In an interview for SBC Magazine, we asked EveryMatrix CEO Ebbe Groes to explain how his company is supporting clients through the coronavirus outbreak and why CasinoEngine was the right platform for a fresh influx of virtual sports titles.
However, he goes on to suggest that another emerging gambling vertical, esports, is better equipped to fill the sports void.
SBC: How is EveryMatrix navigating the coronavirus outbreak?
EG: EveryMatrix is not suffering as much as sportsbook providers because we have other products such as virtuals and esports, and our casino is not affected – our large casino clients are not seeing less casino volumes, if anything a bit more.
If we were more like competitors with a large majority of our volumes on sports then it would be worse for us. Our main product is still CasinoEngine, sports comes in second. The first thing for sports is to make sure that you have as good a coverage as you can as possible – so we are putting a lot of effort into this.
You have to adapt. One of the biggest sports for us at the moment is table tennis. We can very quickly add new sports into our sportsbook. While table tennis, as an example, doesn’t replace football, tennis etc., it does have an effect – we had around eight times the volume for it against two weeks previously.
SBC: Can you just explain to our readers why the virtual sports are integrated through the CasinoEngine, and not your OddsMatrix product?
EG: This is simply because the CasinoEngine is built to make it very easy for us to integrate vendors. So as you know, we have more than 80 game vendors across slots, live games and also virtual sports. Last year, we added 30 or 40 new integrations across all types of vendors. CasinoEngine is the platform that best supports this.
It allows us to then quite quickly add more vendors. When the coronavirus first started, I think we had five vendors already for virtual sports. So the first thing we do is start identifying and contacting other vendors. And we can quickly increase our offering around virtual sports.
The approach we take is that the best thing for the bookmakers is to get as many providers and breadth of content as possible. This is similar to say live casino. You could say I’m content to have this from Evolution or Playtech, and tailor the setup to those products, or you can say I will integrate content from as many providers as I can.
It’s the same with virtual sports. If everything is from Sportradar or Inspired you can build a lobby to fit those products or you can say, as we’re doing, the better approach is to get as many games as possible.
For virtual sports, we are doing two things. Add more content as quickly as we can. And the other is to build a front end user experience that goes across vendors so I can navigate between them – for example, I can see virtual horse racing but across four different providers. And the same way for football, tennis, boxing etc.
In this way I can showcase the offering from different providers and group them via sport, which is a bit different to most bookmakers adopting more of a single provider focus.
SBC: It seems like every platform provider is rushing to talk up the selection of games they have to offset a lack of sports; why would the number of games housed by an online casino make any difference to traditional sports punters?
EG: You are sort of right. If you already have 2,000 casino games then adding another 500 probably won’t make a big difference. This is different for virtual sports because the number of titles is much, much smaller. Providers might only have two or three titles, not 50 or 100.
They might have football and horse racing, or horse racing and darts – that’s it. And that’s why the benefit of aggregation is much higher when it comes to virtual sports than for casino.
SBC: As virtual sports providers strive to make their solutions as realistic as possible, in some cases incorporating real sports odds, might it be time to integrate the product into OddsMatrix in the same way you do for esports content?
EG: Well you could do both. From the user point of view, it doesn’t matter so much which of our platforms we use to do it. The key thing is that virtual sports are not put into the casino tab, you will not see them hidden amongst all the slot games. We will make a special main tab so you see it alongside for example sports, casino and live casino.
This makes it as easy as possible for the sports player to see the virtual sports offering without having to visit the casino section. The fact that virtual sports are integrated via the casino doesn’t mean that the games will be presented as a casino component – we are just using the CasinoEngine for the quickest integration. It allows us to build dedicated lobbies, as we have done for slots, live dealer, table games etc., and will do so for virtual sports.
SBC: Is the virtual sports cross-sell opportunity bigger for sports or casino players?
EG: With virtual sports I am looking at a random number generator (RNG), something that is put together in the same way as a roulette or a slot game.
