Full marks to the sports and sports betting world for not letting a global pandemic completely shut them down. Somehow the industries keep relevant and keep adapting during these uncertain times. Desperation has created a new form of creativity in the US Sports Betting industry and has forced traditional sports media outlets to look beyond World Series replays and reruns of the 2019 Valspar Golf Championship.
“It’s been a bloodbath,” says Ebbe Groes, CEO of sports betting software company EveryMatrix. “The betting volume for regular sports events dropped about 80 percent as there was nothing left to bet on. That’s when we turned to esports.”
This past weekend was the first of what could be many filled with eSports content on major networks and for sports betting providers. For instance, live sports returned to ESPN with ESPN2 Presents ESPN Esports Day on Sunday, April 5 with the network providing 12 hours of live and some 2019 NFL 20 eSports content. How did it look? How did it affect the US sports betting world? Let's break it down.
ESPN, ABC, and Fox Sports have jumped in on the eSports action as evidenced by 12-hours dedicated to "the sports" on ESPN Sunday and the iRacing events that were held on Sunday and broadcast on Fox and ABC. With all of the numbers added up, last weekend had 1.3 million iRacing fans tune in on TV. Nevada's sudden acceptance of bets on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments has also thrust eSports into the spotlight during this time of real-sports shutdowns.
League of Legends matches, live on Twitch, Rocket League Season 8 World Championship Grand Final on ESPN, eNASCAR and other iRacing offerings, the NBA 2K Players Tournament on ESPN, FIFA 20, StarCraft 2, Call of Duty, and Overwatch have certainly gained viewers the last few weeks although betting hasn't quite caught up, mostly because eSports wagers aren't widely available at American sportsbooks. But as long as the exposure continues and people continue to tune in, states with sportsbooks are being forced to take notice.
The airing of eSports and the overall increase of its exposure should serve as a boon for the industry and an awakening for those who have traditionally been opposed to eSports betting in the US. Nevada is the only state that currently takes wagers on eSports and the menu is slim, to say the least.
Hopes are that ESPN and other networks' focus on eSports will give the platform a little more credibility and that bets on eSports will begin to gain some acceptance among regulators in states that currently offer legal sports betting platforms. It can only be good for the decimated US gambling industry.
Mark Balch, Head of Product & Partnerships at Bayes Esports Solutions, a joint venture of Sportradar and Bayes Holding said of the evolution of eSports: “I think this period of time will be strangely beneficial for the long-term growth of esports, and I can even see it accelerating that growth based on the sheer amount of tournaments and people looking for content to consume while they’re at home. If you’re a sports data provider that doesn’t offer esports right now, there’s a good chance you’re scrambling to offer it to your customers. We’re definitely seeing a spike and increased demand from operators who want to offer esports betting markets to their customers.”
Will the eSports revolution continue when things get back to normal?
eSports, although popular even before the COVID-19 outbreak, has experienced a 10-fold increase in the amount of dollars wagered on it the last month alone. Although that is not saying a whole lot, it is something that could keep sportsbooks like William Hill that offer sports only (no online casino) afloat. eSports is big business in its own right with the potential to become gigantic if everything falls into place in the next little while. But…
Mark Balch concluded that: “In terms of the impact that the return of traditional sports will have, it will be minimal. Generally, I don’t believe that a lot of traditional sports fans are replacing their love of traditional sports with esports. Rather, the majority are replacing live sports with old games and highlights. “The people that have flocked to esports have done so because they are at home with more time on their hands, and they’re looking for something new to consume. So, when traditional sports return, we shouldn’t lose a lot of those fans we’ve attracted. The amount of time people are able to dedicate to playing and watching esports will decline, but the interest in esports will persist once traditional sports resume.”
So, whether it is simulated games or competitions with war-like scenarios, try something new or embrace something that you would normally have during this time of quarantine and lockdown. eSports had been billed as the “future of betting” and it looks like the future just may be NOW!