Last week, Sportradar announced the launch of ‘Simulated Reality’, which offers clients a new sports betting category matching real-life sports engagements.
Speaking exclusively to SBC, Werner Becher, Sportradar Managing Director for US Betting, outlined the journey to launch and tech capacity for Simulated Reality – a product arriving at the most critical time for the industry.
SBC: Can you explain the concept of ‘Simulated Reality’ to SBC audiences, and how this technology will improve and redefine sportsbooks product portfolios?
Werner Becher (WB): We have had this concept for some time, but the timing is right to launch this now, knowing we had the data, technology and talent to scale this quickly in light of the unprecedented times the sports betting market is currently facing.
Simulated Reality is completely AI-driven and algorithm-based. It continues to learn and adapt due to the AI systems we use and the millions of data points that we have gathered over 20 years and input into the system. This has enabled us to create a product that gives fans the same experience as they would have when watching and betting on a real game: the same teams, at the same day and times they would usually be played, and all the betting options they would normally be presented with on a matchday.
We have added all our AI capabilities to not only analyse, but also generate data on recommendations from our AI engine. Normally we collect data from thousands of real games, our AI then analyses the data coming in and calculates the best markets and odds. With Simulated Reality we generate the data ourselves from our AI engine which is something completely new to the industry.
All our historic and statistical data from millions of sporting events helps to model an unquantifiable number of data points. We provide the AI engine with all the inputs, categories, and filters and within the Simulated Reality product it then selects the best scenes which fit any given moment within a live game. This can’t be done manually so we need to train the AI engine. This rapidly creates a huge number of different game situations, outcomes and gameplays to generate similar but completely unpredictable new experiences for football fans.
The AI engine looks for historic games with similar conditions and odds and, depending on the game, lets the RNG decide which sequences to choose and show next. The engine recognises appropriate but completely unpredictable sequences. This product is our chance to model how real games would take place as they would happen in real stadiums.
SBC: Can you detail the development of ‘simulated reality’ games from its initial concept and development stage through to its official launch?
WB: The idea was conceptualised and fully mapped out last Wednesday (25th March) by colleagues in our Austrian product team. On Thursday we held management discussions, further developed the concept and held meetings with our AI teams and on Friday agreed we would have a prototype ready by April 1st to test and optimize ahead of launch this weekend.
Our business has 2,500 staff working across multiple global locations. This has been made even more complex because everyone is now working remotely. It has been a huge challenge to do this in such a short space of time; to standardise the software processes, to develop the product, to test it across every parameter, integrate it into own data feeds and to launch it in five days.
SBC: As a technology, Simulated Reality encompasses many of Sportradar’s existing product and wagering services capacities. Where does it sit within your existing wagering portfolio?
WB: We have created a new category. With very little live-action, if we can provide a modern, relevant product that can be trusted by bettors, replicating games as they would be played and at the same time of day they are played, that are fair and unpredictable, then I’m confident that bettors will enjoy the experience. In the future when sports come back, I believe this product could also have a longer lifespan as there is huge demand now.
I’m confident this will help our partners generate additional revenue at a time when they need it most and provide fans with a hugely entertaining product that will enable them to see their teams complete the season. Today’s generation of football fans switch between games, both in real and virtual terms and are constantly monitoring current standings and scores, and this product allows them to instantly replicate that behaviour and experience.
SBC: As you are aware, it is difficult delivering new concepts to sports betting audiences. How has Sportradar tested the capacity of simulated reality to ensure it is both unique and disruptive?
WB: We are working and running AI simulations 24/7 and will continue to do this even after the product has gone live. The AI engine never stops learning and that is the beauty of such a dynamic and evolving product that is constantly being fed data and learning the most appropriate but unpredictable outcomes as a result.
We are also optimising the Simulated Reality product step-by-step. You can adjust parameters and filters to send it in the right direction and in parallel work on its output with live data and odds feeds, however working with AI is not like developing normal source code. It is about training the software, letting it run and allowing it to learn itself.
SBC: You are launching a new technology at a sensitive time for bookmakers dealing with global COVID-19 impacts. Why not push back the launch simulated reality games to a ‘softer period’?
WB: The world is a very different place to a month ago, as is our industry with all retail betting operators down in Europe and other countries. Operators that rely on retail business are struggling while online betting operators that also have online casino products have seen some losses but have increased their share of casino revenue.
This product is designed to provide our partners and their customers with high quality, unique sports betting entertainment content and a smooth user experience, helping them to generate additional revenues during this difficult time as well as when the world and the industry resumes normal service.
There are limited numbers of live events left that operators can offer and players can bet on, therefore attentions have been drawn to other products such as casino with some operators reporting activity up 20-30%. Virtuals has also seen considerable uplift as a share of sportsbook revenue, while we strongly believe Simulated Reality could go even further.
SBC: Moving forward, how will Sportradar utilise simulated reality dynamics across its range of wagering products and services. How does it enhance Sportradar’s all-round product capacities?
WB: We are kicking this off with top three leagues in England, Germany and Spain. We are then adding Europe’s top knock-out football tournaments next week, and rapidly increasing played events to 700 per day in those countries and others including second and third tier leagues.
We then plan to extend this even further to other sports including tennis with all major tournaments, basketball, handball and much more. Our AI engine can instantly provide us with more games. If 80% of revenues are generated during live betting, then we are aiming to generate as much with Simulated Reality.
We are working around the clock to continually evolve this product as well as simultaneously work with other units such as our virtual sports teams to discuss how we can better visualize our data and add more fan engagement factors and statistics, insights and big data to further enhance the betting experience.
Werner Becher – Sportradar – Managing Director US Betting