Celebrity endorsements and blurring lines between gambling and fantasy sports

·6-min read

Over the last few years, a number of global sports stars have shown their interest in gaming, ranging from being video game enthusiasts in their spare time to actually investing in the industry.

The likes of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan are best known for their investment in aXiomatic which is the parent company for Team Liquid. Team Liquid is one of the largest eSports organisations in the world and fields teams for several major events, including The International.

From boxing legend Mike Tyson, who made a 'strategic investment' in Fade 2 Karma (F2K), to two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, who launched his own eSports team, the interest for eSports among superstar athletes has been growing over the years. The list also boasts of names like Ronaldinho, who has made several forays into eSports, to David Beckham, who started out as the brand ambassador for Guild Esports before investing in it. Shaquille O'Neil, Alexander Rodriguez, Stephen Curry, and Steve Young are also part of the eSports/gaming gravy train.

By contrast, the instances of actual investments in gaming are relatively rare among Indian sportsmen. Men's cricket team skipper Virat Kohli, known to be an avid gamer, is considerably involved in the sector though. Kohli featured in a game developed by Nazara Technologies besides being the brand ambassador of Mobile Premier League (MPL). He has also invested in MPL's parent company Galactus Funware Technology Private Limited. This move has obviously raised some eyebrows as MPL also happens to be a sponsor for the Indian cricket Team.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

MS Dhoni is known for his love of First-Person Shooter (FPS) games such as Call of Duty Mobile (COD Mobile). As a matter of fact, it was revealed by his wife that during the lockdown in 2020, Dhoni would be talking about the games even in his sleep. As of today, Dhoni is the brand ambassador for Dream 11, which falls under the category of fantasy sports.

The likes of Hardik and Krunal Pandya, Suresh Raina, Prithvi Shaw, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir Murali Karthik, Kapil Dev, Leander Paes, and Geeta Phogat are all associated with various fantasy gaming platforms, or real money gaming, unlike their foreign counterparts.

As of today, there is very little distinguishing eSports, gaming, real-money gaming, and fantasy sports. There are many who believe it is inappropriate for sportsmen to promote real-money gaming. While it is very hard to pass judgement on the choices of the sportsmen, it is still possible to demystify the situation and understand the differences between gaming, eSports, fantasy sports, and real-money gaming. The easiest method to do so would be to first establish the relatively better-known relationship in this group.

Esports and gaming are often considered interchangeable. However, while eSports can the referred to as gaming, the other way round is not quite right. Esports is actually a sub-group within gaming, and there exist many games that do not qualify as eSports. The reason for this is quite simple. According to the Oxford dictionary, gaming is defined as 'the action or practice of playing video games.' At the same time, eSports is defined as, 'a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers.' The best method of remember the difference is to look at whether a game is a head-on competition or do the players compete through high scores and achievements in the game.

If the competition is in the form of a match of some kind, then it is probably an eSport. The definitions provided by Oxford do help shed light on the fact that there exist video games that are not played for spectator pleasure.

Fantasy Sports is actually a much older concept and has existed far longer than real-money gaming. Fantasy sport simply refers to a type of game where the players are expected to assemble their own virtual team for a regular sport (or eSport). The method for differentiating the performance is the statistical performance of the players selected in this virtual team.

Based on this statistical performance, points are awarded to the competitors and these points decide the winner. The duration of the competition can vary based on the fantasy sports platform being used. To understand this better it would be best to just take a look at any major sport today. There is an online version in which the fans are able to pick their favourite players and form their own teams and based on the performance of the players on their team they are awarded points. Given the unique nature of fantasy gaming, it always is based on a sport or in some cases, another video game.

The trickier part of this discussion is where to place real-money gaming. The name itself does give away some information on it. It always involves the movement of money between the two competitors. In most cases, the two or more people who are competing against each other add a set amount of money into a common pool and the final winner takes this money.

How is this different from gambling? With a lack of regulatory bodies, it is hard to differentiate, but one of the answers that have gained some acceptance, for the time being, is that if there is an element of skill involved, it is not gambling. With the problems gambling causes within society, it is quite easy to understand how real-money gaming and the fact that it is barely different from gambling do create unease among most people. This is also the reason why MPL, despite being backed from figures such as Virat Kohli and it also being a sponsor of the Indian men's cricket team, has faced a lot of opposition from the public.

It is best to understand that gaming is actually the umbrella group within which eSports, real-money gaming, and fantasy sports fall. Esports is one group within this that is defined by the fact that it is based on direct competition between players. Fantasy sports is another separate group within gaming that leans on either a sport or an eSport to create a simulated version of the actual competitions in which players compete by trying to pick the winning combination.

Real-money gaming is essentially any gaming related activity (this would include even the subgroups such as eSport or fantasy sport) that has real money being pumped in by players as a form of stakes. Given the fact that real money is being put forward as a wager, it does add elements of gambling into the picture. The argument being used today by most real-money gaming platforms is that skill decides who wins this wager and this is what makes it different from gambling. This is a rather loose claim that could be used even by gambling operations to legitimise themselves. Take the example of blackjack. If one was to accept the argument that card counting was a skill, blackjack can claim itself to be real-money gaming.

At a personal level, this writer would not play on any real-money gaming platform, but that remains a personal choice. Moving forward, we need stricter regulations to ensure that gambling operations do not make use of the loosely-worded definition for real-money gaming to seek legitamacy.

Also See: IPL 2021: High-flying RCB look to get better of in-form CSK in top-of-the-table clash

CSK vs RCB IPL 2021 Live Streaming: When and where to watch

Highlights, CSK vs RCB, IPL 2021, Match 19, Live Cricket Score: Jadeja's all-round heroics help Chennai thrash Bangalore

Read more on Sports by Firstpost.