eSports have finally earned their right as one of the latest and greatest topics of interest within the gambling industry. There is no doubt about it, unlike other “fads” that have temporarily captivated our industry in the past, eSports are here to stay and as time goes on and technology continues to sharpen, their popularity will only continue to grow.
In fact, eSports have been around for much longer than the average person would guess, with the earliest known video game competition taking place at Standford University in 1972 and the first games going online in the early ‘90s.
Victor Martyn, CEO of GosuGamers.net and a familiar face in the iGaming industry conference circuit, has been immersed in eSports for the past 17 years. Martyn earned the StarCraft World Championship title in 1998, making him the world’s first eSports professional. Since then, Martyn has witnessed first hand the growth of eSports and the opportunities that are coming along with it, including the launch of GosuGamers.net which served an astounding 24.2 million unique eSports enthusiasts with 467 million pageviews in 2015 alone.
I was initially introduced to Martyn when he was running an online poker affiliate site and spending some time as a professional poker player, several years back. This is the main reason why I think Martyn is an exceptionally valuable resource for gambling companies interested in eSports, seeing as he is part of the fabric of eSports and also familiar with how the gambling industry works.
An authority on eSports- Martyn’s 17 years of experience
Martyn began his love affair with StarCraft two weeks after its March 31,1998 release. At that time in Stockholm, modems were unreliable, expensive and if someone picked up the phone or called in while online, the modem would disconnect. A few blocks away from Martyn’s home, he learned of an internet café called “Nine”, so he asked for a meeting with one of the owners to see if he could use the facility.
“I remember he put his legs on the desk in front of him in the office and asked me with crossed arms ‘So if we let you use our computers for free, what will we get in return?’ And I said something like ‘well, I have won 21 games and I have 7 disconnects – all of which were either inconclusive or in my favor, I think I could get to top 10 in the world rankings within a month provided I have a proper internet connection. I´ll add  to my nickname to represent Nine Internet Café and put a link to you as my sponsor in the profile’. Three weeks later I was ranked 3rd in the world”, shared Martyn.
“I capped out the season by beating the #2 ranked guy and risking everything in a single match, 2 hours before the end as I wanted to be the undisputed #1 in the world”, he said.
After mastering StarCraft, Martyn went to South Korea during the summer of 1999 to participate in a 30,000,000 KRW tournament, the equivalent to roughly $30,000.
“During that time I qualified for the first ever TV-broadcast league called ‘Tooniverse Starleague’, which featured myself and 15 Koreans in a group stage / play-off format. On the back of that success story a team manager, Lim Young-Soo was able to use me as the poster-boy to get his team sponsored and I was offered a base salary of 2,500,000 KRW (roughly $2,500) each month for a team called Golban´X – a derivative of the Sponsor ‘GoldBank’”, Martyn explained.
Over the course of the three years he was based in Korea, Martyn was featured on KBS News and become a celebrity around town. Young Korean girls were enamoured by him and he would get stopped in the public saunas by men who knew him by name and wanted to shake his hand. “That marked the end of public saunas for me”, Martyn joked.
It was after his time in Korea when Martyn recognized just how big eSports would become. “As soon as the stigma around the use of computers and games faded in western countries, it would catch on like a wildfire”, he remembered thinking. And he was right.
eSports Skin Gambling Shake-up
Martyn’s foresight couldn’t have been more spot-on and today eSports are absolutely exploding around the globe. eSports tournaments are now filling stadiums, the pros are famous and starting to earn some serious money, sponsorships are popping up all over the place and the gambling industry wants a piece of the action, but skin gambling is an issue that must be addressed in the meantime.
The widespread popularity of “skin gambling” amongst eSports fans has been a recent topic of discussion at eSports and online gambling conferences and also covered by mainstream media. Plenty of industry professionals, lawyers and eSports enthusiasts have been saying its only a matter of time before skin gambling sites get shut down because they are unregulated and attracting under-aged gamblers.
As predicted, a scandal was recently exposed in the world of skin gambling and eSports game developer Valve has since taken action. “I thought Valve´s move to enforce a ban on skins gambling and betting was inevitable, it´s been a long time coming, really. [Skin gambling] is problematic in the sense that it gives underage individuals from all over the world (including territories that strictly prohibit gambling in many or all forms) a way to gamble with little to no control by regulators”, said Martyn.
Skin gambling (and the scandals that come along with it) are also problematic as they could call attention to regulators, politicians and the like, potentially kicking off a crack-down on eSports similar to what we witnessed with online poker and DFS in America.
Regulation of eSports
The regulation of eSports and regulating any sort of gambling surrounding eSports are two separate matters and Martyn does not believe regulation would be the best thing for the former.
“As I´ve said on a number of panels by now, I don’t think that regulating eSports itself needs to or should happen anytime soon. I see a lot of opportunists jumping at the chance to regulate it in various ways, but it has all seemed very self-serving so far. Also one must realize that the individual eSports like League of Legends and Counter-Strike are as different as soccer and tennis”, he explained.
In fact, Martyn believes regulation could actually harm the buzzing, thriving and growing eSports industry.
“One of the most fantastic and exciting aspects of eSports is that anyone, anywhere in the world can start a grassroots movement today. This adds an incredible dynamic which promotes the participation of a hive-mind. Let´s not hurt it with ill conceived and self-serving regulations at this critical phase where it´s now gained the attention of mainstream media everywhere”, he said.
Martyn added, “Moreover, in traditional physical sports there’s nobody who owns the Intellectual Property of the sport itself; ie. soccer or basketball but rather the IP is vested in the leagues, team names and logos and other vehicles. In eSports, so far, there’s always a commercial entity that owns the IP of the electronic copy of the game which means that ultimately there is a sort of central body. So far it’s working out nicely and keeps the space vibrant and welcoming to entrepreneurs and businesses or individuals looking to enter the field”.
Opportunities for Gambling Operators
Regulation debates aside, now that skin gambling may be on its way out, there appears to be a huge void for gambling operators to fill.
“The skin gambling economy had been estimated to generate $2.3bn in bets in 2015 and that I had read estimates in the range of $7.5bn for 2016. My message was that once this comes to an end there will be a fantastic opportunity for Betting Operators to capitalize on the phenomenon. On GosuGamers we only recently completed a readership study together with our partners Enthusiast Gaming in which it was shown that 90.5% of our survey participants indicated an age between 18 and 35 years old and that 96.5% of them are male. An ideal betting demographic”, shared Martyn.
As an eSports expert himself, Martyn does not firmly believe any of the sportsbooks out there have perfected their eSports betting offerings and therefore there is still plenty of opportunity in the space. He also predicts we’ll see game developers looking to implement betting options or other forms of gambling products straight into the games.
Its undeniable the opportunities in eSports for gambling companies are going to be huge and this is already an exciting space to watch. Martyn recognizes the crossover between eSports and sports betting whether he likes it or not and has left us with this nugget of advice: “The single most important caution that I can give anyone crossing over from Gambling into the eSports space is that you have to be authentic; you have to care about what you´re doing because if you fake it, it will be extremely hard to make it!”
Catch Victor Martyn at the eSports Conference in Los Angeles, the premier dedicated eSports event of the year, taking place September 6-8, 2016. Victor will be participating on the “Big Data in eSports: The emergence, patterns and behaviour” panel at 15:00 on the 7th. All CalvinAyre.com readers are eligible for an exclusive summer discount of 20% off any day pass or full conference package when you book and pay by 31 August 2016 quoting code CAL20.