"If we're seen as legitimate as the NFL, we're happy. We probably don't have the same standards as you have."
- ESL CEO Ralf Reichert, speaking to the integrity of the newly-established World eSports Association
This month the Electronic Sports League established the World eSports Association in an effort to "professionalize eSports" by, among other things, establishing regulations and standards for things like revenue share with the input of active professional eSports players and teams.
The WESA's bid to better regulate eSports, which is growing to rival the audience appeal of established sports and has had its own incidents of cheating, match-throwing and doping, is a bold one.
In a recent interview, GameSpot grilled two WESA representatives about how WESA plans to do business, and the disconnect between what the interviewer and the interviewees expect out of an eSports regulatory body is striking.
For example, WESA aims to establish things like tournament rules and player transfer regulations with the input of its player member council, which is comprised of eight active eSports teams. WESA will then sanction tournaments and leagues that agree to abide by those regulations, and collects money from them in return for its imprimatur.
But as GameSpot points out and (WESA executive chair Ralf Reichert acknowledges), teams on the WESA council help fund WESA's operations and can also compete in WESA-sanctioned tournaments. So what's to stop WESA member teams from proposing regulation changes that give them an advantage, or conspiring to vote down regulations that put them at a disadvantage? Should an eSports regulatory body operate independently of active players?
"I honestly don't think so," Reichert told GameSpot, comparing WESA to extant sports governing bodies like the NBA and FIFA. "How can you make a legitimate eSports association without the voice of the players?"
And as it turns out, right now the voice of the players carries a lot of power within the WESA. The organization currently has an interim commissioner, Pietro Fringuelli, who spoke frankly with GameSpot about his role within WESA and how it's designed to operate.
"Currently we have a system where most of the power is in the members' meetings [the pro-team meetings], so the decisions that the executive board [ESL executives] makes is very limited, but nevertheless they have power to make certain decisions," Fringuelli said, noting that he as commissioner doesn't have direct authority to make or enforce rules. "Other organizations have that [commissioners with authority], but here the power is only in the members meeting."
The full GameSpot article is well worth reading, as it showcases how eSports is maturing and the thorny problems involved with taking cues from the established operating models of traditional sports like football and soccer.