OPINION: eSports betting – a new frontier where fortunes will be won and lost

  • Rapidly growing eSports market is filled with uncertainty and opportunity
  • Some believe it could be worth as much as $1.23 billion by 2019
  • Pros make millions, travel on international athlete visas and have celeb status

The birth of any new market is an exciting time, one filled with uncertainty and opportunity. The nascent eSports industry finds itself in that predicament, with speculators lured to the lucrative betting market that has sprung up.

As money has poured into this emerging sector, it has attracted a slew of unsavoury characters, chancers and profiteers. Their presence should not be taken as a sign that eSports is rotten to the core however. Rather, the arrival of such prospectors is evidence that eSports is the real deal. First come the speculators. Then come the regulators. Then come the mainstream punters in their droves.

That was the situation Bitcoin found itself in five years ago, as the emerging cryptocurrency was linked with illegal drugs marketplaces and unlicensed gambling more than it was associated with legitimate transactions. But Bitcoin weathered that storm and is now enjoying mass adoption and government approval.

Money has flooded in, and so has the controversy

The eSports betting market certainly hasn’t reached that stage, but make no mistake, all the signs are pointing to it becoming huge; $1.23 billion is the value being touted by 2019, but between now and then, there are likely to be a few bumps in the road. Games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Dota 2 and League of Legends have spawned an entire market intent on betting on the live streamed matches between the world’s top eSports teams, but as money has flooded on, so have the unscrupulous characters.

Everyone has a price and, when presented with a suitably enticing incentive, few players would have the fortitude to resist the sort of sums being thrust in their direction by shady speculators. Two years ago, 21 CS:GO players were banned for match fixing in a scandal that’s predicted to have been just the tip of the iceberg.

“322s”, as such incidents have become known, are sadly not isolated incidents. Yet despite the presence of a few bad actors, the momentum and money fuelling eSports is showing no sign of letting up. As tends to be the case with runaway industries, it’s a case of speculate now, legislate later.

In the US, lawmakers have expressed concern at skin gambling, in which virtual skins in games such as CS:GO are traded about using digital currency. Despite the fact these these superficial skins have no direct impact on gameplay, interest in them is huge, and has predictably led to a burgeoning black market for the highly sought after assets.

Next generation gaming

Despite the unwelcome headlines that have accompanied the rise of eSports, operators, players and bettors alike have every reason to be optimistic about the future of the market. eSports fans tend to be much younger than conventional bettors, and there is every reason to expect that they will be converted into eSports bettors once they come of age.

This may go some way towards compensating for the fact that millennials as a whole seem largely uninterested in land-based casinos, viewing such places as old-fashioned and the preserve of previous generations.

For the YouTube generation, however, eSports, which are streamed on Twitch and other channels, are a natural fit. First, fans play the games for themselves. Then they start watching other players live streaming games. Then they start watching the professional tournaments. Then, when they’re old enough, they bet on a market they know intricately and believe they have enough knowledge to master.

While this influx of new blood should safeguard the future of eSports betting, it remains to be seen whether this will benefit the online gambling industry as a whole. eSports is currently lumped in with traditional online betting such as football and horse racing, with many sportsbooks now offering a dedicated eSports category. And yet, to the sort of kids who were raised on XBox and YouTube, eSports is far removed from real world sports.

Enjoy the ride

Despite the fact that football teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain have invested in eSports players, it remains to be seen whether these headline-grabbing initiatives pay dividends. For eSports to grow, it needs to attract not only players, but also punters willing to bet on the outcome of the virtual sports and fantasy games being staged. And for that to happen, punters need to be reassured that the game isn’t a bogey; in other words that the spectacle they’re speculating on hasn’t been rigged.

While no betting market, be it real world snooker or virtual football, is immune from interference, eSports will surely find a way to weather the storm. Thanks to the number of leagues now springing up and the ancillary betting, gaming and investment platforms they’ve inspired, it’s safe to say that the only way eSports is heading is up at a rate of knots. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Casinopedia

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