The coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a huge challenge for the entire betting community, and bookmakers have been confronted with a situation which they never thought they’d face.
Who expected to see the Belarusian Premier League topping viewing charts across the globe?
However, esports has also seen a sharp rise in viewership since the COVID-19 outbreak due to its versatility and online appeal which is beneficial to both bookmakers and consumers.
Whilst sport-based esports such as FIFA, NBA and Formula 1 have risen in popularity and will be seen as crucial assets for bookmakers, we shouldn’t overlook some of the sector’s most popular titles.
Games such as League of Legends (LoL) and CS:GO may not initially appear to the traditional sports bettor, but these titles carry specific fan bases which could also enhance a bookmakers offering.
Alex Sommers, 1xBet Director of Affiliate Marketing, told SBC News: “Esports, which not so long ago were neither taken particularly seriously by many, nor seen to merit close attention, are now helping people cope in these challenging times. They are like the fragment of a door that Kate Winslet’s character clung to in James Cameron’s Titanic to save herself.
“Whilst the esports industry has suffered losses due to the coronavirus pandemic as the format of a number of tournaments has been changed, and some events have been cancelled altogether, esports can, unlike traditional sports, be held completely online, which has undoubtedly helped keep the cogs of the esports machine turning.
“Bookmakers have been able to offer new events to partially normalise their workflow. Therefore, in the present circumstances, we are delighted that we have been focusing on this area of the market for a number of years.
“Our company offers a wide range of esports options which punters can choose from, including popular sports simulators, CS:GO, which dozens of tournaments are currently taking place for, Dota 2, which is the leading esport in the CIS and League of Legends, which is also proving to be popular.”
As Sommers alluded to, CS:GO, Dota 2 and LoL are proving to be popular substitutes to real sports. According to Esports Charts, LoL was March’s most viewed title on Twitch with over 122m hours watched and a peak viewership of 431,000. CS:GO and Dota 2 were fourth and seventh respectively.
However, for Sommers this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of markets available on 1xBet. He continued: “This is just a taster of the games available in the 1xBet library. We also have plenty to offer fans of WarCraft III and StarCraft: Brood War, which tournaments are still taking place for, as both of these cult video games are permanent fixtures in our list of markets. Given the growing interest in esports, we are constantly working to add new tournaments and new types of bets.
“This work takes various forms, from reducing our margins and increasing bet limits to crash courses in customer support and providing more in-depth consultation about these types of events, which are new to many of our customers.”
Providing education with these markets will not only entice traditional sport fans to contemplate a flutter after learning about the game, but also make it far more appealing from a betting standpoint by breaking down the reasons for different markets.
Sommers is also aware that esports becoming a must-have for bookmakers is also linked to sports through associated games and the exposure sporting stars have given its key titles.
“The hashtag #stayathome has become a fixture of our lives in recent weeks, but how are you supposed to entertain yourself when you’re stuck at home?” he continued.
“YouTube has reduced video quality to relieve stress on its network, and the online service Steam has seen a record number of active players. Footballers who are in lockdown, such as Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Fernando Llorente and Thibaut Courtois have also taken part in esports events.
“What’s more, professional sportspeople have started to face off in mini-tournaments, with footballers taking to the virtual pitch, and racers vying for victory on virtual Formula 1 tracks. NHL stars generally prefer to stick to what they know best, but many of them have turned their attention to other sports.”
This exposure has driven esports to the forefront of the betting world; for example, Leyton Orient’s Quaren-Team FIFA tournament and the NBA all-pro competition allowed bookmakers to provide odds for customers whilst also testing how successful esports betting could be.
Sommers concluded: “Elite sports, such as the English Premier League, the Grand Slam tournaments, the NBA and the EuroLeague, along with the many other tournaments that are popular with users of our site, will be back at some point.
“However, while they’re on ice, esports is in full swing and we will try to do everything we can so that esports continue to delight punters with a wide, varied range of events.”
Whilst COVID-19 has caused much harm to the betting sector, as it has to nearly every other industry, there are opportunities for firms to adapt to the changing environment. Esports is one of the biggest such opportunities, and has quickly become a prominent topic in the industry. In all likelihood, this will continue to be the case after the virus has ceased.