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The risks of human trafficking and exploitation in the gaming industry

The risks of human trafficking and exploitation in the gaming industry

Mission89 and a team student researchers from the Graduate Institute Geneva are researching the governance of esports structures and comparing them to the traditional sports industry.

Esports, short for electronic sports, is a form of competition using video games. Esports often take the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, either individually or in teams. With the increase in professional gamers and their group of fans, streaming platforms – such as Twitch TV, for instance – have created a new interactive Internet exclusive marketplace that does not require traditional broadcasting methods.

In the online gaming environment, individuals are free to communicate with each other. Moreover, it is an industry that attracts many young individuals and, in some cases, these young athletes can be drawn by “e-sport academies”, which are either independent entities or affiliated with private companies/schools that claim to provide the equipment, training and competitions required to succeed. This, combined with the relatively unregulated and open-natured rapid growth of the esports industry leaves children exposed to cyberbullying, online predators, sextortion, inappropriate content, and more.

Our research is extremely important as the relative newness of the industry means that oversight is disjointed or non-existent in some instances, leaving gaps for exploitation to occur. Through this collaborative initiative between Mission89 and a team of student researchers from the Graduate Institute Geneva, the research will aim to analyse in-depth the governance of esports structures to compare them to the traditional sports industry.

Esports is slowly being professionalised over the years, and as the industry is still establishing itself and getting the governance structures in place, loopholes in the protection of online gamers have the potential to appear. While the governance structures of traditional sports have not been able to eradicate the exploitation and trafficking of young athletes, they have been able to put policies and regulatory frameworks in place to address claims of the exploitation of amateur and professional athletes.

‘This Applied Research Project, in collaboration with Mission89, is at the forefront of research on sports and human trafficking. The research outputs the team will produce will certainly be crucial and pioneering resources for the protection of children in esports environments!’ Juliana Santos De Carvalho, Geneva Graduate Institute

The research aims to draw inspiration from the field of traditional sports to understand the diverse risks associated with specific groups of individuals within the esports community, particularly women, children, minorities and those from the Global South. The research will explore the existing protection regulatory frameworks and mechanisms against child trafficking and their applicability to the online gaming industry and which safeguarding measures have been put in place by stakeholders in the esports industry to protect and/or address the exploitation and human trafficking of esports athletes, particularly those under the age of 18.

With the aim of proposing a set of transnational policies and/or procedures and regulatory frameworks to ensure that the general governance frameworks implemented serve their purpose as a safeguarding instrument for all children in the industry, the research will aim to understand who would be tasked with implementing these safety measures in the field of esports and which gaming and/or sports bodies would have oversight of the online gaming regulatory frameworks. The research will take on an intersectional approach to explore the multifaceted arena of the online gaming industry. Our research conjuncts with the idea of World Information Society Day, which is held annually on the 17th of May. The day focuses on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the rapidly digitalising world that we now live in.

‘Esports are fast becoming a dominant feature in our society attracting a younger generation. Young people participate in esports to communicate, compete and be part of a community. The regulation of the industry both in terms of self-regulation and government regulation remains at an early stage of development, and this presents a concern to the safety of children online. Therefore, this research will form the basis of a guiding tool and resource to support organisations in combating child exploitation in the online gaming industry’ Lerina Bright, Executive Director, Mission 89.

As the project progresses, the team would appreciate anyone who feels they could contribute to the research to contact them at ( We are incredibly excited about our potential collaboration and contribution to this upcoming field of research.

This article was originally published on the Mission 89 website


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Mission 89


Thursday, May 19, 2022 - 13:49

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