I want to begin by thanking everyone for the multitude of messages I received in preparing for this piece. Back in 2015 my esports betting journey began when I read an article titled ‘The Esports Bible’. I still have it printed in a binder on my shelf but, even now, many of the contents included are somewhat outdated.
While I had checked out a few tournaments in the decade prior, and even had some skins on CSGO Lounge, it was certainly more out of novelty than interest, as a fan or sports bettor. By reading an introductory piece similar to today, I more clearly understood what exactly this niche was and why it could be fruitful.
While putting this article together I realized that there is far too much to include in a condensed, yet practical and helpful place. If I were to ask an individual with years of experience betting basketball the same question, ‘how to bet basketball‘, they likely would not know where to begin.
Do you mean ‘how to place a bet on esports, where to place a bet, what are the lines to use, where to watch, what are the rules, what makes a good bet, how to price the players, what outrights are available, how does online/offline impact a match, when are the matches, does home field advantage exist, why are some matches offered and not others, how can we find advantages in the markets, how do sportsbooks set their odds, what are the limits, where to find free data and resources, when is the best time to bet the lines‘.
This is merely the tip of the iceberg and, to be quite clear, the answers will be different depending on the game we are looking at. Ideally one of these types of articles should be dedicated to each esport, but even then, I am not sure it would fit.
One of the most important distinctions which needs to be made right off the bat; ‘esports’ is the umbrella term for professional gaming, at least how it relates to us, the bettors. Knowing how to bet Counter-Strike: Global Offensive will not help you if you are looking to bet Fortnite. There is no players, data, or information that overlaps between these two games.
Just because your kid plays both and, perhaps is even good at both, does not mean that the games have parallels beyond both being loosely a ‘shooting game’, your knowledge of one will not transfer to the other. Even games like Dota2 and League of Legends, which are both MOBAs and at face value look similar, have entirely different knowledge required to beat their distinct lines.
While I thoroughly appreciated the depth of questions I received from those genuinely interested, many of the topics will have to be reserved for another day or subsequent piece. For the purposes of this topic I will merely be touching on the foundations of getting started. Every person reading this has their own stories how they were ‘initiated’ into our sports betting world.
Some of us had mentors, some come from a mathematics or programming background, others try to be as informed as possible, while most just want a little hobby on the side when they have free time in the evenings. Regardless of your background, esports are nothing to be intimidated about. If your approach is sound in other sports then you can be successful in esports.
What is Esports?
Esports is, as it sounds, ‘electronic sports’. You should not spell it eSports, e-sports, ESports, e-games, esportS, or anything to do with virtual sports, cyber sports or the plethora of other variations people use when they ask. It is very simple ‘esports’, and if at the beginning of a sentence or in a title, ‘Esports’.
For those of you not looking for a pedantic lesson of the English language, I apologize. If your book offers their esports markets with any of the above spellings or titles, then they are probably new to this!
When ESPN televised the Overwatch League in 2019 many individuals voiced their disapproval that video games were not only being associated with their beloved network, but also tied to the word ‘sports’. I imagine the postal service has been staging similar protests for the past twenty years to ensure that ’email’ does not slander their good reputation.
If esports is merely the word describe the entire realm of competitive gaming, then you can imagine that there are thousands of games which hold the elements necessary to have a community of fans, tournaments and betting markets. We can go so far as to even include Tetris as an esport. No, I am not joking. A 16-year-old, Joseph Saelee, defeated the 7-time World Champion in front of a packed Oregon Convention Center in 2018 with hundreds of thousands of people watching online.
For our context, all esports will deal solely with full-time professional gamers. This is a natural starting point given where esports now sits today. There are three games which have stood apart from the rest for the past decade in popularity and betting markets; Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Defense of the Ancients 2. All three feature a large community which has allowed their professional scene to flourish. Unless you have an incredible expertise or quality database in another title, these are the three which you must have in your arsenal.
Some people enjoy watching baseball or soccer, while others cannot bear to sit through two or three hours where next to nothing occurs until the final inning or 10 minutes. Similarly, if you are looking to watch an esports tournament, there is a wide variety of genres that may or may not interest you. Please do not make the mistake of tying it all together. There a number of genres which may interest you, and likely some titles you have heard of for years now [note I have seen markets for every single one of these titles over the past two years]:
List of esports games to bet on:
-FPS (first-person shooters)
- Team Fortress
- Rainbow Six
-FG (fighting games)
- Super Smash Bros
- Street Fighter
-MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena)
- League of Legends
- Heroes of the Storm
-TPS (third-person shooters)
- Gears of War
- Rocket League
When you watch esports you are not simply watching someone else play a video game. Instead you are appreciating the talent and coordination that it takes to become good enough to execute the actions on screen.
