What Senate Bill 206 Could Mean for Collegiate Esports

07 Oct 2019

What Senate Bill 206 Could Mean for Collegiate Esports

Student athletes cannot be paid to play sports for their university or otherwise use their own name or image to make money. This has been a fact of collegiate sports for quite some time, as per the regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.). Now, this long-standing rule is being challenged.

On September 30, during a television show hosted by LeBron James, California Governor Gavin Newson signed Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act. The act, which received unanimous, bipartisan support, would permit California university athletes to obtain endorsements from companies and hire agents once it takes effect in 2023. Furthermore, the bill would prevent the N.C.A.A. from banning such students from competing in sports.

Public opinion of the bill is positive. A Seton Hall Sports Poll reveals that 60% of Americans approve of Fair Pay to Play. Furthermore, several politicians are already mimicking California and introducing similar bills for their own states. This puts pressure on the N.C.A.A. to change.

Newson believes Fair Pay to Play makes sense in a modern age where anyone can profit from marketing themselves. Athletes like Donald De La Haye of UCF have already struggled with being forced to choose between college sports eligibility and other means of marketing themselves, and Fair Pay to Play would eliminate that issue. “Every single student in the university can market their name, image, and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube channel, and they can monetize that,” says Newson. “The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?”

Additionally, universities make billions in revenue through sports events, but student athletes don’t see a single penny for playing. While the bill still does not let schools pay athletes directly, it could open up opportunities such as letting athletes make income by coaching or signing autographs. Senator Nancy Skinner, who wrote the bill, states, “People are just so aware of the fact that you’ve got a multibillion-dollar industry that—let’s set aside scholarships—basically denies compensation to the very talent, the very work that produces that revenue.”

LeBron James voiced his support, adding, “Athletes at every level deserve to be empowered and to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in a system where so many are profiting off of their talents. Part of the reason I went to the NBA was to get my mom out of the situation she was in. I couldn’t have done that in college with the current rules in place.”

The bill is shaking up traditional sports, but it has interesting implications for esports too. As esports continues to grow into a billion dollar industry, official university esports programs and teams are becoming increasingly common for many reasons. Adding an esports team is a way for schools to market themselves to the younger generation, which is more interested in esports than traditional sports. In particular, many small or rural schools that lack the resources to develop traditional sports programs have invested in esports instead since the cost of creating an esports program is more affordable. Esports has educational benefits as well; it can provide opportunities for students to learn about strategy, teamwork, communication, statistics, and business. For students with physical disabilities or other health restrictions, esports offers a great alternative to traditional sports while providing many of the same benefits.

Add in the fact that some universities are even offering scholarships for esports, and it is clear that colleges are starting to treat esports as seriously as traditional sports. Some may argue that esports are not “real” sports, but there are more similarities between the two than one may think. Both esports and traditional athletes attend meetings, practices, and competitions, devoting hours upon hours to improving their play. Both esports games and traditional sports games require sharp mental acuity and quick reflexes to win. Both esports and traditional athletes proudly wear their team jerseys when they compete. Eager, excited crowds around the world fill up stadiums and tune into streams to watch both types of athletes play.

Given these similarities, it is undeniable that esports are sports. That leaves us to consider whether or not Fair Pay to Play and similar bills should apply to esports players. In our opinion, they should. Like traditional athletes, many young esports players aspire to play professionally, but not all of them have scholarships or make money from their skills. With tuition costs and student debt increasing, bills such as Fair Pay to Play, as well as scholarships, will be just as crucial for university esports athletes as they are for traditional athletes. In fact, it is the norm for many esports players to make money off their image and likeness through means such as streaming on Twitch or creating content on YouTube. Considering this, it would not make sense to forbid university esports athletes from having such an income source if collegiate esports becomes subject to regulations like the N.C.A.A.’s.

If collegiate esports players agree to play for their university, the university must make sure to educate these players on the maturity level required to become a pro. If pay comes into effect, student-athletes, including collegiate esports players, need to be aware of any “dirty money” being thrown around—hence, the increased accountability toward scholarship money. If a student esports gamer does not feel quite ready to play for their school yet, they should not have to worry about being scrutinized for making money from their own image and gaming abilities in the meantime. 

The conversation between the N.C.A.A. and universities is now open, but collegiate esports has not been made part of the conversation yet. That should change, as collegiate esports has the potential to become even greater than it already is.