I had the opportunity to sit in on two betting panels at eSports Conference Europe, an intimate London-based event dedicated to the eSports industry. I learned the bigger flagship eSports Conference takes place in LA later this year (register using code “RET25” to take advantage of the 25% discount for CalvinAyre.com readers), but the European event is growing, especially as more betting companies start to get involved.
The first thing I noticed during these panels, especially during the Q&A portions, is how little the eSports and sports betting industries know about each other. Both are aware of the other, but that’s about as deep as it goes at this point.
“Anyone in the betting industry knows what eSports is now, it’s the new buzzword”, said panellist Adam Savinson, eSports Manager of Betway Group. However, he continued, “the betting industry doesn’t know enough about it, they’re not in the loop”.
Panellist James Watson, Product Manager eSports for Sportradar agreed and added that eSports games like Counter-Strike are easy for the betting industry to understand but complex games like LOL and DOTA are a different story. “There is a lot of hunger to be a part of eSports, but still a huge lack of knowledge”, he said.
As one of the eSports “outsiders” listening to these panels, there were five main points I took away from the event and would like to share with you.
Betting is a controversial topic for the eSports industry…and they know little about it
Betting is a controversial subject within the established eSports industry, but they are aware adding traditional betting into the mix could result in the level of monitization everyone is looking for.
Another issue is education, or lack thereof. Betting companies need to educate eSports professionals on how embracing traditional betting will grow the industry like it has for sports like football (soccer), for example.
Savinson said eSports companies are currently viewing betting as something on the side but it should be made more mainstream. He said betting enhances the experience of anyone watching a sport, it’s a fantastic way to increase viewer engagement and it would deliver a solid revenue source into the eSports scene. Betting companies will want to sponsor eSports events and teams, for example.
eSports bettors are a completely different demographic than traditional sports bettors
What’s both exciting and challenging for the sports betting industry is the fact that eSports bettors represent a brand new demographic. Savinson said bookies cannot simply add eSports to their website as a sport to bet on, rather they have to build (or partner with) a completely separate product. Betway has a distinct eSports product that is completely different than their traditional sportsbook, for example.
I also found it surprising when Savinson said a large amount of Betway’s eSports customers are coming in from desktop and we will have to wait and see if they move to mobile in the future. He also said getting eSports enthusiasts to the betting site involves a completely different strategy and eSports bettors are not going to visit a site because they see an image of a famous footballer, for example.
eSports involves a completely different strategy for traders
Some might say this is an obvious one, but I know people who think traditional sports betting traders can easily whip up sharp odds for eSports games. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
“There are three or four players in the market at the moment and everyone else is following them”, explained Watson. “Once traders understand the games more, they can afford to be a bit more ‘bullish’, but you need a dedicated guy who understands so you’re not putting out fragile odds”, he said.
Savinson agreed and explained how eSports involve a completely different strategy for traders. The likelihood of a winner is on it’s flip side for eSports in comparison to football, meaning, in eSports you can bet on either side throughout the entire game and still have the same chances of winning vs. in football if its 1-0 with one minute left, its likely the team with the goal will win.
Something to keep in mind here is even though in-play betting is where the future lies for traditional sports, the way eSports works is not optimal for in-play, so we’ll have to wait and see how this particular market unfolds.
“Skin betting” and its popularity
Call me uninformed, but I was not aware of “skin betting” until I attended these two sessions. Apparently skin betting is incredibly popular amongst the eSports community and there are already a number of sites offering it. Rather than attempting to explain what skin betting entails, I’ll direct you to Luke Cotton’s guest contributor article on the subject.
The panellists discussed how traditional sports betting companies can try and compete with skin betting. “Offer a superior product- a premium product is the best way to compete”, Savinson said.
Savinson also pointed out skin betting is becoming a stigma in itself as its not regulated, there is no age verification process in place and he said it will be interesting to see if regulation comes in and takes skin betting sites away.
Need for self-regulation of eSports
The eSports industry, especially considering the popularity of skin betting as mentioned above, should really think about self-regulation in order to prevent the regulators from coming in and raining on their parade.
According to panellist John Hagan of Harris & Hagan, “There is a need for self-regulation, it will decrease the risk of regulatory intervention and if the regulators do come in, they will just build on what’s already in place”.
Clearly betting on eSports is considered gambling and is licensable. The area of uncertainty comes with the purer skill games such as DOTA and LOL and of course with skin betting.
“There’s a lot of grey area here, so many difference games, so many different levels of chance. If you want to keep the regulator away, address concerns about crime, age, & fairness & openness…if you address this on your own, you’re helping them not to regulate you. If you are not doing anything about it, they will be more likely to regulate”, Hagan said.