Over the past three years esports has rapidly built a presence in the gambling industry to become one of the fastest growing betting categories. This year it is on pace to reach up to $8 billion in total wagers. With a growing global audience comprised of 165 million ‘enthusiasts’ and 215 million occasional watchers, esports has the potential to eclipse the fanbases for many traditional sports. Additionally, as the esports audience continues to reach legal betting age, we can see that the future of sports betting lies in esports wagering.
As an emerging betting category, esports wagering has been more than doubling year over year and the driving factor for this growth is the maturation of Generation Z. This year Generation Z will surpass both Baby Boomers and Millennials in demographic size, and with the average age of esports fans being much younger than traditional sports audiences, there is a heightened need for sportsbooks to address these demographics in an innovative way.
At ICE, the largest gambling convention, in 2017, 18, and 19 we saw step function increases in esports betting offerings. What was just conferences/teach-ins back in 2017 became a few booths in 18, and then in 19 it was one of the top themes of the entire event. Businesses focused on traditional sports began to actively promote new esports offerings, and now esports betting has exploded to a degree that hasn’t been seen prior. Once limited to niche sites, esports betting has seen a substantial increase in visibility, with the founding of many startup esports betting sites as well as blue chip gambling brands entering the fray.
Currently most betting sites offer a simple tab showing esports, while others have dedicated portals and others like Rivalry are purist offerings. With the increase in software offerings at ICE this year it’s clear more and more have realized that just offering lines will not suffice and they will need to create custom user experiences and portals to entice and engage esports fans.
Appealing to a customer that is a completely different demographic than your average customer is a challenge. What will appeal to a 21-year-old gamer that doesn’t have familiarity with betting sites is going to be very different from what is currently being offered to a 45-year-old enthusiast betting on football. There’s not an audience for betting content in esports because a 23-year-old gamer who is interested in betting on League of Legends (the most popular esports game), has no interest in the price of odds and things of that nature at this time. From our experience, what they want instead is community interaction through fan engagement, something that regularly occurs in the esports world. This means narrative-focused and competitive-outcome focused betting through a variety of unique product offerings. It isn’t enough to give the odds on who will win a match. Sportsbooks need to offer more contextual outcomes, team/match data, and content/community offerings.
One of the most engaging betting experiences in esports is live betting, which allows bettors to place wagers throughout a match on a variety of in-game events and outcomes. This focuses on taking the way fans currently watch matches and elevating that to create a much more dynamic and exciting experience. The esports community’s appetite for more contextual and rapid wagering options has led Rivalry to launch a comprehensive live betting, and we routinely see a high volume of interactions with bettors through these offers.
Moreover, there is still room for massive growth as a large portion of the esports audience still doesn’t know that they can in fact bet on esports. Additionally, there are emerging markets, such as the U.S., that will be opening in the near future. Since legalization in the U.S., sports betting has seen an increase in wagers as people have discovered that they can bet on sports in their state. Esports is seeing the same increase, but on a global level. This is why betting companies are increasingly sponsoring esports events and displaying odds during matches. As discoverability increases, so too will total wagers on esports.
Esports betting is still in its infancy, but it is defining itself as the future of sports betting. Just as esports is beginning to represent the sport and media of the next generation, we expect the same thing to happen in sports betting. This means it is the ideal time to invest in the resources to reach that future audience rather than rely on the current audience of sports bettors. Presently, most individual esports bets are for relatively low amounts, but there will still be an estimated $8 billion in wagers this year. What’s more, this demographic will continue to grow and continue placing larger and larger wagers as their familiarity increases and as they accumulate more income.
Steven is a passionate gamer, having competed in his first tournament a decade ago with Major League Gaming. His career started in asset management at Scotiabank and most recently as a Special Situations Analyst at a boutique investment bank. Steven sits as a director at two portfolio companies.