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Sportradar’s James Watson: Assessing the double-edged data sword for esports at #boscon2017

Ahead of Betting on Sports 2017 (12-15 September), we spoke to Sportradar Head of Esports James Watson about data challenges in esports and his company’s relationship with ESL. Watson is part of the ‘Data Data Data’ session (14 September) in the ‘Betting on Esports’ track at next month’s event.

SBC: Why did you decide to speak at Betting on Esports 2017?

JW: Betting on Sports as an industry event always tackles the live issues in the sports betting ecosystem and it’s nothing short of fantastic to see Betting on Esports get its own track this year.

I’m particularly looking forward to underlining how important it is for operators to partner up with live data providers that really understand the esports landscape, its opportunities and its pitfalls. The panel will be so important for operators looking to get into esports and yet again, Betting on Sports is the place to host that discussion.

SBC: Sportradar has had an esports data deal in place with ESL for a while. What fruits does the partnership provide you?

JW: Our relationship with ESL has really gone from strength-to-strength since we initially partnered up in 2015. Originally this was met with curiosity by the betting industry since it really was the first deal of its kind relating to esports. Now the sector is looking back at this relationship and seeing it as a defining moment, and indeed we’ve now seen others make similar movements to try and replicate some of this success.

Establishing key relationships with rights holders is one of Sportradar’s core strengths as a business, and esports is no different in that regard. Taking a look into the uniqueness, speed, depth and quality of data that can be provided by esports tournament organisers is very exciting: it’s Sportradar’s job to take this data and harness its true power by creating next generation betting products.

That said, we still take integrity very seriously and it remains a core part of our team’s mantra. We were one of the founding partners of the Esports Integrity Coalition and continue to support their positive endeavours to help prevent match-fixing in esports. ESL were likewise one of the first bodies to join the coalition, and indeed, integrity was specifically one of the core catalysts behind our own partnership with them.

SBC: There are endless challenges still with regards to data in esports – how do you see this progressing in coming months?

JW: It’s true that data continues to be the key roadblock to providing a credible live betting product for esports, irrespective of the game title. We’re seeing that esports fans are gradually becoming more accustomed to betting through traditional betting mechanisms, which is undeniably positive, but these are also fairly smart bettors who know their subject matter inside out. Operators and providers trading on delayed or incomplete data feeds are therefore likely to suffer moving forward.

One of the more interesting discussion areas looking ahead is surrounding live data provision for some of the newer game titles – for example Overwatch. With data not necessarily at the immediate forefront of the game design, this will certainly be a challenge for operators and providers alike over the next months.

SBC: There’s so many data points in esports – what opportunities does it create? How do you see it compared to traditional sports?

JW: On the flipside of the double-edged data sword lie a number of great opportunities that make esports primed to succeed in the live betting space. Naturally the complexity of the games implies a vast lake of data that can be used for creating equally complex models predicting game outcomes, which is especially true in the world of Dota 2 and League of Legends, where the number of data points ramps up into numbers I didn’t even know existed!

Personally I see the big benefits and USPs of esports live betting in the speed and dynamism of the games themselves. After all, this is what makes esports exciting as a spectator sport for all of us – games can change in an instant and even the smallest mistake or misplay can swing the advantage in your opponent’s favour. Compared to traditional sports, this really appeals to the end-punters: anything can happen.

SBC: What can attendees look forward to hearing from you on the “Data, data, data” panel at Betting on Esports?

JW: I expect the panel will be a deeper dive into all of the key issues highlighted above in addition to some insight into other data-related topics in the world of esports. Sportradar can provide some invaluable input here from a betting provider perspective. I’d also like to explore the role of tournament organisers and rights holders in the world of data and how they can play their part in maximising exposure for their tournaments, using regulated betting as a mechanism, and making a few smart and simple decisions along the way.

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