Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP
Sometimes crisis breeds opportunity. One example is how the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting global shutdown of brick-and-mortar casinos and live sporting events created a unique opportunity for the bubbling undercurrent of e-sports betting. Quarantines acted like gas on a simmering fire for Esports and brought unprecedented exposure to video gaming and the wagering opportunities that accompany them.
The question is whether or not Esports can maintain their unforeseen boost now that traditional real-time sporting events are slowly returning to the wagering landscape? Is it a case of e-sports being in the right spot at the right time? Or are there legitimate legs under the igaming platform going forward?
For those that don’t know…
Esports is simply competitive sports video gaming. While not as popular in North America, the platform has been extremely popular in both Europe and Asia. How popular has it been? Games analytics and market research website Newzoo predicts that Esports will have 495 million viewers in 2020 which is an 11.7% increase from 2019. The same study projects that viewership will reach 646 million by the end of 2023.
Right now, New Jersey, West Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Washington, and Tennessee allow Esports betting although what sports are eligible to bet on in those markets vary. League of Legends, Dota 2, eNASCAR, Overwatch, Call of Duty League, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have led the Esports charge in North America and made Esports the #1 generator for certain sportsbooks during the COVID lockdowns.
“When we started with e-sports in 2010, we got maybe $100 in wagers in a week and got excited,” said Marco Blume, trading director for Pinnacle. “We would watch the screen and cheer as each individual bet came in. When I first pitched e-sports wagering to my board, they either said, ‘What are you talking about?’ or they laughed.”
Serious cash flow
ProdegeMR, a market research firm is out with a study that shows Esports’ serious cash flow. e-sports was responsible for $7 billion bets in 2019 and is expected to double $14 billion worldwide in 2020. Goldman Sachs expects revenue from eSports betting in the US alone to hit $2.96 billion in the US by 2022.
Of course, some of the inflated figures can be attributed to the pandemic’s global effect on sports but we can’t ignore the simple, organic growth of the e-sports portion of the legal betting business.
A dream spring for e-sports
It took something drastic to catapult e-sports into the limelight but the stars aligned for the industry during the spring. With casinos shuttered in mid-March and the NBA, NHL, NCAA Basketball and every other major sport around the globe putting the brakes on competition, 2020 could be remembered as a dream spring for e-sports and a serious inflection point for the wagering platform.
While there hasn’t been a whole lot of positive that has come from the last few months, the growth of e-sports has been truly remarkable. “Esports is king now,” Marco Blume said. “Since March, Esports has been our No. 1 category globally, and the overall majority of total wagering for us. Every significant bookmaker now offers e-sports. If you didn’t before, you certainly do now.”
There will always be a betting market
We have heard a lot about pent-up demand for gambling opportunities and anything resembling sporting competition and those whispers have become loud cries. People want their sports back, but in the absence were willing to watch and bet on their favorite NASCAR drivers while they duked it out virtually, or watch a few of their NBA heroes play remote video basketball tournaments.
No matter what happens in our world, there seems to be a betting market. “People out there want to bet on something, and our licensees want to offer betting opportunities for their customers, and by the nature of how e-sports work, the players can sit in their house and still compete,” said James Taylor, chief of the enforcement division of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Esports here to stay
While Esports is expected to slip back to its secondary role in the betting world with the return of real-time pro sports, the attention and momentum gained could eventually be looked back upon as the days that Esports betting really arrived on US soil.
Joe Asher, chief executive of William Hill’s United States operation may have stated it best when he said, “Esports are here to stay, Esports betting is here to stay, and now we can just see that more clearly…”