The road to legitimisation in esports betting

Improving integrity standards across esports is of absolute importance for its continued growth and move into the mainstream. 

James Watson, Sportradar
James Watson, Sportradar

With the majority of tournaments, at least the qualifying stages, played out online and with the numerous distinct esports titles offering their own unique challenges, the battle to ensure a level of integrity befitting an industry with the money and viewership that it does is a tough one.

It’s also one which needs as many of the major players from across the spectrum; teams, tournament organisers, bookmakers and the rest, to band together to fight. This is the purpose of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) which launched earlier this summer.

Sportradar, which has developed its own fraud detection system, was amongst the first to sign up to be a part of the ESIC project. It also established a deal with the world’s largest esports organisation, the ESL, back in October 2015. It is the continued efforts of companies like this, and partnerships such as these which will stamp out the various forms of cheating in esports which, whilst not prevalent, are an undeniable blemish on the face of esports.

Both ESIC Commissioner Ian Smith and Sportradar Head of Esports James Watson will be speaking about esports on two separate panels at Betting on Sports  (#bettingonsports) in London on the 15th and 16th this month. We spoke to James on integrity measures, fraud detection and live betting in esports.

SBC: Sportradar was one of the first to partner with the Esports Integrity Coalition. Why is the ESIC necessary, and how closely has Sportradar been working with Ian Smith and the team?

James: We have been working closely alongside Ian Smith ever since first meeting up with him at the Frankfurt Dota 2 Major in November 2015. Back then, ESIC was just a concept but it was clear to all that there was a need for a centralised body to help manage the integrity of esports events. Whilst Sportradar are very much focused on the “cheating-to-lose” aspects of ESIC, with all matches monitored by our award winning Fraud Detection System, we certainly support what Ian and the team are doing in the rest of the integrity space.

A key point to remember is that even though competitive gaming has been around in some format for more than 20 years, it is still very young in relative terms for a sport. This naturally brings some vulnerabilities, including at the player level, which need to be properly policed and managed to ensure the success of esports as a whole moving forward. We have been providing educational workshops to players and other participants across a range of sports for years, so Ian called on us to support a number of educational workshops that we delivered to players and their teams at the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice earlier this year.

All in all, we are really happy that Ian and the ESIC team have called upon us for both our detection services and our prevention services and we look forward to working closely with them over the coming years.

SBC: Sportradar announced its multi-faceted partnership with ESL back in autumn of 2015. How has this partnership grown since then? For instance, how often has the esports fraud detection system come into play at ESL tournaments?

James: Our partnership with ESL has grown from strength to strength and has now seen us positioned as a leader in the esports betting, digital media and integrity spaces.

As mentioned previously, the esports sector is still going through a period of maturity and our water-tight integrity approach helps to ensure that this growth can be maintained. We continue to monitor all matches in ESL competitions for signs of betting related fraud, whilst also engaging directly with players and coaches at educational workshops. The Extreme Masters Katowice fraud prevention workshop I mentioned earlier was delivered to over 100 of the world’s elite CS:GO, League of Legends and StarCraft II players.

In the betting and digital sports spaces, feedback from our clients and the rest of the market has been positive. Our relationship with ESL allows us peerless access to official data and audiovisual content that we provide to our clients, which is very reassuring given the very fragmented nature of the industry as a whole. Delayed content is one of the biggest challenges facing the betting space in particular, and with many operators simply unaware, they find themselves caught out. Sportradar are in a position to protect against these risks and offer betting products and services in both a safe and sustainable way.

SBC: James, what can attendees expect from the panel you’re sitting on analysing live betting and esports. Are some esports better suited to in-play than others?

James: Live betting is a clear natural growth path for esports and is certainly an area that Sportradar are spending a lot of time and resources to make sure that our clients are not put at unnecessary risk.

Data is the hot topic at the moment in esports betting and I’ll be speaking about how this data flow works, how to understand it and most importantly, how to leverage it into a credible betting product.

All esports titles are very different. Whether you look at these games from a pure betting perspective, demographical or even from a social point-of-view, they largely cannot be compared. At Sportradar we treat these games as entirely different sports, the same way that we’d treat Tennis and Snooker independently. However, one thing that unites eSports as a whole is that they are very fast paced and have a lot of events happening at any one given time. Whilst this is a challenge not faced by many traditional sports, and certainly when you consider the restrictions of public data feeds, it undoubtedly brings huge benefits in terms of customer engagement and entertainment.

Read more about the panels that James and Ian will be featuring on as well as the other esports panels in the packed #bettingonsports agenda…

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