When the Covid-19 pandemic first put the world into lockdown in March 2020, taking with it all live sports events and in turn the pastime of millions of bettors across the globe, esports was there to step in. Indeed, as people got used to spending time indoors, betting on popular video games became a regular occurrence, with products such as FIFA, League of Legends, and Counter Strike Global Offensive taking center stage, keeping the betting market alive. However, since then, esports betting has receded into the background, once again being usurped by its older, and much wealthier, cousin. With that in mind we caught up with Ari Fox, of the Casino Esports Conference and Gameacon, to get the rundown on the current state of esports betting, and the potential it has to become a gaming powerhouse.
Can you give us a brief overview of esports betting in 2022?And the aims of the Casino Esports Conference?
So, New Jersey just recently passed a law to allow esports betting for the very first time. There were a number of legislative issues involved in this because they (New Jersey lawmakers) were concerned about bettors being under the age of 18, so they made an addendum where as long as the majority of the players are over the age of 18 then that game can be sanctioned and allowed for wagering. That happened recently and other states, like Nevada, are looking into this also.
Because of the sheer numbers the esports community can bring, there is a large demand for esports wagering to work. However, I always say to people that there is a bigger picture that the industry as a whole is missing, this is why we run the Casino Esports Conference (CEC). When you compare esports to traditional sports, which is commonly done, those who come at it from the sports wagering side judge them via the same parameters; this shouldn’t be the case. Thus, the purpose of the CEC is to say, “if you want to extract anything from the esports bettor, in terms of brick and mortar, the bigger picture needs to be expressed in an immersive way, more than just wagering.”
How can esports operators compete with traditional iGaming and sports betting operators? Should they even try?
As you know the whole purpose in regards to esports wagering is the numbers. If you have three billion people in the world that are gamers, there are 10% of those who might choose to bet. This 10% might place a bet, but then they ask, “what is there to do?” – esports fans want more than just betting. Maybe operators can let punters play with other esports players? This is what we are suggesting, the esports community is very different to the community that regularly bets on sports. The sports community will watch the entire game and root for a player, the fan is disconnected from the action. Esports players are so much more connected to the action and they want to interact with those players. There are levels to how you can integrate your offering as an esports wagering platform to gain better access to engage and entertain the punter. That is what they want, entertainment and not just the competitive side of it.
What can a casino property do to integrate esports into its offering?
That’s a very good question and the answers are endless. The technology and the ability to utilize it is endless. And this technology is exactly where the younger generation lies, they live in a world of technology. Operators will need to produce much more immersive experiences, holograms, AI, these things will need to be embraced at properties to engage the younger audience and grow esports betting. There is a misconception that gamers do not want to go to physical properties but it’s a misnomer, they want to go out. I’ve spoken to developers, players, esports players and the pandemic has hit them as hard as anyone else. There is also this belief that because there was this shining moment during the early stages of the pandemic where esports became the belle of the ball, so to speak, but it really sent a false sense of what esports really is. It needs interaction. Gamers want to connect on a social basis, just like how film fans want to talk about a great film they have seen, it’s the same with gaming.
What innovations will lead to the growth of esports wagering?
Virtual reality will be huge. There is going to be the possibility for fans to engage in an on-field way. Bettors will be able to see the actual characters in a virtual space.
Do you think the games that could catapult esports betting into the mainstream already exist or are they yet to be released?
I think new games will constantly be released, that’s the nature of the industry, the nature of video games. We want to encourage indie game development. Minecraft was an indie game before it became as huge as it is now. There is a lot of creativity in this industry. At the moment, Apex Legends gets a lot of
attention, as does the League of Legends Championship and the reason for this is the numbers, everybody looks at the numbers. Numbers drive everything in regard to the money. However, in esports the money is there, it will always come, but you actually need to have the passion for what you are doing. Gamers will see from 50 miles away if you are not passionate, and they won’t engage. This has been the case for so many companies that have attempted to break into the esports wagering business. If they want to be involved they need to engage in the community. I won’t name names but there are some companies, often ones that start in the sports betting market, that fail to engage. One of the leading esports wagering platforms right now is Pinnacle, they provide a good service with stats and data but they can go up another 50 knots and get more people and more integration, not just by throwing their logo on things, but really integrating into the community. What does that mean? Interacting with them socially, esports wagering platforms need community representatives. Every video game publisher has one. Operators need to go out to the community, attending events and talking to actual people.
Are there developers that are on board with esports betting?
Currently they are keeping an arms length distance from it. The reason for this is public relations. There are two worlds here, and we need to bring both together. Both make a lot of money. The publishers will tread very lightly when working with casinos, because they do have younger audiences and they want to keep them engaged and coming back. The publishers are concerned about legal repercussions of younger players. Will they be sued? But to be completely honest, of course there are younger people who play video games, but there are also younger people who play sports, are they constantly wagering? No, I do not think they are. There are restrictions, and this is how it should be laid out for esports betting.
Ultimately, if publishers keep resisting the wagering product, the casino industry will find a way to make their own games. If game developers don’t catch this train, it’s going to miss the station.