Ben ‘Noxville’ Steenhuisen (pictured above, right), Senior Software Architect at Bayes Esports, and Niklas Weber, copywriter, takes a look at the three reasons why esports can transcend the stereotype of appealing to ‘younger’ bettors.
The League of Legends World Championship 2021 (Worlds) has just ended. 16 teams from all across the world travelled to Iceland to compete for ultimate glory – to be crowned the best team in the world in the biggest title in esports. One of the players who competed was Lee Sang-hyeok, better known as “Faker”.
Generally perceived to be the best League of Legends player of all time, he and his team (T1) have won Worlds three times already, back in 2013, 2015 and 2016 respectively. Now, in 2021, he fell just short of winning it for a fourth and potentially final time. Rumours about him retiring have become louder and louder and a plethora of young and ambitious players are eager to take his spot on the throne.
A story similar to those seen in traditional sports? Where the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo (football/soccer), Tom Brady (American football) and LeBron James (basketball) are still playing at the highest level while in their late 30s or even their mid 40s? Well, not quite “Faker”, who is only 25 years old.
In esports, you are considered a veteran when you are in your mid-to-late 20s and, according to a study conducted by “Nielsen” in 2018, most esports fans are not much older than that, if at all. For the betting industry in particular, this could be quite problematic.
With a large portion of the fanbase being below the legal age for betting and the older generations not being interested in esports, the esports betting industry might just be incapable of realising its own potential.
But is that really the case? Is esports just for the late millennials, GenZs and the following generation, generation Alpha? Let’s look at three reasons why that might be the case – and why we needn’t worry about them.
1. Come time, come age
Esports is still in its infancy. While, yes, the first professional video game tournaments in games such as Counter-Strike 1.6 and Starcraft: Brood War date back to the late nineties and early 2000s, the rapid growth of esports has really only begun with the advent of popular game titles, such as Starcraft 2, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, about 10 years ago.
Perhaps even more crucial to the development of esports however was the discovery of a new form of broadcasting in the form of live streaming, giving tournament organisers the ability to broadcast online tournaments through the internet and allowing gaming communities to engage with esports in real time.
Before the advent of live streaming, broadcasting tournaments and producing tournament videos was a pricey affair, which meant that many of esports earliest tournaments never reached a broader audience.
Younger generations tend to pick up new forms of technology and entertainment first, with the older generations following suit more slowly. A quick look at the age of an average gamer over the years shows that, contrary to what might be popular belief, gamers actually get older, rather than younger.
People who have picked up gaming during their youth 20 or 30 years ago tend to still play video games to this day. More and more seniors have started playing video games to improve their memory and cognitive skills.
These trends, however, take time. We can expect the youthful esports fans of today to stick with esports even as they are getting older and older generations to show more interest in esports as it continues to gain popularity. Esports fans quite simply have not had the time yet to grow old.
2. Tutorials required
Esports titles reach a very high level of complexity when played at the highest level.
This complexity is necessary for any game (not just videogames) to exist as a sport. After all, players have to have the ability to express their skill and in a complex game there are more variables to consider, more strategies that can be employed and more situations that allow a player to show their physical or mental prowess. In other words, there is a reason as to why chess is a sport and tic-tac-toe is not and it’s a similar case in esports.
In the aforementioned League of Legends for example, there are 157 different characters in the game that a player can take control of, every one of them having a unique set of skills. Add more than 150 different items with varying effects on top and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information a League of Legends fan is almost expected to know.
Additionally, it is not always immediately obvious to the untrained eye how a team in esports manages to accrue an advantage. In Counter-Strike, for example, a player killing an opponent is a very obvious way a team might get an advantage in a round. On the flip side, a team dancing around the map, baiting out the grenades of the opposition while strategically using their own can look quite confusing at times and can leave a more casual fan scratching their head wondering how and why they ended up winning that round so easily in the end.
The actions players take do not always have immediate and obvious effects, which means that a sort of feedback loop, where you can see what a player is doing and see the effect of those actions to understand why they were done in the first place, is missing for the more inexperienced fans.
That kind of in-depth knowledge, however, can only come with experience, but it is arguably not even necessary to get into esports in the first place. Just like in traditional sports, it’s the highlight plays that are drawing fans in, the spectacular goals, thunderous dunks and breathtaking catches.
These plays can be understood and appreciated without complete understanding of the rules of those games and esports are no different. It’s more a matter of proper introduction, rather than required education.
Pointing out the importance of certain objectives and putting highlight level plays into perspective can go a much longer way than bombarding a newcomer with only borderline relevant information.
This is where sportsbooks can use their own medium to great effect. By offering specific betting options, such as “Which team will kill the first dragon?” or “Which team will win the pistol round?” and providing information, kind of like quick tutorials, regarding the relevance of these events, sportsbooks can introduce basic concepts that are visually easy to recognise to a broader audience and give many bettors, who were previously uninterested in esports, easy to understand avenues into the world of esports.
3. Loud and Proud
The main issue with what was stated before, however, can still be to get people to take a look at esports in the first place. Why bother watching or betting on esports, when there are so many other sports already?
Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in another: What made you interested in a sport in the first place?
Personally, there is pretty much only one thing I like just about as much as video games, and that is football. When I was a child, every other kid around me also played football and while I was never particularly good at it, hanging out with my friends and kicking a ball around was great fun. That got me interested in professional football and I ended up watching some matches, first on the TV, then later live in stadiums. Fast forward to now and there is not a single home game of my favourite team that I miss.
It’s the atmosphere in the stadium, 10s of thousands of fans coming together and our collective passion for the game that drives my interest in the sport. It’s the people around me that make me want to be up to date with the latest news and rumours and that make me enjoy watching the sport. The actual matches have become secondary.
We are still ways away from esports being as widely respected in society as football or any other traditional sports. But the interest, the passion of esports fans in it has not simply materialised out of thin air. It stems from trying the games out for themselves, finding friends to play and talk about the game with and experiencing the passion of the community around it, just like it did for any other fan of any other sport.
Unlike any other sport, however, that kind of passion for esports is still too rarely seen in society. Young kids and adults are far too often still afraid to be branded as the nerd and being an outcast when admitting to being a gamer and esports enthusiast. That makes it difficult for fans to find each other and for that wave of passion and enthusiasm for esports to transfer over to those with little to no experience with it.
So what esports truly needs to attract new fans, especially those of older ages, is a certain pride we can already see in fans of traditional sports. That willingness of esports fans to represent the colors of the teams they support and to talk other people’s ears off should they happen to ask a question about it.
For esports to become a matter of course in public news and peoples conversations. For it to be presented in the media and by sportsbooks as the next big thing that already is. And for it to step out of the shadows of its traditional counterparts to take its place as an equal.
So that the answer why you should bother watching and betting on esports may be: Because everyone else around me is doing it too.