Esports Betting Summit Review – Part 1 – Integrity and skins

The first Bullet Business Esports Betting Summit went off with a bang at the Royal Garden Hotel in London this week.

With a strong lineup of speakers including Unikrn’s Rahul Sood, ESL UK’s James Dean and Victor Martyn of GosuGamers the 160 plus attendees were treated to a series of engaging and educational talks on the industry and how it can align with betting. 

The buzz terms throughout the day were skin betting, regulation and integrity and accordingly the first session was integrity focused with the issues of match fixing and doping discussed at length. The panel included Ian Smith Project Leader Esports Integrity Initiative at Sports Integrity Matters, BetRadar’s Director of Communications Alex Inglot, ESSA Secretary General Khalid Ali, Fifth Street Gaming CEO Seth Schorr, Game:ref Founder David Titarenco and Pavol Krasnovsky, the CEO of RTSmunity. 

Highlighting the benefits of the RTSmunity fraud detection system, Krasnovsky explained how the staggering amount of data and variables in esports compared to traditional sports means entirely new systems are needed. He said: “Esports are different to other sports in that there are far more micro-decisions.”

Pavol Krasnovsky, RTSmunity
Pavol Krasnovsky, RTSmunity

With so many professional matches and especially tournament qualifiers played online, cheating is becoming more of a problem as potential windfalls increase. Titarenco’s company Game:ref markets itself as the owner of the world’s first anti-cheat hardware device. He boldly stated: “I could go home and write a cheat which would take ESSA and the ESL months to catch.” He went on to highlight the increased effectiveness of a hardware anti-cheat device over more frequently used software options.

In regards to doping, Ian Smith noted how ESL are the only league organisation with an esports specific doping program, and also praised Pinnacle Sports for being the first to contact his firm Sports Integrity Matters with concerns over esports. He said: “Pinnacle were the first to contact us proactively, and they spend huge sums of money on ensuring integrity.”

There were multiple displays of unease over the topic of skin betting, that is the wagering of virtual in-game items with real money value mostly in CS:GO but also Dota 2, with Smith referring to it as a “goat show.”

During the second talk of the day Unikrn Founder Rahul Sood demonstrated just how much of a concern skin betting is to a somewhat shocked audience mostly unaware of the figures involved. After explaining how it was his 13 year old son that first prompted him to look into it himself, he said: “It’s far too easy and there’s zero verification needed, it’s scary and it’s happening right now.” He called for regulation to be brought in swift and hard and pointed to Eilers Research figures which show skin betting was worth $800m in 2015. Sood also played some videos from popular Twitch streamers to further highlight just how much money is being wagered and how children are watching these streamers as entertainment.

Moving away from the issues of underage gambling and skin betting, Sood expressed his views on the future of esports and gambling. He said: “The future of entertainment is changing, and traditional sports such as F1 will become less relevant whilst esports will keep growing. Moreover, betting on sports in the US will be legal in under ten years time. We’re getting ready.”

The third panel of the day was titled ‘The Intersection of Esports and Traditional Sports Betting’. Moderated by Gaming Research Partners MD Alex Igelman, it featured three panelists; Adam Savinson Esports Manager at Win Technologies (Betway Group), James Watson Esports Product Owner at Sportradar and Betcade’s General Manager Paul Barclay. 

James Watson, SportRadar
James Watson, Sportradar

Watson began by stating just how fast esports as a sportsbook market is expanding. He said: “Six months ago there were only 15 operators with esports markets. Now there’s over 80, and it’s growing fast.”

He also pointed out how whilst at present pre-match bets account for the vast majority, in-play is the future especially as more and more bookies become acclimatised to esports and begin to offer more versatile and interesting live markets. League of Legends is a prime example of the wealth of in-play markets that could be offered due to the multiple objectives once the game has started as well as the five a side aspect.

On this note, the importance of knowing and understanding the differences between esports titles was raised. Watson said: “It’s fundamental that esports titled are treated as unique entities; there is some crossover of fan bases but the games themselves are worlds apart.”

This takeaway is certainly valid and vital for any bookmaker hoping for success in esports to understand. Heavily promoting Dota 2 markets to a customer on the basis that they’ve wagered on CS:GO or Call of Duty for instance could tarnish your reputation quickly, and it’s imperative too that the site layout gives the clear indication that the operator understands they’re different markets. Don’t treat punters as esports customers, but as League of Legends fans or whichever specific title they’ve bet on or shown an interest in.

Answering the question of where are people betting on esports, Adam Savinson gave an insightful response. “Mobile provides an increasingly huge chunk for traditional sports but this isn’t the case for esports. Right now it’s mostly desktop, and this is no great surprise as for esports fans their second screen is an actual second computer screen.”

He also added that Betway are regularly seeing esports in their top ten and have been for some time. He said: “I can see it competing with major sports in three years time.”

James Watson made the poignant assessment too that whilst for some operators it will be a top five sport, this will only be for those who get it right now and do it well and properly, this certainly won’t be the case for all.

 

The second part of the Esports Betting Summit analysis will be on SBCNews.co.uk on Monday.