Jack Kelliher, Commercial Manager for PA Betting Services (pictured), discusses the unforeseen esports events in lockdown, the ‘pulling power’ of large brands to attack the space, popular objections for those nervous about getting involved, and the trading advantage to setting prices against those for other major betting sports.
SBC: With the betting world now having had time to readjust to the lack of live sports action, what’s been the reaction to esports, which of course has enjoyed a lot of industry discussion post-lockdown measures?
JK: It’s been a pleasant surprise. We help supply the data to sportsbooks here at PA Betting Services and I understand operators have seen x30/40 growth on events we couldn’t foresee prior to lockdown such as the FIFA Quarantine Cup and NBA 2K league. We have also seen a doubling of turnover on established titles like CS:GO and League of Legends.
Despite the doom and gloom we are sometimes presented with, our feeling at PA Betting Services is that sportsbooks have fought back tremendously in extreme adversity. Those who have embraced esports, virtual racing and international racing products from Japan, Australia and now France could be pleasantly surprised at the turnover and profits made compared to prior forecasts in early March.
SBC: We could argue that the key to esports success would be the appetite for it from a bettors’ perspective. With at-home betting audiences starved for live sport markets to engage with, are we beginning to see encouraging signs that esports is a market they want to regularly participate in?
JK: Esports has definitely gained new audiences in the last two months and it has been helped by being in the public eye more than usual. There’s an amazing community that has relished the exposure. I believe the industry is going to continue to benefit from an explosion of growth in the short to medium-term as more people come into the sport and the products mature.
We’ve seen reports of increased turnover from sportsbooks who were already dedicated to this space. But most will have witnessed greater industry awareness which benefits the wider esports ecosystem. Established brands new to the sports betting market have proven there is an appetite from bettors on a wide scale. In my role at PA Betting Services, we have seen far greater demand for esports data, odds and content than ever before. Esports is for sure coming to a place near you soon.
SBC: Is the industry perception of esports changing with the times? Are we seeing more traditional bettors look towards esports now with other live sport events cancelled on a wide scale?
JK: Not yet in my opinion or at least not on a large scale. Companies like Betway have shown how to build a dedicated offering the fans can appreciate. The pulling power large brands have in the UK provides the opportunity to educate bettors and really attack this space. Our industry news, tips, infographics and stats widgets are all great ways to engage audiences both new to the genre and experienced alike.
SBC: Are we still witnessing some reluctance from bookmakers to take their first step into the world of esports? What do you think is holding them back?
JK: I believe that sportsbooks are still nervous about the esports space, especially here in the UK where many of the leading brands operate. The larger bookmakers have experienced fantastic success elsewhere and the downtime enforced by COVID-19 could even see some operators spending time improving more proven traditional products due to the expected revenue generated via those channels.
Many sportsbooks have an offering but what is offered to customers, for example the in-play offering, can differ vastly between different providers. If you shop around, you will see the same small number of markets for the same fixtures without vastly different pricing on 60-70% of established sportsbooks.
Thanks to this report from EveryMatrix we know our in-play offering is market leading on volume of markets. Like tennis and cricket – esports will see lots of action on in-play betting and having a great offer in this space with good depth and uptime will be critical for operators in the near future.
SBC: In your conversations about esports with potential customers, what seem to be the most popular objections?
JK: Integrity is something that always pops up as a challenge to esports in the betting space, with stories of match fixing since as early as 2010, when a South Korean StarCraft player received a lifetime ban for conspiring to lose games. As any sports fan knows, scandals such as this are not unique to esports.
The emergence of ESIC in the last few years has certainly helped with sportsbooks, media and game developers joining forces to tackle this concern. As more and more companies become part of the ESIC group, the battle to provide comfort and assurances will strengthen.
Underage gambling is another area that pops up frequently, but this is something I’m quick to dismiss as an issue. Betting operators have taken a much stricter stance to the Know Your Customer (KYC) process in recent times and continue to do so.
Compliance queries are not uncommon and PA Betting Services has a rich history of ensuring integrity for the UK horse racing market and all this knowledge and experience has been brought over to our esports products and partnerships.
SBC: What future challenges and opportunities can you see arising around esports?
JK: During these challenging times esports has been very much in the public eye. Unlike other major sports titles, the biggest challenge to sportsbooks will be to retain turnover across all game titles. For dedicated media and news sites, I see only greater awareness in the short term and very little downside as demand for esports game previews and betting content is high right now.
I see only opportunity for the whole esports community. Esports is in a unique position, particularly the traders of these titles. Typically, you would see match markets with 2-5% overround in football and tennis, where you will often see 8%-15% in esports match winner markets. These margins are there to help risk manage the book in a somewhat new sport.
The traders taking it seriously and upskilling their teams by employing dedicated esports traders will have a huge edge in minimising the margins through greater understanding and knowledge of the gameplay, driving greater incentives for bettors to play at that sportsbook. PA Betting Services is proud to partner with one of the global leading esports suppliers of data, odds and gameplay visuals – PandaScore.
Esports games have many nuances and with the PS team being dedicated gamers in their spare time, including some ex-professionals – all combined with specialist data science knowledge – they have formed a dynamic trading team who really understand each esports title. The result is a better user experience for customers with the most markets, greater uptime and confidence backed with reputation and integrity.
SBC: Looking ahead to the summer where hopefully things will become a lot clearer, do you think esports will have offered a lifeline to sportsbooks and restored some normality and financial stability for the betting industry?
JK: A lifeline might be unfair on all other revenue streams sportsbooks still have such as virtual sports, slot games and casinos, but esports has certainly helped. One customer was quoted as saying 60% of all revenues are now coming from esports. The majority of this is, somewhat surprisingly, coming from FIFA and NBA2K – both recent additions to the sector.
The crossover for sports fans to these titles is so seamless that I expect the industry has taken revenues in excess of any forecasts they could predict. Our expertise in offering esports solutions have kept the PA Betting Services team busy over the past months. I think it is a sector going one way and that’s up.
SBC: What would be your final message to anyone considering esports as a market?
JK: Competitive gaming is here to stay and is growing month-on-month, year-on-year. Dedicated esports betting sites are taking millions each month having attracted an audience from scratch with little to no opportunity to cross sell from other sports.
It’s imperative you offer audiences depth of coverage across each title, combining that with depth of markets and high-end visual widgets to increase engagement. That’s what PA Betting Services are helping sportsbooks with, so please do feel free to reach out if you’re exploring this space.