On this opening day of Paris Games Week, Secretary of State for Digital and Innovation, Axelle Lemaire says she is proud to have been able to legislate on e-sport. She does not fail to tackle Emmanuel Macron once again while claiming to be loyal whatever happens to the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic for 2017.
A Macbook sitting casually on a pile of files. A vertical red neon partially illuminates the room. Executives of his children stand on the table opposite the Frenchy Phantom enclosure by Devialet. A huge red rooster, logo of the French Tech, is posed near the window. A huge “Rabbids” plush adorns the room. Axelle Lemaire, Secretary of State in charge of Digital and Innovation does not like to receive journalists in her office in Bercy. She could have publicized her pregnancy while in government. Paris Match was in the line. It has not happened. If she agrees to receive Challenges, it’s to talk about the substance of the issues. And in particular provisions on video games on this opening day of Paris Games Week while its law for a digital Republic, adopted unanimously in early October, finally gives a regulatory framework to e-sport.
What is your role in the Vivendi-Ubisoft file? Isn’t it a political choice on the part of the State when Bpifrance has sold its shares to the Guillemot family, which is trying to resist Vivendi’s takeover bid?
Analysts will see what they want to see there. The important thing, faced with Vivendi’s rise in Ubisoft’s capital, is to leave the two stakeholders independent leeway. Bpifrance has decided to sell its shares to the company itself, so as not to take sides and leave their freedom to the players concerned. I was struck, during the General Assembly of Ubisoft, of the role played by the employees. They were present as shareholders to defend their company. I am convinced that their claim to preserve the independence and creativity of the company, which is a necessity in the video game industry, played a big part in tipping the scales.
However, this resistance did not pay off at Gameloft, which Vivendi managed to buy …
Gameloft is a beautiful structure with an economic model, based on mobile games, which is not at all the same. The lifecycles of their games are not the same either. They can benefit from the advantage of being part of Vivendi and its multi-sector approach.
The takeover of Oxent and Bang Bang Management by Webedia as well as ESL’s partnership with Vivendi show that the esports market is taking shape in France, what is the next step?
It is true that there is a beginning of structuring of the market. This confirms that the thousands of Internet users who asked us for official recognition of e-sport, during the public consultation on the law for a digital republic, were right. Securing the practice, by giving a legal framework to physical competitions, and a social status to the players, was necessary to create this air intake in France, while international competition is very strong with South Korea, Germany and Sweden which dominate the market.
By supervising the sector, we promote its economic development. The acceleration of investments in this area will also allow French players to shine internationally, while remaining in France. The video game suffers from a lack of recognition as a cultural practice, while it is the second leisure of the French behind reading. We must recognize those who participate in these competitions. We had flair, because our role is to prepare this movement which is not yet stabilized. I remember a conversation I had with my UK counterpart before Brexit. He explained to me that he had tried to follow our example in the UK but had not succeeded. He told me “in 5 years we will look back to say: what a mistake we made”.
Where is the French e-sport federation created under your sponsorship?
The creation of France eSports responded to the need to structure the sector around the three main categories of e-sport players: publishers, competition organizers as well as the players themselves. It was created last June in a very enthusiastic atmosphere. It is progressing well and must succeed in integrating both amateur and professional players. I went to Paris Games Week, which has become one of my favorite annual events because the atmosphere is electric and the enthusiasm is communicative. The first year, I went there to listen. In the second I made some promises. This third year is going to be memorable because I worked to keep those promises, and I came to say: “here is the result”.
Have you made your comeback in video games as a player?
I really have very little time to play. I am still loyal to Pacman. But the real player is my son. Thanks to him I discovered Minecraft, which is perfect for teaching children to develop their spatial awareness, to invent and to be creative. I belong to the generation intermediate between Generation Y, that of the “Millennials”, who are almost all gamers, and the one before me, and has not acquired this culture. I see my function as that of a link, a bridge between cultures and generations, between communities which are at the forefront of innovation and the rest of the population.
You had very harsh statements about the former Minister of the Economy in Le Monde. Have you been working better since Emmanuel Macron left the government?
I accepted to join the government to work. Today I make a very simple observation: we work better in government when we work together. I’m almost a senior in government, I’ve been here for two and a half years. Everything has always gone well when labor relations were fluid, and not guided by a personal agenda that takes precedence over government work. Today, Michel Sapin clearly supports my action, and all of Bercy is united to move forward. For the remaining months, my only agenda is to increase the level of awareness in France as to the fact that innovation is not a choice, but an imperative. I like this quote from Shimon Peres, who says “Caution is daring”. Innovation must be a principle of society and cross all public policies.
The left is in very bad shape now. Do you still believe in the chances of the PS winning the presidential and legislative elections in 2017?
What worries me most at the moment is the disinterest and distrust of our fellow citizens towards politics. There is a risk of tipping, a backward movement from a goal of progress, which was consensual for decades. Today we are witnessing a desire to step back in openness and internationalism, the mixture of cultures and peoples. I want my political family to be able to better defend these values in the face of the great threats that exist. I am talking about this nationalist, xenophobic, backward-looking movement, inclined to withdraw into oneself, which is expressed today in many countries: whether it is Donald Trump in the United States, the leaders of the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom, German nationalists who have the wind in their sails, or the FN and a large part of the French right.
Regarding the next deadlines, the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister know that I have always been loyal. I will naturally be present to defend the record of the Government in which I participated, and record of which I am proud. But that will not be enough, it will also require a project. The challenge for the next government will be to go even further in the ambition of reform and innovation.