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Is eSports Really The Future Of Sports Betting?

esports counter strike global offence eventThere’s little doubt that eSports have grown in their popularity over the past few years. In terms of both the number of people who bet on them and the number of people who stream them, eSports have certainly found a position within the sports world. However, are they actually still considered to be the future of the industry as they were 5 years ago and will typical punter ever bet on them?

For quite some time now, people have been making remarks about eSports being the future of sports betting. Even supposed experts have been commenting on how everyone should turn their attention to the sector, stating that this is where the future lies. However, how far in the future is this? Clearly, the near future has come and gone, so are we looking at a very distant future for eSports? Granted, they have grown in popularity with bettors, but not to the extent that has been previously suggested.

How long will players have to wait before eSports overtake such favoured sports as football and tennis? What’s more, is this actually something that is capable of happening, considering just how favoured those sports are with gamblers? A whole generation has been participating in sports betting on football, horse racing, rugby and so on for many years now. And even in the case of this generation moving on, what’s to say that eSports will be a replacement? Even younger sports bettors have found themselves wagering on football and so on. So, is it really possible that eSports can overtake these traditional sports and become the future of the betting industry?

esportsIt remains a fact that eSports was once considered to be quite the niche betting industry. It reached great heights in South Korea, but most people didn’t really think it would excel beyond this at one point. However, in more recent years, it has garnered the interest of a few other locations, including the United States of America. Today, more eSports tournaments are held in the USA than ever before.

That popularity garnered in the US has led to it being the best for average prize money earned. Over $7.2 million has be won by US teams, with China in second at just over $3 million, South Korea in third with $2.3 million, and Brazil in fourth with $2.2 million. This proves that there is interest in playing the various games associated with eSports, and it is this enjoyment that has led to there being more interest in betting on such.

Reports suggest that by the end of June 2019, around $67 million had been won by more than 26,000 eSports players from around the world. A total of 2,715 tournaments occurred for eSports players to engage in.

To put some additional figures out there, by the end of 2019, the total viewing audience of eSports had grown from 385 million to 454 million. That’s an annual growth of 15.1% for the period. Furthermore, the eSports marketplace is expected to grow at a 9% compound annual growth rate in the years leading up to 2023. Of course, what does this mean for the online sports betting scene where eSports are concerned?

Well, predictions for wagering on eSports by the end of 2020 suggested that there would be a total of $12 billion placed on such events. Granted, this is only a prediction, although it has kept gambling industry insiders watching like hawks over the scene. The potential for amazing growth is there, but the question is, can it actually expand enough to really be considered “the future”?

Predictions for the Future

esports players in a special boothWhile it’s true that there is room for growth, and considerable growth at that, the future of eSports betting remains relatively unknown. It’s common to see that online sportsbooks tend to view betting on this sector as being just another vertical. Sports betting is an ever-growing area in itself. Even though eSports is quite a unique section of this, it isn’t really promoted as being something that bettors should place a huge focus on.

What can be said is that there are both eSportsbooks and standard sportsbooks in operation online at the moment. Most punters choosing to wager on eSports tend to utilise standard sportsbooks for such. This is especially true when it comes to the bigger tournaments, like The International. Of course, with such sites catering to a wide number of sports in general, they can’t often cover the largest number of eSports events.

Therefore, many of the smaller tournaments aren’t available for betting on at these platforms. The major events, such as those catering to CS:GO, Dota 2, League of Legends and so on will likely be found there. However, until a larger selection of eSports events is provided for betting on at standard sportsbooks, the betting side of things likely won’t garner as much attention as the streaming side. This means that there are fewer people really engaging in placing wagers on eSports, due to the fact that the larger portion of bettors don’t specifically utilise eSportsbooks.

Even though locations like Europe and the United States have been slow to embrace eSports betting, it has become much more popular in Asian nations, such as both China and Japan. Asia is actually the current biggest hub for eSports betting action on both Dota 2 and League of Legends more specifically. The level of competition for eSports betting in Europe and North America is nowhere near as intense as it is in Asia. Therefore, it will need to continue growing significantly for eSports gambling to have any major impact.

Signs still point to a continued growth of eSports betting, although a swift and meteoric rise isn’t something that can be guaranteed. That hasn’t happened as of yet, despite it being possible to bet on these games’ outcomes for some time already. Granted, statistics do show that there has been an increase in participation of eSports betting in general. However, for now, it seems to be looking more like a hope than a guarantee.

Turning to Nevada for Information

esports competition in play

When you think of gambling, it’s frequently quite common to think of Las Vegas, Nevada. After all, it is one of the few locations in the United States where gambling is quite the hotbed of activity. It’s common to turn to the US state to predict the future of something related to thisgambling. Of course, this shouldn’t be taken as being gospel, because Nevada doesn’t comprise the opinion of the world.

However, so far, there has been quite a chilly reception when it comes to eSports betting in the state. Sportsbooks that operate within Nevada haven’t really shown much interest in working towards a push for gambling on such events. According to the Chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) Sandra Douglass Morgan, only four operators had requested the ability to provide gambling on eSports.