Similarly, when racing enthusiasts watch NASCAR they are not ‘watching someone drive a car’. They are watching professional drivers controlling the pinnacle of racing technology at speeds fast enough they could cause fatality. When hundreds of thousands of people watch the Chess championships do you think it is to watch people play chess or to watch geniuses go head-to-head in one of the classic games of our era.
This is the lens you should appreciate esports for. While you can jump on your Xbox and get a kill-streak against your buddies in Call of Duty, the level of skill needed to become a professional is not something everyone can do. Back in 2017 ELEAGUE compared the average visual reaction speed of CS:GO pros to athletes. In milliseconds; NHL goalies 255, NBA average 279, top 1% of MLB 281, and the CS:GO average pro at 287 below the NFL average, and MLB average. While I would love to know about that study in more depth, it is not alone in comparing reaction time of professional gamers and professional athletes.
We have seen many of the top esports organizations play a role in supporting their players to ensure they are performing at their peak, whether this is by hiring a nutritionist, trainer or sports psychologist.
There are a number of prominent games which have gone through different waves of popularity but are absolutely worth mentioning namely World of Warcraft (pvp and pve), StarCraft, and Hearthstone.
Many esports titles hearken from a predecessor, or several. For example, the current title in the Call of Duty franchise is Modern Warfare (2019). If you are thinking to yourself ‘hold on, I bought that for my now adult son over a decade ago’, you wouldn’t be wrong. CoD, being one of the iconic shooters of the past twenty years, have actually decided to just revisit old names for their games instead of adding a roman numeral to them or simply changing the year on the box like the sports games do.
Jokes aside, the CoD franchise has had over ten of their games being featured in esports tournaments. Last year’s iteration, Black Ops 4, awarded over $7 million dollars to tournament competitors. This type of backing will bring the fans, the sportsbooks and the bettors.
My point here is that esports is not a set amount of titles or games right now. While I commented that the big three are a natural starting point based on the prevalence of matches, the information available and the markets offered, you do not need to begin with those.
Why Bet on Esports?
The sheer number of games, tournaments, and teams provides you year-round opportunities. Have you noticed how many football bettors immediately took to this year’s XFL? Sure, part of it has to do with seeking some action.
However, an incredible number of the sports betting community believed their knowledge of football from either the NCAA or NFL would transfer. It did not matter that the rules, league, players, or even scoring system were entirely new. I am not going to judge whether they were right or wrong to do so, however, I know from experience that no one has an edge on Week 1 lines of a league that contains no data, nor information to run with. Yet it is clear that people would love to bet the same sport year-round if they could.
Esports provides this. Each of the main three titles, CS/LOL/DOTA, run every month of the year with perhaps only a couple weeks break for the higher tiers at Christmas and in the summer. By betting just two of them you will have your entire calendar covered with only a few days, or at most a week, between.
Over the years I have heard many arguments against esports, and esports betting. To be frank, you could use nearly all of them in the context of traditional sports as well. While many are only aware of this rapidly growing niche under the context of this week, I can assure you that the esports industry was grassroots twenty years ago and has had a dedicated subculture betting on it for most of the past decade.
Another aspect of critical significance is the softness of the esports market. Some books see it as a novelty still and have no need to worry about professional bettors, syndicates or other entities exposing them through line manipulation, insider information or match-fixing.
Many of the people I meet, whom are creating their own esports betting models, are largely a class of intelligent hobbyists keen to try their hand in a niche that interests them rather than mainstream traditional sports which are very difficult to beat year after year.
Like traditional sports, I do not watch a lot of esports. It is a common misconception that you need to see the ‘flow of the game’ or momentum to understand which team holds value going forward. While I enjoy watching the games themselves, it is only ever to use live markets or for some background noise while working on other sports.
So, I can reassure those thinking that they will need to watch thousands of hours of esports matches to identify a soft line in League of Legends, you won’t. What is of critically more importance is analyzing the underlying factors that lead a team to success and how replicable that is.
For instance, ‘gold’ differential is a common element of League consistently correlated to winning a game. In CS, we can look at rounds attained on particular maps. We do not need to watch players farm the jungle for 45 minutes, wipe their opponents twice and then conclude ‘so and so played well on this champion, that is why they won’. We do not need to watch Simple clutch a 1v2 for the third time that day to know that Natus Vincere will win when their best player is performing.
Esports games are typically easy to understand, difficult to master. I have never attempted to reach 8000 MMR in Dota 2, nor have many MLB bettors attempted to pitch a 95 mile an hour fastball. It is not necessary. Our challenge is not in determining the better team, or who ‘should’ win the game.
The lines, even in esports, are enough an indicator to know that. We are trying to find an edge on the market. The difference is this task is easier in esports than most of the sports you have grown to love for decades.
