Esports has been a big topic of conversation in recent years, but what actually is it? For betting operators, there are basically two types of esports; hardcore video game competition such as CSGO, Dota, League of Legends etc. And sport replacement, or so called crisis content, which includes FIFA, NBA2k, and Ice Hockey.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, sport replacement almost did not exist in comparison to now, with only a small handful of exceptions. But in 2020, the pandemic had a dramatic impact on both esports and esports betting in a number of ways.
First of all, the lockdown put a stop to virtually every ‘normal’ sport. Esports then took centre stage as betting operators could still run high quality competitions with tier 1 teams and players. Sport replacement then became the most important part of the traditional sports product as all other content vanished.
The elite levels of hardcore esports, on the other hand, rely heavily on both physical events and international competitions. This is when the best of the best play against one another. This is the pinnacle of competition, which was made nigh on impossible due to global travel restrictions.
As a result, a lot of the top competitions have been postponed or cancelled, which has had an overwhelmingly negative effect on the esports industry as a whole. League of Legends Worlds, which took place in October 2020, was the first such major event since March earlier that year.
But despite the doom and gloom of 2020, esports saw a significant increase in betting volumes, and never-seen-before levels of exposure. As a result, the esports timeline has been accelerated for a number of betting companies as they seek to ensure that they have content in all situations.
So will esports’ big moment last?
Some may disagree that this is in fact esports’ big moment. With plans for in-venue events on hold, many across the industry are waiting in the wings for when big events can make a return.
There has also been a stagnation across many esports, with the exception of League of Legends. Without the international competition, games like CSGO and Dota have suffered, and big events are very repetitive due to regional teams almost always being the same.
Last year, Team Secret in Dota won 8 events in a row all winning the finals 3:0. This is a staggering achievement. However, it isn’t exactly compelling competition.
There is no doubting that esports will continue to grow beyond COVID. But for some, it appears that there is more danger lurking on the horizon.
Cast your eyes back to 2008 – the last time we experienced a significant global financial crisis. At that time, esports suffered and as a result, many competitions and careers ground to a halt before the sport began to reemerge in 2010/11.
This year, the world may still be reluctant to open their purses and make any significant investments into esports. This may threaten startups, especially those which are not yet self-sufficient.
This downturn is especially relevant to crisis content due to the lack of ‘normal sport’. As we begin to emerge into a post-COVID world and normal events begin to resume, the interest in crisis content will wane and – as it already has – will likely land on a kind of always-on product where there is something available during usual downtimes for traditional sport content.
Challenges in esports
Video games have, and always will be, very complex so there are almost limitless possibilities for the future when it comes to betting options. As you can imagine, this doesn’t have to be limited to the traditional structures.
The biggest issue with esports is the fact that the servers are so secure and controlled that there is really no way to ensure consistency when it comes to the collection of data. As a result, this falls to publishers or tournament organisers who have ultimate control. And doing deals with every single company is incredibly difficult.
Compared to traditional sports where there is a venue and very low latency broadcasts, companies can collect data almost at will and it is usually within a good standard. Collecting data from the public source in esports has a huge disadvantage by comparison in speed and quality.
Issues can then stem from game updates. Publishers are constantly changing games all the time; again, compared to traditional sports where it is almost always the same data points and the same formats and structures.
All of these factors slow progress down and it is the main reason it seems to take so long to develop new products, or especially new game titles; where data is basically non-existent.
On top of this, there are many more threats and challenges for the industry to overcome; integrity, cheating, fake tournaments, underage players, lack of information, conflicting development priorities, over-regulation and more.
Has esports had its time in the sun?
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that esports has enjoyed its moment in the spotlight during 2020, having become centre stage while ‘traditional’ sports were left waiting in the wings.
But with last year sparking more conversations about esports than ever, I don’t think we are ready for the curtain call just yet. Esports presents many more opportunities for betting operators, and quite honestly, I think this is just the beginning.
This article was authored by Mark Balch, VP Esports Betting Services at Bayes Esports.