‘Esports is like a language now,’ says Chaesub Lee of UN telecom body


New Delhi |

Published: August 4, 2020 1:24:54 pm


Written by Navanwita Bora Sachdev

Global Esports Federation and United Nations’ (UN) International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have joined hands for a global esports dialogue.

Following the pandemic induced lockdown, the boost that the esports ecosystem has received is making the world sit up and take notice. The high engagement of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in international gaming has brought in the UN’s ITU as well.

The GEF has joined the ITU, and they are ready to launch a global dialogue supporting the fast-growing and competitive esports industry. The aim of this dialogue is to create international standards and guidelines for the esports ecosystem.

Chaesub Lee, the Director of ITU, and Frederic Werner, Head of Strategic Engagement in ITU, agreed to answer a few questions regarding the rising significance of esports. Lee says this is a great opportunity to leverage for the world economy, in spite of the unfortunate situation of COVID-19.

“Esports is like a language now. In general, people understand gaming. Electronic gaming is combining with physical exercise, augmented or virtual reality, which is developing our sense of technology,” he says.

Werner says esports is probably the biggest industry that no one talks about or knows about yet.

“Most people still think of esports as what teenagers play in their basement late at night. But there’s actually a huge industry and we’ve just scratched the surface,” he says.

The skyrocketing revenues esports organisations are making has pushed the ecosystem to surpass even Hollywood and the music industry. In 2020, the global video gaming industry is expected to reach a worth of roughly $159 billion. This is four times more than the revenue generated by the box office of the movie industry and almost three times more than the music industry so far.

Such success has made the esports industry work on improving themselves in terms of communication and workplaces. The dialogue is proof of that.

Chaesub Lee, the Director of ITU

With big bucks pouring in, the future of esports in market size and economy is growing. With the use of ICT, the industry uses different combinations of technology, including extended use of mobiles with 4G and 5G technology.

The launch of ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit has attracted different industries looking for a partner to work on the intersection of their industry and ICT, including fintech, autonomous driving, and healthcare. Now, through the COVID crisis, Werner says ICT at esports and gaming have been seen as ‘some of the unsung heroes of the crisis.’

Helping achieve development goals

Beyond gaming, the ITU sees the esports industry as a high potential area to advance a number of the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, in the area of healthcare and wellbeing active esports can help people to be more aware of fitness.

“Esports is changing the world from just gaming to something healthy, that helps with exercise. An educational aspect is also included, so easily or naturally, people are learning through esports. The involvement of software also presents opportunities to developing countries,” says Lee.

Werner points out that the explosion of esports and gaming during COVID, more than a game, has been a way of connecting people, of including people, helping people to participate in a time that was difficult for everyone.

“So it’s a natural step for both the gaming community and the telecommunication community to collaborate with the goal of more participation, more inclusivity, and also advancing a number of SDGs,” he says.


Werner says esports can be a great tool to include people with disabilities. An Information Solutions Group survey showed way back in 2008 that one out of every five gamers is disabled.

“Someone may have been stuck in a wheelchair or had certain disabilities. All of a sudden, through virtual reality and new gaming technologies and techniques, they can participate in ways that they never imagined before and also compete on equal footing with others. Whatever their disability is, it’s not a hindrance,” explains Werner.

Gender inclusivity is another area that champions the esports cause, with more women joining gaming environments through competitive esports. Esports is creating more inclusive communities for girls and women.

“It’s also a way of building communities among girls and women who maybe didn’t have access to traditional community building activities, because a lot of sports are still male dominated,” says Werner.

Frederic Werner, Head of Strategic Engagement in ITU

Education avenues

With the ICT aspect of esports, the industry also has something to offer in the form of education and training in different formats. From a technology perspective this relates to ITU. The quality of the network at a gate, the environment needed to have a good gaming experience, will depend on the evolution of various technologies like cloud gaming, mobile gaming, virtual reality etc.

It is noteworthy that all of these areas will require higher cooperation between game developers, gamers, and also the telecom providers who provide the network on which these games will increasingly run in the future. As Werner reveals,

“We do have some standard development work around gaming, more along the lines of the quality and performance of the gaming experience, whether it’s in a cloud environment or virtual reality. We’re also involved in video coding and video compressions,” explains Werner.

Why international standards

There are a number of challenges when it comes to ethics in esports, says Werner. These include data privacy, toxic online behavior, and cyber bullying. These challenges are one of the reasons the GSF approached the ITU.

“They were looking for a global neutral platform on which they could engage with all these different stakeholders to have an open global dialogue to discuss. It’s far from solved, but there are steps being taken to work towards that. And so what we launched as the first step is a global dialogue on e-sports,” he says.

The fan base of esports is such now, that international competitions hold much repute, audience reaction matters. In such a scenario, says Lee, if a player moves faster because of a better connection and equipment, it becomes unfair.

Keeping this in mind, the current dialogue plans to form international standards for the esports ecosystem.

Also, like any other industry, developed nations are already years ahead in esports, which means the development of the ecosystem is already lopsided. Lee agrees that while this is significant, it will not be easy to bring about the desired equality.

“In case of esports, all development is going to developed countries while the developing countries are becoming just a consumer. That’s not good. Still, this is an opportunity for development. Developed countries are using better facilities, devices, realistic graphics, big screens. For the moment, it’s difficult to shorten this gap, but esports can help developing regions to build their own community,” he says.

He thinks just as developing countries in Latin America and Africa have built a strong presence in sports like football, they can do the same in esports by building communities.

“Even in football, developed nations have nice playgrounds, but many countries in Latin America and Africa have just ground without grass, but they still compete. Esports gives these nations a similar opportunity. We have to see how we can encourage them. If an organisation like ITU, with so many members and international standing, can engage in it, it might be helpful to speed up this interest,” he says.

Navanwita Bora Sachdev is a freelance contributor and the editor of The Tech Panda

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