Esports betting: an expansive future or an avoidable fad?

| By Ben Murray-Watson
Peter Ivanov, head of trading at Ultrapay, asked if there was really a future to Esports betting or is it all hype, as he addressed the Esports Arena at ICE London on Tuesday.

He noted that even six or seven years ago, esports betting was scarce and the conversation was around ‘what is esports’ rather than ‘how do I bet on esports’.

The dialogue between operators and esports teams was limited and focus was on trading and betting with in-game items rather than any kind of monetary value. Ivanov explains, “We were trying to work with sportsbook providers and show them what they can actually offer to their customers and how esports betting is a very different thing compared to what they have at the moment.”

In 2018 and 2019, though, things had begun to move forward and become more professional. Esports betting was entering the arena as ‘the next big thing’ and media attention around Esports and the high-level of professional players was growing considerably. Sponsorship deals began to emerge and suddenly tournament prize money was shooting up. But operators were still struggling with making a profit.

Ivanov continued, “They know it exists, they know it’s popular, they even know who to target but they aren’t making money from it. So, this was the time when we had to sit down with operators and explain to them what they’re doing wrong and what has to be changed in order to start making money out of it.”

Everyone understood that Esports betting was out there and operators across the board were now at least presenting a basic offering to customers. But what the sector lacked was any kind of definition or platform geared solely to Esports and improvements to those platforms were not a priority. “Gamers didn’t want to be involved with sportsbooks because the experience wasn’t there.” Thomas stated, “You would see the generic experience where you would find all the sports and there’s a little esports section hidden away. They needed something different and they needed it presented in a very different gaming kind of way.”

In March 2020, Covid hit, marking a watershed moment for Esports betting. As traditional sports were canceled everyone turned to Esports and suddenly operators were running to catch up. 

“All of a sudden it became so important for everyone that we had to deal with everyone talking about it and how we should display it. Who do we market it to now? How do we get money out of it? Everyone finally understood that Esports was here to stay and it was very important for us to finally get to the point where we can work on how to improve customer experience because that’s what has been lacking for the last two to three years.”

Jumping to the present day, Esports betting is now ranked amongst the top 5 betted sports – a huge leap from 2 years ago. 

But challenges remain. One of the hardest things within esports is establishing strong in-game betting options. Current games like CS:GO or Apex Legends change very quickly and it’s difficult for both operators managing the odds and gamblers to understand what is going on in the live environment. Therefore, it’s important for the future of Esports betting that operators and game developers enter into a consistent dialogue to ensure that the very best experience is being offered. 

As more and more mobile versions of games are developed and betting becomes more prevalent, the most successful games in terms of betting revenue will likely be those that consider the UX of the gambler at every stage. And these are likely to be known titles rather than necessarily completely new games coming to market. Perhaps, we could even see versions of classics like CS:GO or even FIFA developing versions geared solely towards live betting. 

The future for Esports betting is bright. Ivanov concludes, “One of the best bets you can make is that Esports betting will grow. Esports betting is here to stay.”

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