Where to Bet Esports
While my answer to this used to be rather short and succinct, these past months have absolutely blown up the industry worldwide. Naturally, it seems that every sportsbook is keen to keep their clientele, and accounts will only remain topped up if players can find action they are interested in. One of the frontrunners to this ‘fill the void’ approach is undoubtedly esports. So, my answer on ‘where to bet esports’ is quite plainly ‘every reputable book, and even some unreputable ones, are offering esports currently.’
Some are only providing a select few games such as Counter-Strike or League of Legends and may only offer match moneylines. That said, I have heard of growth even over this past week with one buddy messaging me early one morning to say ‘my book has CS totals now!’ The best thing you can do to help yourself is to have options. If I am posting map wagers or recommending something to look for live for better odds, when we have more knowledge of the match-up, then it is only going to help you longterm to have those available.
While some books are merely offering esports for the first time, others are offering even more games you may never have seen before. BetOnline, for example, has a very vibrant esports betting section. You should check out our BetOnline review to find more information about all their esports betting options.
I have been made aware of even some pre-season lines being posted! Yes, that is correct; some esports leagues have a pre-season and, just like in traditional sports betting, you can bet these too if you think it is a wise course of action.
Various sportsbooks also have a separate section for their esports lines and some are easier to find than others. If you are unsure it is always better to ask either myself or your book’s customer service.
How to Bet Esports
Often, I am caught off guard when I hear this question, but it really pertains to such a wide breadth of information. The actual process of betting on esports is very similar to sports betting you are already familiar with.
One thing to keep in mind is what a ‘map’ is. A map is one game of the particular Esport and is very similar to a set in tennis. Teams must win multiple maps, usually 2 or 3 to win a series. In CSGO a team must win two maps up to 16 rounds each to win a series. In League of Legends a team must win two maps where they destroyed the opponents base to win a series.
Esports Bet Types
- Match Moneyline = which team will win the match. This refers to the entire series.
- Match Handicap (-1.5/+1.5) = the favorite to win by two maps or the underdog will win at least one map. In a best of three it will be a -1.5 line, in a best of five series it will be either a -1.5 or -2.5 line
- Total Maps (over 2.5/ under 2.5) = either each team wins a map or one team wins 2-0. Just like in tennis if you take the over 2.5 sets you need each player to win one set. The opposite being true to hit the under.
- Map 1/2/3 Moneyline = bet on a team to win a particular map. This bet only pertains to that one map. If you bet on a team to win the map, the results of the rest of the series or on other maps do not impact this map.
- Map Handicap (-2.5/+2.5 or greater) = team must be within the requisite number of rounds or kills. If the wager is +5.5, they could lose 16-11 but not 16-10. In CS the most common spreads are between -2.5 and -5.5 rounds. In League and Dota you will see kill spreads anywhere from -1.5 to -12.5. The difference with kill spreads is that a team does not need to cover the kill spread to win the game.
- Total (over / under 26.5 or any other number) = bet that the map score will go over or under by either rounds or kills. If you are expecting a close game in CSGO you will want to take the over. If you are expecting one team to dominate due to skill or map advantage then you will want to take the under. In League of Legends the total is much more dependent on the draft and duration of game.
Just like with traditional sports, esports betting ‘looks’ different depending on the book you are using. While the layout of showing match lines in close proximity to map lines, or even specific round lines, can be a minefield to navigate at first, I assure you that if you wish to bet on esports it really is no more complicated.
Line Movement in Esports
A friend of mine collected the line movement of 1900 CSGO matches through 2018 from a prominent esports bookmaker and found that teams which closed as the underdog, above +100, won 58% of matches. Can you say ‘pricing uncertainty’? While esports has garnered significantly more attention and reduced disparity in odds between books, as a whole it remains one of the most (potentially) profitable avenues on the betting market today.
Interestingly some books offer a wide range of limits even on the same leagues, just like the traditional betting market. Some will provide up to five figures in the biggest tournaments, while I have also been informed noteworthy offshores were restricting first time esports bettors to $25 this past week. Regardless of your unit size and what your goals are for betting on esports, I do recommend you have a few options available to you.
Line shopping is commonplace in the sports betting industry, or at least it should be, but is of paramount importance when betting on esports to maximize the full value. With the NBA you might be able to get a half point at one of your shops before it adjusts to the rest of the board, but with esports you could get significantly different ranges in price. Based on some of the messages I received, others have noticed too. So, give yourself options even if it is only 3 or 4 shops.
I have mentioned to more than a handful of people this week not to focus nearly so much on the closing line. Believe I just heard CLV-lovers out there collectively gasp. Let me explain. The entire premise of closing line value is that the market is ‘efficient’.