Speaking at the 2019 UNLV Gaming Conference, she said that while there is public interest in eSports, there hasn’t been a demand from licensees to offer wagering on it. Of course, it’s great to hear that gamblers themselves are interested in betting on such tournaments and events. It seems as though the lack of interest from operators could be due to industry oversight. Morgan finished off by stating that as eSports continue to evolve, the board expects an increase in the amount of eSports style wagering to become available.

Yet, an eSports study revealed that some bettors have a concern over the potential match-fixing that could occur. Those concerns tend to focus on specific competitors playing worse in a round to specifically throw a match, but that it has also been speculated that competitors will also cheat to win. The younger age of many of the eSports players leads some to believe that they will be more susceptible to outside influences.

That being said, there is growing interest in eSports betting outside of Nevada. Investors still believe that the industry will increase heavily in popularity. Some have suggested that the industry will become big enough that current casinos will be able to open dedicated eSportsbooks. One research analyst Zev Fima, believes that due to the global viewership of eSports, that betting on it could surpass that taking place on the NFL and other such leagues.

Corona Has an Impact

sport cancelled due to coronavirusWhen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic was felt in sporting leagues around the world, numerous big sporting tournaments were called off. It was at this time that many believed eSports would be what gamblers turned to as a replacement market. As it happens, it did ride quite the wave, and figures skyrocketed during periods of lockdown in countries around the world. Until that time, eSports hadn’t really had it so good. Of course, eSports weren’t entirely invulnerable to COVID-19, either. However, people did turn their attention to these competitive video gaming options to fill the empty hours.

Of course, with participation in video gaming also increasing (Verizon reported that US domestic peak-hour usage was up 75% in the first week of quarantine), gaming as a spectator sport also went through the roof. The audience growth for such was also experienced via streaming service Twitch. And when sports stars weren’t able to participate in the games they’re used to, they took to video gaming instead. The virtual Grand Prix by Formula 1, won by Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, was broadcast live on ESPN2, and found itself being wagered on by masses of punters.

Even the Australian National Rugby League clubs the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Wests Tigers met on the imaginary battlefields of the Fortnite game. That was all streamed via Facebook for people to watch. Finland also took to video games, with the national hockey league playoffs occurring via the NHL 20 console game instead. There was also the Grand National in the UK, which was digitally simulated but bet on with real money and watched by almost 5 million viewers.

Of course, eSports events are usually held in large venues, just like standard sporting matches. They’re also attended by large numbers of enthralled spectators. A 16-year-old gamer won the 2019 Fortnite World Cup, which netted him $30 million, and 2.3 million viewers tuned in to see it all unfold on Twitch and YouTube. However, these games are played through an online connection, even in those venues. This is what makes it a little easier for them to take place, just with the participants engaging in them at home.

The Overwatch League announced that its entire 2020 season would play out solely online. Others followed suit in a similar vein, and eSports betting has subsequently been able to continue largely uninterrupted during the pandemic. In fact, one could argue that it has provided a welcome relief for those gamblers who enjoy placing a wager or two on their favourite sports.

UK Favours ‘Real’ eSports

virtual motor raceThe sports shutdown in 2020 did drive more engagement in UK for eSports.  What is interesting is in the absence of real world sport to watch most people did not turn to fanatical games such as Dota or LOL but rather chose eSports based on real world sports, such as motor racing, FIFA and inter-club football games online as well as virtual sports and virtual racing.

This was aided by real world sports stars participating in some events, such as big formula 1 names in online races and top football players in FIFA events.  Often they were matched up with players that only play online creating an interesting duel between actual sports stars and people who have never raced a car or played competitive football in the real world.

Despite this obvious preference towards games based on real sports by UK punters, this was during the absence of live sport and has quickly lost that momentum since the real action has come back.

Is It All Just Speculation?

esports trophy for presentation

While it’s great that there was an alternative for bettors to engage in during the lockdown periods, is that really sustainable beyond COVID-19? Well, with traditional sports returning to the fold, the likelihood is not so high. Football, tennis, cricket, rugby and others have a large fanbase. They’re watched by millions of people worldwide and wagered on by many, too.

Nothing is really guaranteed one way or the other for competitive gambling and eSportsbooks. Because sports betting sites don’t cover the whole range of eSports, they can be quite limiting. When you compare this to the masses of leagues, divisions and events in the football sector that are covered by these sites, there is really no comparison.

It’s true that eSports has grown in relation to both viewers and gambling participation, this hasn’t been a significant enough leap to really start making plans for a revolution. The truth is that while it remains as a popular vertical for some people, there’s just much more interest in betting on other physical sports. eSports are still finding their bearings in many locations around the world, whereas football, golf, tennis and so on are already well-established.

Is eSports betting the future? Well, potentially so – but it’s likely not to be anytime in the near future. You’d need to be able to look into the distant future to verify it, and even then, you probably couldn’t guarantee it. Traditional sports in their majority are likely to remain popular with gamblers for a long time. While eSports may continue to improve in their popularity as well, it’s more likely that they won’t outdo their traditional counterparts.

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