The betting industry, along with the rest of the world, has been forced to adapt to COVID-19. This has led to much of the sector identifying esports as a potential avenue to go down for alternative betting markets, particularly while real sports are suspended.
However, esports betting is still seen as an unknown entity with many firms lacking understanding of the market. SBC News spoke to Richard Duncan, Head of Business Development for PA Betting Services, to discuss why it is a valuable proposition for betting operators and some of the risks to avoid.
SBC: So, for those who aren’t familiar, could you give readers a simple explanation of esports and what role it’s playing in the betting world?
RD: An esport can really be any video game title where players can compete against one another. A really early example of this was the arcade game Pong but I imagine many readers will be familiar with more modern titles such as Call of Duty and FIFA.
Right now when we talk about esports we’re really talking about a subset of games that have huge global audiences – CS:GO, League of Legends and Dota 2. It’s important to recognise the role these esports have with enabling operators to unlock this potential for their sportsbooks.
Unlike traditional sports, which rely on the support of our fantastic health care workers, esports tournaments can continue behind closed doors without this resource and indefinitely.
We are starting to see over the past two to three weeks an emergence of ‘crossover’ competitions, where mainstream event organisers and IP owners such as Formula 1 are scheduling virtual competitions in place of real-world fixtures and filling gaps for content starved sports fans.
Inherently, these competitions are a fantastic route to market for traditional sports bettors who may otherwise have stayed clear of exploring esports.
SBC: With the current market worth of esports expected to grow to $1.1 billion at the end of this year, is there much awareness of this within the betting industry?
RD: There are a number of factors we have to consider here. Sportsbooks built on traditional content channels will want to continue to cater for this market. Integrating specialist suppliers will always be a challenge for any business, but it is sometimes necessary to put in the extra resource to maximise an opportunity.
A supermarket might be the best place to get 80-90% of your shopping but you’re probably going to get that last 10-20% from a premium retailer because you trust you can’t get that quality anywhere else.
Customers are telling us that compliance is another important consideration as the demographic for esports is broadly assumed to be younger than football for example. So the suggestion that this is just more content isn’t necessarily always the case.
SBC: With the current situation we find ourselves in, surely this is an opportune time for esports to show its full potential?
RD: To quote one of our customers last week, “there isn’t an opportunity bigger than esports right now”. I think that sums the current situation well.
If you haven’t had time to look at esports seriously prior to March 2020, the chances are you’re now researching it to understand what it can do for your business.
SBC: Esports has been seen as a challenging market, aimed more at young audiences and not traditional bettors; do you think these challenges, and perhaps even its association with the younger generation, might disappear as a result of current circumstances?
RD: I grew up with consoles and playing sport regularly in what I would say was a fairly a-typical experience with my peers, many of whom place bets on horse racing despite never having had direct access to that world.
I personally see a lot of what have been described as challenges with esports mirrored in racing. Both sports have a subculture, their own vernacular and a learning curve. The difference is racing is an established product and I believe this will also be the case with esports as content providers, broadcasters and suppliers increase coverage over time.
SBC: Integrity plays an important role in betting markets. With these games played out online and through computers, there might be some fear from traders that these markets have the potential to be unreliable; how would you alleviate these fears?
RD: Unfortunately, this isn’t a concern that is limited to esports. Title publishers, leagues, teams and suppliers have worked hard since the early days of skins betting to clamp down on cheaters. Similarly, the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) has made great strides in applying governance and fair play internationally working with operators and esports stakeholders since 2016.
When it comes to PA Betting Services, we invest heavily in the security of our platforms and ensuring our partners match our standards for integrity. We are currently exploring third-party partnerships to model the large volumes of data captured through partners’ AI to establish player and character trends that highlight suspicious game-play activity for example.
SBC: For sportsbooks looking to dip their toes into the world of esports, what do you suggest?
RD: Reach out. PA Betting Services has a broad esports offering to empower your sportsbook and help educate sports bettors with a range of data, statistics, embeddable widgets, written content and infographics, podcasts, images and of course, odds via our partner PandaScore.
*PA Betting Services rebranded from PA Media at the start of this year. The interview embedded above was completed at Betting on Sports in September 2019.