Everyone is talking about esports. More than two thirds of German citizens are familiar with these competitions, which take place in computer and video games. In fact, approximately 12 million Germans have already watched esports broadcasts themselves. This makes it clear that esports have already achieved a high level of relevance in German society. They also offer a great deal of potential in the economic sphere.

According to surveys conducted by the market research company Newzoo, the global esports market is set to reach approximately 1.6 billion euros by 2024. In addition, the number of people viewing esports tournaments worldwide is expected to grow to more than 640 million people by 2025. This presents Germany with an opportunity to position itself as a pillar of the European and international esports scene: as the home and venue of a number of internationally renowned competitions, including the Intel Extreme Masters Cologne tournament, the League of Legends Championship Series and the Valorant Champions 2021 tournament in Berlin, Germany can play a leading role in esports.

Yet in spite of all the positive developments and forecasts, esports in Germany still lack some key elements of the policy framework necessary to continue growing stronger. For example, the official acknowledgement of esports clubs’ non-profit status – something that was agreed upon in the German government’s coalition agreement back in 2018 – has still not been delivered. This is needed first and foremost by associations whose non-profit esports programmes are aimed at amateur or semi-professional players. Like all other associations, these clubs take responsibility for each other and for society at large. Yet unlike other associations, to date esports associations have not been able to enjoy the benefits of tax exemption, reduced bureaucracy or the opportunity to apply for EU and German federal government funding for projects.

Furthermore, municipalities continue to do far too little to attract international esports tournaments, in spite of the positive impact hosting these events has on host cities, including for their hotels, restaurants and bars, and the benefits these tournaments hold for raising a city’s international profile. Katowice offers an excellent example of what a close and successful partnership can look like. The Electronic Sports League, or ESL for short, has been holding the Intel Extreme Masters event in this Polish city since 2014, and during this time the tournament has become the world’s largest esports event, drawing more than 170,000 visitors. Over the course of five years, the city of Katowice provided 12.5 million zloty (approximately 3.38 million US dollars) for the two-week event, working closely with the event’s organisers to create the best possible conditions for spectators. At the same time, esports fans poured money in the city in the form of hotel bookings, money spent in restaurants and bars, and other such expenditures. The economic leverage effects demonstrate just how worthwhile greater involvement from municipalities and states can be in this area.

In addition, support for esports talents in Germany remains underdeveloped. Support for initiatives like the esports player foundation can help combat this by supplying young esports talents with wide-ranging assistance as they strive to reach the top of their field. Greater openness to some of the most successful esports titles like ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Counter-Strike’ would also represent a positive development.

In August 2018, the German Federal Foreign Office made a welcome move by simplifying entry requirements for esports players from non-EU countries, making it easier for professional players from these areas to come to Germany. It has also been good to see how the state of Schleswig-Holstein is supporting the establishment of community esports facilities and has set up a state centre for esports. In addition, since 2022 the Esports Association of Schleswig-Holstein has been holding the first (and to date only) state championships in German esports. Schleswig-Holstein has also formed its own esports team comprising ten top talents – the aim is to lend them the support necessary to foster their careers in esports. The state of Saxony-Anhalt also offers funding for esports clubs, and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is a co-initiator and supporter of the esports player foundation. Germany has the potential to become one of the world’s most renowned esports locations, but it will have to improve conditions for esports if it wants to tap this potential.