ESI Digital – No Drama Please… Esports growth should be treated as business as usual 

Esports has been one of betting’s rising markets following the global health pandemic. Whilst live sports were abruptly  postponed, competitive gaming became a major player by simply shifting from an offline environment to online tournaments.

However for some of esports’ biggest betting operators, the attitude towards this rise has been fairly relaxed, partly due to the expectation that competitive gaming would match its growth profile – albeit not at this quick of a rate.

Speaking at ESI Digital Summer’s ‘Mid Year Review – Esports and Betting’ Adam Savinson, Head of Esport for Betway, emphasised that it’s business as usual for the bookmaker as he remains just as confident of the industry’s eventual growth as he did prior to the pandemic. 

Nevertheless, Savinson did highlight a recent upsurge of competitors trying to make their mark on esports’ markets, remarking: “The reality for us is it didn’t change anything. Esports has always been a massive focus for us. So even though the wider industry maybe had an awakening over the prominence of esports, and bookmakers have seen esports creep up, whether that’s due to League of Legends, CS:GO, Dota, or whether that’s because of the rise of FIFA betting, but for Betway Esports, nothing changed whatsoever.

“I think the biggest difference for me with that awakening is the rise in competitors. So people that in the past may have dismissed esports are now coming out of the woodwork saying we want to be the best. We want to dive headfirst. Lots of very interesting and questionable esports marketing activities by companies that don’t necessarily know their place, but also coming from that, some interesting and fresh, new perspectives.”

As Betway underlines that the global pandemic hasn’t affected the firm’s strategy, for other betting related industries it has certainly impacted the operational side of managing their businesses.  Martin Dachselt, the CEO of Bayes Esports, a data and services provider for competitive gaming, explained.

“At the start it was a challenge. Suddenly, there were questions regarding is this tournament happening? or is it going offline? Why is it cancelled?” Said Dachselt.

“Of course, our customers want to know, what can you deliver? And somethings where cancelled. This is a difficult situation. Then there are some technical differences. For example, you have delay for online tournaments. And we needed to sort out what’s the contract? What do the customers want?”

Still, despite these difficulties at first once they were discussed and rectified, business was only getting better for the data and services provider.

He continued: “We had over 30 new bookmakers which started with esports within two months then of course the turnover increased for the bookmakers. So in traditional esports it was significant . On the other side the most surprising was of course FIFA, which was for us zero before and then it even passed CS:GO which has the most value usually.”

Speaking of FIFA, one major talking point discussed in the panel, which was moderated by ESIC’s Commissioner Ian Smith, was the sudden upsurge in sports-simulated betting. 

The panel voiced diverse opinions on the topic, however, it was agreed by all that this trend will likely fade away as the sporting world comes back. Nevertheless the operators did not discount the use of eSoccer as Marek Suchar, Oddin’s Head of Partnerships, stated that it could fill a similar role to virtual sports in the traditional betting landscape.

Suchar explained: “I guess if we look at FIFA, we should be probably more speaking about its parallel with virtual betting rather than actually with traditional esports because I actually doubt that anybody knows those players behind the screen. They see this as an esport in a sense of competition, but at the same time, it doesn’t have the necessary following as Astralis in CS:GO or as Evil Genius’ in Dota. So I suspected, in the past, when somebody went to the bookmaker’s site, they were looking for some action and there was not that much to pick from. So they opted even for this tournament. And of course, when the real action returns, we will see a decline.”

The panel moved on to discuss which title could be the ‘next big thing’ for the esports betting markets, which has been traditionally dominated by Dota, CS:GO and League of Legends. The consensus was unanimous, if there was one title to look out for its Riot Games’ latest release ‘Valorant’.

“Are we gonna jump on the Valorant hype train now?” joked Pinnacle’s Trading Director ,Marco Blume. “Well it is the only thing that I think has a real shot right now.

“Riot Games (the title’s developer) has everything figured out from the teams to the franchises and the distribution network. I mean, everything is set in stone. Riot has the money behind it and it’s a good game compared to other games that also have a lot of money like Overwatch, so it’s actually solid. I think Valorant has a good chance. Everything else is all the same, it’s so niche and will not make it.”

However, despite the optimism by the panel, Savinson is keen to take a ‘wait and see’ approach before fully investing in the title’s potential.

Savinson added: “Look, I think in terms of what might be coming, of course, Marco is completely correct. That if Riot gets it right, Valorant is going to be successful. There’s already some main advantages of the fact that it doesn’t have real life guns, there’s no blood, it’s more accessible to certain media distribution that could really lead to a more global appeal. 

“That is exciting, but it’s also super early. So has there been that noticeable increase in betting? not yet.”

The final major talking point raised was which regions have embraced esports betting? And which countries are still pragmatic over this new industry, at least from a gambling sense. The operators detailed that if a new firm was to enter into the market then Northern European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which have a long history in esports, are the places to target. Whereas, for example, Italy is still behind the curb when it comes to betting on competitive gaming.

Blume further noted that in the near future the US should become a potential hub for esports betting  given its huge popularity and the fact that states are slowly relaxing regulations over allowing wagers in the industry.

“The classic Northern Europe or the CIS to Southeast Asia. Like there’s usually the esports belt. Southern Europe is very thin.

“The US is the big hope. Esports over there is huge. In the US, traditionally, it is four times the average viewership. 

“Hopefully if we look at the long term, there’s no way that the US is not regulating esports like in the same way that everybody else is. I mean, they want to make money in esports and it has people who want to bet on it.”

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