Fresh from announcing his firm’s first esports centric data and integrity partnership with ESL the world’s largest eSports network, SBC catches up with Sportradar CEO & Founder Carsten Koerl.
A leading figurehead in sports and wagering data, Koerl sheds insight and opinion on the growth of esports, its potential integrity challenges and the sectors development of competitive/wagering functions.
SBC: Hi Carsten good to catch up, as a betting and data industry veteran what are your initial impressions on eSports as a sports and business entity?
Carsten Koerl: I think most seasoned sports and betting industry operators would recognise that in 2015, esports is a by-word for innovation, excitement, drama, youth and the future. Across all measures, it simply cannot be ignored. From a purely sporting point of view, we can look at some key performance indicators: mid-week matches regularly garner over 100,000 viewers online and recent figures claim 205 million people worldwide watched or played esports in 2014. North America and Europe now claim 28 million esports fans and that number is growing by 21 per cent a year.
Then you look at the business indicators: companies such as Coke, Nissan, and Red Bull have joined recent tournament sponsor rosters while the prize pool for The International has increased by more than 580 per cent since 2012! We have been developing our expertise and team for a while now and are delighted that we have secured our partnership with ESL and can really begin to make our presence and value known in the esports ecosystem.
SBC: You touch on the ESL deal, which is a pretty comprehensive collaboration. Can you outline exactly what makes up the partnership?
CK: ESL is one of the most established names and the biggest player in the market with strong relationships with the big publishers. This partnership will allow us to receive valid and reliable data on an automated and exclusive basis. We will become the provider of the full pre-match life cycle of odds, statistics and live scores, in-play odds and streaming, allowing our betting operators clients the opportunity to tap into the esports market like never before.
The exclusive real-time data will be provided via API, completely scout free, and will ensure the data is received as fast as possible, as accurate as possible and free of error or interference. We will also be the exclusive provider of the fastest live streams that are at least 30 seconds faster than any other stream available to online operators. As always with Sportradar, speed and accuracy that operators can rely on characterises our offering.
SBC: eSports is a fast growing market with many unique player and game intricacies, how does this impact the monitoring of competitive activity?
CK: I think you raise a really fundamental point here. esports as a catch-all term is a bit of a misnomer because it bunches all the different games together.
Our concern, and the concern of the people in the esports ecosystem, is that those looking to enter the market and/or service it, don’t appreciate that. Each game is separate. Each publisher is different. They are all separate sports with different gameplay mechanics, audiences, locations, rules and risks. We have taken the time to build up our internal expertise not only in ‘esports’, but in each game: Dota 2, CS:GO, League of Legends etc. That dedication and understanding of the landscape was what drew ESL to us and why they have trusted us not only to be their betting partners, but so importantly, their integrity partners across their competitions and tournaments, and across the different games those include.
SBC: You have entered an integrity partnership ESL, at this early stage of partnership and industry growth how should integrity factors be defined by stakeholders?
CK: ESL are truly at the vanguard of this sector. We have seen impressive figures across the industry, but ESL have their own: in the last 18 months, top team salaries have increased tenfold, while in the same timeframe, prize money purses have risen four times across their competitions. But ESL are not just about opportunity. They are also about responsibility; which is why we are delighted to be working with them. This year they were first to move on a key integrity issue: anti-doping, announcing plans to update their regulations back in July. By partnering with Sportradar, they have made a statement that they want to be the esports innovator with the most sophisticated, most engaging and more beneficial relationship with their data and the betting world. Match manipulation monitoring is at the heart of that and it should reassure all stakeholders, including betting operators, that the Fraud Detection System will be applied to all ESL’s competitions and tournaments.
SBC: Sportradar has worked with a number of sporting associations and governing bodies, can cross learnings from traditional sports be passed on to a virtual play format such as eSports?
CK: Yes absolutely…We already offer a full suite of betting solutions to 30 other sports and offer tailored versions of the Fraud Detection System to ten sports. So there is a great deal of overlap. We are treating esports exactly the same: we have the specialists, we understand betting and we are providing exactly the same suite of services that we would to any other, more ‘traditional’ sport. But as I mentioned above, the specificities of not only the industry at large, but also each of the games involved cannot be ignored. So all our products and services have been completely tailored to each of the game formats and competition formats. It is only with that investment of time, resources and expertise into providing bespoke solutions that are our operator clients can continue to rely on our usual reliability, accuracy and speed.
SBC: In terms of integrity and player and customer protection, what advice would you give bookmakers eyeing potential eSports activity
CK: I think this partnership showcases that we are the go-to betting solution provider to the betting industry. But what is truly ground-breaking with this ESL partnership is that we are engaging the revolutionary distribution concept made possible by our Managed Trading Services. Our MTS capabilities mean we will have access to each and every ticket and this is the only way to guarantee stable margins, to prevent match fixing and to offer an unmatched live betting product. Using the MTS for this purpose is new and is a clear sign that we are committed to meeting the needs of this unique sport and innovating in a way that will ensure the most reliable service to our bookmaker clients and most in-depth monitoring for stakeholder peace of mind.
SBC: Finally, as the eSports market attaches wagering and further competitive elements, will this new market introduce new corporate players to the sports betting market. Will eSports blur the lines of the betting industry?
CK: Unsurprisingly, esports is proving to be a real magnet for those interested in opportunities: whether profile-raising, revenue-generating etc. Like I said above: difficult to ignore. One set of interesting entrants are the fantasy sport giants. Just last month, only a day after DraftKings announced it would be offering fantasy competitions around competitive esports, rival FanDuel announced its acquisition of AlphaDraft, a site that offers fantasy contests focused on esports. That those two are joining the current incumbent Vulcun, which offer seven figure US dollar prize pools, should be seen as an indicator of growth.
As for general interest, big companies are already sponsoring esports heavily, including Intel and Red Bull. Let’s be honest here. Esports offers a powerful avenue into the incredibly valuable 16-25 male demographic that corporations are so keen to get their products in front of. We fully expect more corporations and stakeholders to gravitate towards esports as they look to ride the wave of this growing phenomenon. It’s an exciting sport that we are looking forward to service and our suite of solutions will change the way bettors bet on its competitions and reassure stakeholders in equal measure.
Carsten Koerl – Founder & CEO Sportradar