Global Gambling News has been banging the drum for esports since we first set out on this journey and despite one or two ‘bumps in the road’ for the genre, we still believe that of all the recent ‘game-changers’ in the iGaming and betting world, this is the one that will have the greatest long-term impact. Esports is already a big deal, and in our view, it is only getting bigger.
Although competitive video gaming was a niche activity back in the 1970s, as a concept in its current form, esports got off to a stuttering start, roughly a decade ago. Game coverage was limited, new players were slow to arrive, and it was largely dismissed as a passing fancy. And then along came Covid-19…
The lockdown of traditional sports
One of the impacts of the pandemic was the lockdown of traditional sports. Alternatives were needed and esports quickly became viable. And in terms of branding and profile, what we have seen over the most recent years is a huge increase in the number of tournaments, leagues and teams receiving backing from official live sports bodies, organisations, teams and individuals. During Covid, such adoption kept these brands in the public’s consciousness and expanded their audience into new demographic territories. The list of those live sports icons that have embraced this new opportunity ranges from the likes of the NBA and Formula 1 to teams like FC Barcelona and individuals like David Beckham.
Heading towards the mainstream
There has been an astonishing influx of sponsorship and endorsement money for teams and players, and the biggest events are now played out in arenas packed with tens of thousands of fans. The very notion of competitive gaming ensures exciting and engaging content for a largely new and younger audience and so esports is not only a legitimate form of entertainment, but it is also rapidly heading to the mainstream.
By definition, this level of competitive activity, broadcast to a hungry and ever-growing audience, creates numerous betting opportunities and markets and the potential to unlock new revenue streams. There has been some coming together between esports and iGaming, with the number of sports betting sites offering esports markets roughly doubling year-on-year. However, too many of the established sports betting sites are still not getting the message and need to understand how esports can best fit into their evolving portfolios.
A sector that commands respect
The esports audience do not see their thing as an ‘add-on’ to an existing service, a modification to something that already exists (and is enjoyed by their parents). They require their own space, separated, different and unique. They believe that esports deserves the respect of betting providers and they are right to think that way. They represent a multi-billion-dollar opportunity, and it is only fair that this who want a share should work for it.
Esports evolution in 2023
In terms of financing, the recent upsurge in esports interest has largely been funded by venture capitalists and generous sponsors. As global economic belts get tightened, those within esports will need to become more focused on true viability. Organisations will have to move on from ‘One Trick Pony’ status, umbilically attached to one particular game, and develop into more diverse, multi-disciplined operations that are capable of maximising the monetisation of their skills and creativity. Esports is not yet a truly ‘profitable’ activity and, clearly, one of the most effective means of achieving this goal is through linking the competitive and broadcast features to an array of exciting and efficient betting opportunities.
A truly global proposition
It is interesting to note that the territory that has been dominating the thought processes of most with an interest in sports betting for the past few years is North America. The ‘sleeping giant’ or great ‘untapped’ opportunity is opening up state-by-state, quite rightly causing relentless excitement. But here’s the thing, the very sports that the majority of US and Canadian punters are poised to bet billions on are only market leaders on their own land mass. Baseball, basketball and what they know as football are minority sports throughout the rest of the world; enjoyed in a few places but rarely played at the same elite level. On the other hand, what the rest of us call football – and they call soccer – is the biggest sport in the world, and yet it is effectively a minority sport on the North American continent.
However, computer gaming is truly global, and inconceivably massive. Gamers know no geographical boundaries and esports are literally everywhere. As several of the very traditional forms of gaming and betting slip towards mainstream decline, to ignore the potential to extend this global competitive instinct into the betting sector would be difficult to understand.
This is your Field of Dreams
Like so many pastimes that have grown into a business, esports has reached the point where it needs to develop and execute strategies for monetising its vast audience and by doing so, self-funding its continued growth. The products need to evolve and diversify, the broadcasting needs to be more mainstream, the commercialisation of intellectual property needs to be expanded and the incredible betting opportunities need to be developed and maximised.
The major players across the sports betting sector, those who know the business inside and out, have shown some reluctance to dive in at the deep end, in many cases preferring to dip just a toe in the water. As mentioned, this disrespects the genre and alienates the audience. Sports and esports clearly have much in common… professional competitors, fierce rivalries, excitement and drama, jeopardy, uncertainty and even giant killing! Similarly, sports bettors and esports bettors share many traits… a belief in research, a love of data and statistics, a passion for the game and a willingness to take risks.
In 2023, the message to the wider sports betting industry is that when it comes to providing a platform for the expanding esports audience, consider the (misquoted) words of the Kevin Costner character, Ray Kinsella, in the classic 1989 baseball film, Field of Dreams… “If you build it, they will come.”