ESI’s Digital Summit has highlighted the growth of esports in terms of its global viewership and in its betting take-up. Yet, as esports becomes more popular, it heightens its risk of match fixing and corruption.
One of the summit’s concurrent themes, esports and betting stakeholders observed and debated the complexities of maintaining esports integrity, amid distinct wagering intricacies and unique elements related to its competitive play.
Speaking on one of the Summit’s panels Stepan Shulga, the head of esports and Parimatch, emphasised that traditional sportsbooks need to be aware of the risk of match-fixing and slowly introduce esports events into its platforms.
“Match fixing is the biggest problem in esports, especially in esports betting,” he said.
“Sometimes our customers say ‘can you tell us why you don’t offer this tournament?’ and we have to answer that for us it’s too risky because we don’t know the organiser. In esports it’s in very rare cases when you can say that it’s official, like these are official games. So, for me match fixing is a problem.”
Pavol Krasnovsky, CEO at RTSmunity, explained more: “I will give you an example, if we observe the intensity of the bets in small tournaments. Fair Price is the price based on the match data and then we compare it with the implied price which can include incoming bets.
“Then for the small tournaments the dividend is huge, the Fair price is let’s say 2.0 but some punters are willing to place on the odds which are 1.2, because they already know what is the result of the match and this is a huge problem.”
Speaking from first-hand experience, Luckbox CEO Quentin Martin argued that as long as sportsbooks are knowledgeable and that esports betting has limitations depending on the reputation of the competition, then the issue will be no greater than in traditional sports.
“I see it (match-fixing in esports) as a growing pain, not a significant issue. Esports is getting huge, the more tier one events we have the fewer integrity issues,” he said.
“Obviously if you are going to a Taiwanese qualifier, who you don’t really know and they are not official, then yeah that is suspect and that comes back to your ability to risk manage. Are you player-profiling correctly? Have you set your limits and risk reductions on those markets?
“To come back to integrity in general, just as you know that if you are betting on the qualifier games in tennis, you know it has integrity issues. If you are betting on Wimbledon you are probably okay. I don’t think its a problem long-term.”
ESI’s ‘The Esports Betting Boom’ panel, moderated by Mishcon de Reya LLP associate Tom Murray, also discussed the importance of traditional sportsbooks and how esports can help develop a new generation of punters over the long-term.
Simon Teunissen-Oligboh, Sportsbook Marketing Strategy Manager at Unibet, stated: “I think as a traditional bookie we have already made some big steps into esports.
“I think esports is really important to Unibet’s strategy and the target audience. One third of the population is considered a gamer, their average age is younger than our normal punters by a couple of years. We value esports as a growing category for us and this only enhances why we should be focussing on it because esports is really good in times like this.”
Whilst the panelists were keen to highlight the topic of match-fixing and the role of traditional sportsbooks, the main reason why these topics are becoming publicised is due to the significant interest and increase in revenues coming from the esports betting industry. Teunissen-Oligboh highlighted that in particular sports centric titles have grown in prominence over the coming months, in particular the rise of betting on FIFA.
He explained: “Before this (the global pandemic) there was hardly any activity on FIFA . You hear people in the business ask ‘why not push FIFA more?’ But then you look at the numbers and then it’s probably like one per percent of our total esports activity. Now you just see it almost overtaking the big ones, like Counter Strike, League of Legends, Dota.
“So definitely I think traditional sport punters are going into FIFA because it’s more well known to them.”
The question is then raised as to how sustainable the esports betting sector is given the fact that, presumably, once live-sport resumes the amount of punters betting on sports-centric titles will start to decrease. Luckbox’s CEO believes that whilst certain players will drop off and return to their traditional markets, there has still been a significant enough rise to continue the industry’s momentum after restrictions are eased.
Martin stated: “You’ve got the resurgence of FIFA and NBA2K which prior to the pandemic I guarantee made less than one per cent volume of all of the people on this call for their betting volume in esports. Whereas now it does up to 10/20 per cent. Now that traffic is from more of a traditional sports source, it’s not from the previous diehard esports better.
So, I think as this pandemic starts to ease and life starts to return to some semblance of normality, I think we will see a drop in FIFA traffic potentially.
“However, the upsurge in esports betting is coming from the exact same demographics as beforehand. I don’t see the ‘new normal’ that this pandemic has accelerated esports to, dropping substantially post this event.”
To conclude ‘the esports betting boom’ has driven more eyes to the industry than ever before. Nevertheless, according to the panel, without a proper understanding and knowledge of the sector traditional sportsbooks will be unable to fully maximise its true potential.