The other type of game, which we’ve touched upon already, that we think will actually work even better in the absence of real sports is esports. These are actual games being played. There are many titles, of course, but some where the experience is very close to the one you have already for sports betting.
For example, you can look at two people playing on FIFA at a high level and place a bet on this. There’s no RNG involved – it is actual players where the best player wins. The other big title in this regard is the basketball game NBA 2K.
SBC: Sports-based games have been seen as low level games in the world of esports; might this enforced ban on real sports bring about a change to the pecking order?
EG: Yes, I think so. For someone who is not familiar with esports, the first thing you want to bet on is games you understand. So if you’re betting on NBA 2K or FIFA, for example, you can see the stream presented in a nice way, you know the rules, it is very straightforward and includes the same betting markets you are used to.
Over/under, betting on the first half, number of cards, all of these things are exactly the same so the barrier to entry is very low for real sports bettors. This is where I think it will all start, and we have seen this already.
We’ve been trying to promote the esports sections more for our clients and the take up has been really good. Particularly these sports titles are taking a lot of the volume, even though they are not the ones with the highest number of events. That is the likes of DOTA, LoL and so on – for those who like traditional computer games, not sports.
Now as people get used to this, they might spend time in the esports section and get curious as to what else is available. We’re getting into speculation, of course, but for the first few weeks (post sports lockdown) it is clear that esports has benefited a lot – it has grown almost by a factor of 10 in less than a month. And that’s without us adding any new clients, simply through people switching from real sports to esports – in particular for FIFA and NBA 2K.
SBC: On your OddsMatrix platform, punters would still see esports as separate to real sports; might there come a time when these are mixed in?
EG: Both options are possible. The main reason to split them out right now is visibility – you want your sports players to notice that there is such a thing as esports. Another thing is that streaming is key.
We have a live video stream for 90% of all matches that we cover, whether this is CS:GO, FIFA or whatever else. Almost all live events have a video stream, which is very different to real sports where the live stream is rare outside of the richest bookmakers.
In esports, these video streams are readily available, they are free and add entertainment value. That’s why you want to have a different look and feel for your esports section.
The way we will do it is basically have both options available. Our clients can mix esports into the regular menu, for example placing FIFA next to Football, or keep the two separate. At this stage, when it comes to capturing a new audience, we think it’s best to keep the two concepts apart.
We already have great esports coverage but we don’t have a separate tab, so this is something we are building now. We are offering it to clients as a new tab, but one you can place next to your existing sports.
It’s also good for us because if a bookmaker has poor esports coverage, they can frame the esports tab from OddsMatrix and put it there in the same way as if it was a virtual sports tab or a casino tab. Longer term you might want to do a deeper integration with the sportsbook API, but you have to note there are two distinct audiences.
SBC: These are distinct audiences as things stand, but after this extended period of reduced sports coverage might there not be such a split?
EG: Yes, this can happen. As with all these situations, there is a silver lining and there are opportunities to evolve. You can have a sports brand who, because of complacency, didn’t put any emphasis on promoting esports. And now they are forced to do it.
In a good scenario, what they will discover is that they can reach out to a new audience and when the regular sports are back they will still have their old audience, but they will have also managed to sell a new experience and build a new audience.
In the end, you might have big losses now but look back a year from now and see it as a blessing in disguise that you were forced to catch up from a product point of view and broaden your portfolio.
SBC: Final question. How does the betting world look after this crisis is over?
EG: It will have quite dramatic effects I think. And of course it depends how long this lasts, but we will no doubt see that some operators will struggle. We have ongoing consolidation in our industry with bigger brands taking in smaller ones.
This will keep happening in the coming months. If you don’t have a healthy product margin you will be forced to shut down, which provides impetus for further consolidation in the market place.
So the two main things are to focus better on other products. This includes regular casino – there are sportsbook operators out there not doing well enough in order to promote a world class casino offering.
But mainly virtual sports and esports, two products which can bring about long-term positive effects for those who do it well. Those who react fastest will be in the best situation. And then, of course, the consolidation part too.