Frenetic and data-rich: Why Pinnacle believes esports is undoubtedly a ‘betting sport’

Consistently found in the top four of Pinnacle’s best performing sports, and even higher with many of its B2B partners, esports has more than proven itself to be a popular betting product explained Ben Cove (pictured), Chief Marketing Officer at Pinnacle. 

But despite the solid betting trends, some have argued that esports is simply not a ‘betting sport’. Cove gives his reasons why the data-rich, frenetic nature of esports makes it a perfect betting market before explaining why grassroots investments are key to changing perceptions of the sport.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly makes for a ‘betting sport’, ever since reading a recent feature that argued esports doesn’t fit this label. I’ve not got the definition at hand for exactly what qualifies for a betting sport, but I do understand the term. What I don’t understand is the argument against esports.

Consistently ranking in our top four best performing sports, and generally even higher for our B2B partners, esports is proven to attract significant levels of betting action. At Pinnacle, we’re talking millions of bets a year. Surely these numbers alone cement it as a betting sport. 

Meanwhile, when you break it down, as a pure entertainment form, it’s hard to think of many sports that can compete with esports when it comes to being primed for betting.

Esports is data-rich, frenetic in its action, and accessible around the clock via well-produced live streams, which are increasingly penetrating mainstream audiences, particularly after last year’s sports shutdown. To me, this makes for a first-rate betting environment for pre-match, but especially in-play. 

So, given that the notion ‘esports is not a betting sport’ appears so widespread, I wonder if the issue lies with industry awareness and understanding of what exactly esports offers, as opposed to the reality I’m seeing.

We’ve got skin in the game. We’re positively biased towards esports and everyone here at Pinnacle is passionately active in driving it forward as a core betting product stream. But we’re also commercially minded. We consider the risks of investing in what’s often perceived as an immature sport. On the other hand, we’ve seen the data, the rapid growth of the customer base, and the fundamental value it delivers from an operator and supplier viewpoint.

Investing in the esports community and its grassroots is key to changing these perceptions. Top tier teams are already well supported. The infrastructure is there to support adequately funded, well-trained and responsible teams across the bigger events and leagues. But to ensure esports continues on its rapid growth trajectory, it’s important that its grassroots receive the same attention.

With a number of esports events cancelled last year and funding harder to come by in current circumstances, many up-and-coming teams and players have struggled to achieve higher levels of competition. Esports may not have the same pyramid structure as many traditional sports, but it does view itself as a meritocracy.

The best players do rise to the top. The well-run underdog teams also take the scalps of bigger-name teams and they rightly receive the appropriate rewards through funding or access to higher-profile tournaments. This process is key to delivering the best esports betting product in the long term. Competition should be fierce up and down the rankings and putting partnerships in place to help facilitate this is a major part of our strategy.

Launching our Pinnacle Cup series of tournaments has been an example of us doing just that. We wanted to give up-and-coming CS:GO teams a chance to shine, while also providing esports bettors with unique content. Assessing the results after our first event, it’s clear that there’s a huge demand for this from a betting point of view.

We know what the esports customer expects, and we’d like to think, as operators, we’re best placed to deliver competition formats that suit this unique and nuanced audience. However, in driving esports betting forward, it’s not as simple as “build it and they will come”. This demographic wants more and without authenticity and a true understanding of what the ‘more’ is, betting brands can only go so far. I believe it’s this lack of understanding from some that leaves esports with an underrated reputation as a betting revenue driver.

Engaging with different functions within the esports industry is key to improving this understanding. Whether it be the integration of bespoke data providers to improve betting content and live uptime or partnering with Twitch casters to showcase betting as a compliment to streaming, a more concentrated, purpose-built approach is needed to achieve a great esports betting product; one that ultimately builds trust within the community.

The archaic view that esports is not a betting sport will only have standing if the industry isn’t providing the right betting experience for esports fans to enjoy. Fortunately, the days of offering bog-standard markets has passed us by. Money Lines and simplistic handicap markets may be the core of the betting product, but to an esports fan pondering over their first bet, they want to see a showcase of variety and nuance within the game titles they love.

Operators need to take esports seriously in order to break the glass ceiling. That means recruiting specific esports trading teams, being committed to more granular modelling, cutting-edge data provision and, perhaps most importantly, truly understanding this gen-z, digital-native, esports-obsessed customer – and how this customer is a different beast from a different sub-culture. Without these elements, esports will remain a brief sideshow within your sportsbook, not a vertical in its own right.

With these pillars in place, we can position esports betting as a tier-one sport industry-wide. The tools are there, we’re seeing the results already, but many are still getting their house in order. This may be due to an underestimation of esports’ betting potential or maybe a misunderstanding of how betting fits alongside esports’ culture. Whatever it is, current trends look promising, and we will continue to do our bit to challenge negative perceptions.

It’s important that we don’t sit back, expecting the esports fan to convert to our betting products organically. We have to go to them. Whether it be through education from a content perspective, building trust by establishing an authentic voice, or investing in the grassroots with a view to improving the esports betting experience down the line; there’s lots of work to do.

We’ve long been committed to investing in esports to drive it forward as an industry and the long-term results of that speak for themselves. The question of whether esports is a betting sport shouldn’t even be a discussion point in 2021. But while it still is, we are keen to highlight the proof in the pudding.

Esports is a betting sport. Whatever the definition, I’d argue it is one of the most exciting modern betting sports, and whether you’re a supplier, affiliate or an operator, taking it more seriously today will ensure you’re well set as it inevitably becomes a core pillar of every betting product mix in the years to come.  

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