The global eSports market generated US $325 million of revenue in 2015 and is expected to make $463 million in 2016; the global eSports audience in 2015 was 226 million people.

The emergence of eSports from modest online competitions among game enthusiasts to large scale spectator events involving professional competitors has transformed the gaming industry over the course of the last decade. Understanding and leveraging the myriad of intellectual property (IP) rights and potential issues unique to eSports can be fundamental to developing and sustaining success in this immerging industry.

IP associated with the content, characters and gameplay of a particular eSport game is generally owned by the game developer as the original creator of the game. Such rights are largely protected by copyright, trademarks and patents. Savvy game developers will understand that granting limited rights to use certain of this IP can be beneficial to promoting the game and strengthening their brand/foothold within the industry. Reciprocally, eSport participants and support service providers can likewise better develop widespread recognition and earning power by being able to use IP associated with a particular eSport game. Thus, developers and gaming professionals should be keen to consider potential licensing arrangements covering the use of eSport IP as being mutually beneficial.

Equally important is a thorough understanding the scope of potential protections for eSport content so as to avoid potential conflicts that may arise from unauthorized use or use beyond the grants of a license. Although existing IP regulations and legal precedent specific to eSport issues is a long way from being developed, a preemptive review and analysis of potential rights associated with particular eSport content under existing IP rubrics can go a long way towards avoiding future conflicts and potential liabilities.

To be sure, the proliferation of eSports is already evident here in Chicago as seen from the growth of groups such as the Chicago eSports and Gaming Organization and Robert Morris University being the first college in the U.S. to offer scholarship money to “e-athletes.” We are looking forward to learning more about the future of Chicago Gaming during Techweek Chicago at FTW Chicago: The Arcade Reimagined.