If CSGO hummed like the NFL then being on the right side of the line movement would always be the correct play even when a wager lost because you have reassurance, assumed of course, that the market is always self-correcting and therefore representing the correct probability of the outcome, more or less. This has been shown to be true in some of the major sports at prominent bookmakers over respectable periods of time.
However, this is not the case in esports. There are a lot of assumptions being made here, but the various outcomes of sporting events are always speculative. This is an absolute truth unless the bettor has a way of manipulating the result…which the legal system has described in length.
My point here, though perhaps not succinct, is that while we will never know the actual probability of Astralis to win the next major, any more than we know the likelihood of Djokovic to win the next US Open, the market, meaning the books and every other individual vested in this this space, has less of an idea in esports than in tennis.
While I would never suggest ignoring a significant change in price at one of your books, based on information you may be aware of, assuming that the esports market is efficient at this time because that is what you are used to in football, soccer, tennis, basketball or any other huge market, is going to cause you more harm than benefit.
I bet on more underdogs than most of the quality esports bettors I know, and still I find myself losing to the house side! However, you should always be looking their way, most especially early on in tournaments when we have not seen performances for a bit of time. One of my worst tournaments of 2019 was ESL One Cologne.
To that point there were 29 tournaments we could have bet, and I was running at 17-4 for the ones we did. Cologne hit me like a ton of bricks. Favorites cashed in at brutal clip going 15-6, and 45-12 in maps. Every so often we will have a tournament like this where the biggest names seem to perform all in one perfect hellstorm, however the rest of the year you want to be seeking out those dogs as frequently as you think you can get away with to be successful when you bet on esports!
How can you judge correct line movement? Was a substitute just announced, or the maps or champions selected? How much did the line move by these things occurring? Track it and make your own conclusions. I for one know that a map is almost never worth the line movement you see after the veto.
So, if you know that Nip is going to choose either Overpass or Vertigo because Ence have to ban one of them, and do not play either, why do you need to wait for the veto to occur? You can get a far better price and sometimes an entire point difference. This is the philosophy I think will lead sports bettors unfamiliar with esports to success; seeking the number they specifically think they need based upon a sound approach.
While I have been pleased to see the explosion over the past 18 months on betting options for esports at many books, there are also some novelty lines that are best to avoid, generally. In CSGO one example would be betting a team to win a pistol round.
While certain teams have better stats on pistols on particular sides of certain maps it would be best to create a system around it. I have tried on a couple of occasions but have yet to find success on four years of paper-betting it.
Another example might be a particular dragon to be killed first in LoL, or how many Roshan kills in Dota2. The books are not stupid and take most of the lines off the board before the drafting phase in League and Dota…really the only information you could use to find an edge on such markets. So, keep in mind not all esports markets are worth pursuing, just like when placing a bet on traditional sports.
Where to Watch Esports
Esports fans really became a ‘thing’ when Justin.tv became popular, which is what we know today as Twitch – a free live-streaming service. This is one of those things that always catches people off guard; ‘you mean I just go to the website and watch the competition for free?’ Both Twitch and the tournament organizers receive most of their funding from sponsorships and advertising revenue. So yes, you can navigate to their website, search for the tournament title and should be watching it within seconds. Many of the bigger tournaments also provide YouTube streams.
There is also a site called ‘Juked.gg‘ which promises to hold all esports competitions in one easy to find location. Of course, if you can bet on esports from a phone, you may also stream the matches from your mobile device or tablet as well. Perhaps you were lucky enough to be one of the 900 000 people watching Nascar iRacing this past weekend when Fox broadcast it on television. We will see more of this in the future even after sports return.
Sites to Begin your Esports Journey
As I mentioned earlier you really ought to begin seeking out one of the three major games; either Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends or Defense of the Ancients 2. The sites I recommend, and that have all been fundamental in my approach for their respective games are:
- hltv.org (CSGO)
- sixteenzero.net/blog (CSGO)
- bayes.gg/blogs (CSGO)
- leagueofgraphs.com (LoL)
- metasrc.com/5v5 (LoL)
- oracleselixir.com (LoL)
- datdota.com (Dota 2)
- dotabuff.com (Dota 2)
- stratz.com (Dota 2)
While I am a bit old-school, at least in relation to esports, and have been using the same handful of sites for my data and information for years now, new ones are cropping up annually. So, this is by no means a comprehensive list – if you have some great ones you have stumbled upon let me know!
Esports is still like the wild west for now. And I do not mean this in the ‘people are dying trying to get to the gold rush’ sense, but rather the ‘now is the time to be pioneers in a new industry’ sense. It is clear how many of you are not only using esports to pass the time, but are keen on developing your own approach and systems to find another market of potential profits.
For those who are, in fact, just scratching the gambling itch until sports return, well…we might still convert you yet! Thank you for reading.