Benjamin Niang, for the France Esports association
Representative for the Syndicat des Éditeurs de Logiciels de Loisirs (SELL), Benjamin Niang is also on the board of directors of the France Esports association, which brings the various stakeholders in this fast-growing sector together.
Published on 06/12/2023
Could you introduce yourself in a few words?
I am responsible for Public Affairs and Europe at SELL, the syndicate of video game publishers, which represents the twenty-five largest publishers in the sector in France, both French and international. I am also a member of the board of directors of the France Esports association, where I represent the interests of SELL within the college of publishers and developers.
What is esport?
Esport, or electronic sport, refers to the competitive play of video games by professional or amateur players in video game competitions. This practice should not be confused with associated with sport or virtual sport. Of course there are sports-based video games, however the majority of esports games have nothing to do with sport. As a representative of SELL, I am very committed to this distinction.
France Esports is an association that brings together the main stakeholders from this ecosystem in France. What is the role of the association and who are your members?
France Esports is made up of several colleges: one for video game publishers and creators, as mentioned, but also a college of players and clubs, and a college of promoters, which includes tournament organisers and professional teams. The association thus covers a large part of the ecosystem, but not the entirety. Its role is to develop and structure the world of esports, representing both the interests of the amateur sector and those of professional stakeholders.
Esports is a fast-moving industry. What are the major challenges you are currently facing? And what concrete goals do you want to pursue in years to come?
The French government has recently lowered the VAT on esports events to 5.5%, the same rate as sports competitions and cultural events, which was a real victory for us. We have also made further progress on the talent passport and player visas. Beyond that, we work on background issues, such as structuring the amateur sector and the network of esports associations. Our role is to connect with publishers, who are the holders of licences and intellectual property, but also to position ourselves on societal topics, esports being both a media vector and a creator of intergenerational links. In response to certain tendencies, our role is also to move things forward on topics such as diversity, inclusion and online toxicity. To do this, we are working with governments to make progress, especially at a legislative level.
Esports have become more than just entertainment. Could you tell us about the social impact of esports?
When we talk about esports, we are talking about ten million participants or spectators, with thousands of people taking part in competitions and extraordinary online amplification. As an entertainment sector, it is one of the largest vertical markets in the video games industry. Gaming and esports have become a core sector, thanks in part to their impact on younger generations. Esports have developed extensively in recent years, especially in terms of their anchorage in society. This involves new responsibilities: video gaming is an accelerator of social inclusion, it is a highly accessible leisure activity and it involves a large social mix. It is also a media vector that can have an impact on young people, at a time when they are showing disinterest in public affairs, and some young people are feeling less and less concerned with citizenship, while looking at traditional media with a very critical eye. Our role is therefore to forge a connection in society, because there is always room for improvement from this point of view. To give you an example, I could mention ArmaTeam, a French esports organisation that won the MI France 2030 call for tender with a project supported by a French university that will allow students to benefit from a programme combining esports and education.
In recent years, esports have drawn increasing interest from international sports organisations. While not yet part of the official programme for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, dedicated events are being organised alongside the Olympic competitions. Can you tell us more? More generally, what links are there between sport and esport?
This year's Olympic Esport Week was held in Singapore, and it was the first time the IOC have taken an interest in esports. Among other things, we had five French champions, not Olympians, but still champions, for example Dina who won the Just Dance competition. On this matter, however, I represent the views of publishers, which are not necessarily shared by others in the ecosystem. It is therefore important to point out that other members of France Esports may have different opinions from mine. From the publishers' point of view, the challenge lies with the players, but above all with the issue of intellectual property, since it is the publishers who hold the licences on which the competitions are based. As I mentioned earlier, you shouldn't confuse sport with esport, as most of the biggest esports competitions take place around games like League of Legends, Valorant or Counter Strike, which have nothing to do with sport. Unlike sport, the intellectual property associated with these games is owned by publishers, i.e. by private stakeholders. This is not the case for football or basketball, which do not belong to anyone. It is therefore impossible to apply the sporting infrastructure and regulatory framework to esports.
France Esports and the Institut français worked together to develop an esports handbook for the French cultural network abroad. What is the aim of this publication?
This handbook, developed by the Institut français and France Esports, will be a toolkit for the French cultural network abroad. It will present the esports ecosystem and its operation, its development challenges in France and abroad, and propose different approaches and intervention methods for the cultural network, taking into account geographical specificities. Finally, it will highlight initiatives that have already been carried out in order to share best practices. It is an honour and a pleasure for us to work with the Institut français and the cultural network as they are becoming increasingly involved in this sector. This corresponds with our desire to collaborate with public institutions. On the one hand, the French cultural network abroad seems to be aimed at increasing skills in the sector, which is so important for our youth, and on the other hand, we are very interested in offering information that comes directly from our ecosystem to French or international stakeholders, through the cultural network.