit million range, arenas filled up to the roof and almost weekly reports from new professional players: eSport in Germany is developing at breakneck speed. A real mass phenomenon has developed from the niche within a very short time. From youth culture to a booming economic market - and to a new sport?

This is discussed as passionately as it is controversial. The fact is: As of today, eSport is denied legal recognition and thus elementary support in Germany. The question of promoting eSports has long since reached political discourse. Yes, it is firmly anchored in the coalition agreement between the CDU / CSU and the SPD. But what has actually happened since then? Can politics keep up with the social pace of eSports or is it just lagging behind inactive? An inventory in three parts.

1. eSports from the DOSB's point of view

In order to approach the topic, the first question that arises is: What actually makes a sport a sport? Is it just exercise? Or is the social relevance also decisive? Neither the state nor organized sport in the form of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) give a clear answer to this. Rather, recognition takes place in the course of a complex procedure. For example, in addition to motor activities, the DOSB also envisages sporting values as essential elements. A procedure that leaves plenty of room for interpretation and provides an ideal breeding ground for heated arguments.

This also happened with the topic of eSports. Proponents and critics struggle for a for and again. For the DOSB, the skills required in eSport - such as practiced hand-eye coordination or lightning-fast reactions - have not yet been sufficient to actually recognize eSport as a sport. After all: a working group on the subject of eSports has existed for some time at the umbrella organization for organized sports in Germany.

2. ESBD fights for recognition

If one takes the criteria of the DOSB as a basis, then from the point of view of the eSport Association of Germany (ESBD) eSport has long earned a permanent place in sport. The motor requirement is finally met by operating controllers, joysticks and the like. Much more than that: Researchers at the Sports University in Cologne even found that the physical strain in eSports is far higher than that of many other sports. Not to mention the active example of sporting values such as fairness, respect and tolerance.

3. Politics in a zigzag course

The federal government seems to be one step further compared to the official sports associations - at least in theory. In 2017, numerous parties advocated nationwide support for eSports. A year that, however, was dominated by the upcoming federal elections. Just the usual campaign banter, then? Not quite. Because hardly elected, the federal government made up of CDU / CSU and SPD agreed far-reaching measures to promote funding in the coalition agreement. For example, it is said that eSports should be recognized as a separate sport with club and association rights and that it should be established as an Olympic competition in the long term.

An honorable undertaking that has so far received little attention in everyday politics. Rather, politics currently only accompanies and observes the positions of sports associations, academics and sports lawyers with the indication that the sport institutions are initially required to develop a professional position. A blatant attempt to gallantly return the ball to the DOSB field.

What funding opportunities are there for eSports?

Admittedly, the recognition of sports does not fall within the remit of a federal government at the legal level. And yet it can have a massive impact. First and foremost, it is about the intensive dialogue with both the DOSB and the ESBD in order to place the topic high on the agenda. Above all, however, the government has the opportunity to legislate on non-profit law. In contrast to established sports clubs from other areas, eSports clubs do not (yet) benefit from the privileges of non-profit status. Less bureaucracy vis-à-vis the authorities, tax relief and access to communal areas are just some of the advantages of non-profit-making associations.

Probably the biggest plus is a completely different one. The non-profit status is an essential criterion for the inclusion of sport in the DOSB and can massively accelerate the recognition. Another point of contention is the issuing of visas for foreign tournament participants. The Residence Act stipulates that participation in competitions is possible for a maximum of 90 days within a period of twelve months. Additional changes are currently not planned, but are absolutely necessary for an independent league system with top foreign athletes. The government also does not consider it necessary to use competitive sports funding. On the other hand, Germany is considered to be quite attractive as a venue for eSports events - especially in terms of infrastructure and competence. The potential of eSports in terms of inclusion and social participation is always emphasized, but concrete measures are a long time coming.

How is the DFB actually positioned?

At the beginning of 2018, Reinhard Grindel described eSports as “impoverishment” and completely “absurd”. There is even talk of a danger to traditional football. More dislike from the top is hardly possible. And yet the chances are good that the DFB will correct its attitude towards eSports. Because Reinhard Grindel is an avowed critic, but also ex-president of the DFB since April 2019. His opinion no longer counts today. So is eSport about to be reassessed within the DFB?

That remains to be seen for now. But there are already positive signs. Grindel's successor Rainer Koch describes eSports as an integral part of football, at least in the meantime. Statements that almost sound like a turning point. However, the DFB restricts itself to football-related games and therefore prefers to speak of e-soccer. But at least in this area the signs of the times seem to have been understood. The proof was provided by the nomination of a German eNational team in March 2019 with the aim of representing German football in the virtual world in the future. So the beginning has been made.

Conclusion: Recognition of eSports in Germany remains inevitable

If you look outside the box and thus look beyond Germany, you will see that other nations are already one step further. For example, eSport is officially recognized as a sport by the Justice Department in the USA - and has been since 2007. Numerous American schools have already followed suit and also rate eSports as a sport that needs to be promoted in everyday life. And even in Asian countries like South Korea, eSport is a firmly established mass market with financial opportunities that are probably unique in their form. But standstill does not only prevail in Germany. Only Bulgaria can boast across Europe as a country that already officially recognizes eSports. Last but not least, the German government’s hesitant action also prevents a possible pioneering role within Europe.

Overall, the federal government lags far behind its own statements. What remains are clubs that struggle with legal uncertainty and continue to rely on self-organization. Meanwhile, the hype continues unperturbed even without recognition. So much so that more and more eSports clubs are now simply organizing themselves and Bundesliga soccer clubs are now setting up their own departments. And quite independently of official decision-makers. Developments that make it clear that a contemporary discussion about sporting recognition does not ignore the consideration of virtual game worlds. Because one thing is clear: the social rise of eSports has only just begun. The struggle for sporting recognition is inevitably extended.

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