The lines between gaming and gambling are becoming ever-more blurred, particularly when it comes to eSports. Competitive video gaming is one of the most followed sports on the planet with a fan base of more than 148 million around the world. And while on the face of it the two industries have little in common, they are both being drawn to one another over shared player demographics, similar technologies and mutually beneficial partnerships.
But when you look more closely there are major differences between the two and it is clear eSports has the jump on egaming in all areas. This means the online casino industry can learn a lot from its younger, trendier, tech-savvy cousin. So here are three key things eSports is currently doing that should make egaming operators sit up and take note:
Sports and betting go hand-in-hand, and eSports is no different. Sportsbooks have been offering odds and markets on contests and tournaments for some time now, with the likes of Betway, bet365 and Pinnacle leading the charge. The market is surprisingly large and is on track to generate $594m in handle this year alone. But eSports has also given rise to a new type of wager, one which is far more popular than traditional markets – skin betting.
Sites offering skin betting allow punters to wager items from within the game, things like clothing, weapons, anything that changes the appearance of their in-game character. Wagers come in a variety of formats, from lottery style jackpots to blackjack and roulette, and are generating phenomenal revenues. Total handle is tricky to monitor, but estimates go as high a $7bn for 2016.
In contrast, online casino operators have done little to push the boundaries and bring new game variants and formats to market of late. Few have dared to venture off the beaten path, but those who do may be able to unlock the true potential of the vertical.
Online casino operators have been left scratching their heads as to how best to reach out to and engage Millennials – the current generation of 18-34-year-olds set to overtake baby boomers as the largest spenders. They have certainly tried – embracing the rapid shift from desktop to mobile play, for example, and taking a new, personalised approach to marketing and bonusing – but they have yet to speak to them in the same way that eSports has.
A driving force behind the sector’s rapid rise, and mostly Millennial fan base, is its use of technology, and in particular social media and streaming platforms. While eSports tournaments are played out in front of sell-out crowds at some of the largest stadiums and arenas around the world, they are watched by millions more live on streaming platforms such as Twitch, Steam and Valve. The level of interaction and socialisation is eons ahead of what is currently being offered by online casino operators.
Some are trying – slots supplier Yggdrasil Gaming has recently rolled out a new feature that allows players to re-play and share big wins on social media. And while a step in the right direction, it is still a long way off what is being achieved in eSports. So if operators are to attract Millennials, they are going to have to up their game when it comes to how they interact with their target demographic.
eSports is very much at the forefront of technology. From the cloud hosting platforms used to power games (not just at professional tournaments but for the millions of day-to-day casual players) to the streaming services that deliver live feeds to mobile phones no matter where fans are in the world – eSports is embracing new technologies and doing as much as it can to move the needle. The online casino industry, in comparison, is struggling to keep pace.
Of course, there are things eSports can learn from the online casino industry, particularly when it comes to licensing, regulation, and protecting players and consumers alike. While eSports is riding a wave of phenomenal growth, the gambling industry is maturing into a sustainable, long-term market that is safeguarded against negative forces. You don’t, for example, worry about an online casino operator taking off with your winnings. Can the same be said for a skin betting site? Probably not at this stage.
So while eSports is blazing a trail and leaving online casino, and countless other industries, swirling around in its dust, it must be remembered this is partly due to a lack of accountability. As the sector continues on its upward growth trajectory, a major scandal is likely just around the corner – cries of match fixing have already been heard from some quarters – and eSports may find itself at a cross-road in terms of how best to proceed. When it does, it could do no better than to look to its older, wiser, more established cousin.