Esports reclassified as skill-based competitions in Quebec: A big win in the fight to end player exclusion

by Josh Bury Nov 28 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of FQSE / Morguefile

The Canadian province of Quebec will no longer consider esports competitions to be "publicity contests," instead confirming their reclassification as skill-based competitions. The reduction in ambiguity is a step toward helping players from Quebec avoid continued exclusion in some international esports competitions.

The announcement comes from the Fédération Québécoise de Sports Électroniques, an organization that has advocated for the legal reclassification and is otherwise concerned with the development and promotion of esports in the province.

They've spent nine months — since the organization's inception — arguing that the law should be changed, while the effort as a whole has been ongoing for a year and a half, since it was started by the now-defunct Boreal Esports organization.

In Quebec, esports competitions were within the jurisdiction of the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, the government department responsible for regulating alcohol, gambling, horse-racing and combat sports.

Residents in the rest of Canada's provinces and territories are likely no stranger to the term "offer void in Quebec." The province's rules about sweepstakes are quite simply stricter than elsewhere in the country, meaning that companies simply opt not to include the province to avoid dealing with additional complications.

Dawei Ding is vice-president of FQSE, as well as a law student. He said that, with the previous classification, the laws were also easier for esports tournament organizers to avoid than to learn.

"Many organizers of esports tournaments such as Blizzard and MLG weren’t sure if their event qualified as a 'publicity contest' because the term is loosely defined," he explained. "Since they didn’t want to take any chances (the penalty can be as high as $70,000), they simply decided to exclude Quebec residents from their tournaments so the Quebec law wouldn’t be applicable to them."

Jérome "KilluZiioN" Tanguay's attempted participation in the 2015 Road to BlizzCon is just one of likely thousands of cases of Quebec residents being excluded from tournaments. A Heroes of the Storm player, KilluZiioN could not fight for the right to participate in the game's inaugural competitive appearance at BlizzCon, because the rules specifically prohibited it.

When this effort began, Ding went to his law background to determine how best to approach the situation. Eventually, he settled on writing to tournament organizers to convince them that the province would not consider an esports tournament to be a publicity contest.

But still, it was safer for organizers to steer clear. Without some kind of official confirmation from the RACJ that the tournaments would not be considered publicity contests, major esports companies often used the cold calculus of risk management and opted out of Quebec.

To get that official confirmation, Ding had to convince the RACJ that esports were skill-based competitions akin to sports. The biggest barrier, he said, was just explaining what esports actually are. Most of the people involved had "no idea what I was talking about, not the esports part and even less the exclusion part."

"This is true especially for older generations which include the people who work at the RACJ. It took a lot of effort just to make sure that we were talking about the same thing. To get people to understand the dynamic behind esports, I had to use diagrams, videos, pictures and even live streams!"

Now, after a year and a half of work, Ding has scored a major victory for esports in Quebec. The reclassification means that, for esports organizers, there's no longer the threat of having to meet the requirements that sweepstakes and other "publicity contests" do. The RACJ has issued a French-language letter confirming the change, with an English letter coming soon.

The situation is now in the hands of the tournament organizers, who will undoubtedly have their legal teams review the letter to confirm that they are freed from the risks.

After defining both esports and the term "competition," the letter clearly states that the RACJ does not believe that it has jurisdiction over esports events, noting that "it does not appear to us that the primary goal is the promotion of commercial interests, but rather to permit video game players to compete among themselves in order to determine who possesses the greatest skills in this field, and like all competitions, prizes are given to the most talented participants."

Ding is optimistic about the outcome. While it now falls to organizers to remove exclusionary language from their tournament rules, he thinks the letter sends a clear message.

"Exclusion is not over yet. The final step is to bring this official letter of the RACJ to all the companies around the world that are still excluding Quebec players. We believe that once they read it, they will have no choice but to amend their rules."

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.