The lack of traditional sporting events globally as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak has hit the betting industry hard. Traditional gambling operators have had to look at alternative revenue streams in an attempt to fill the gap including rushing to launch virtual sports products and other types of games.
One of the industries which has remained largely insulated from the effects of COVID-19 is esports. Indeed, the lack of traditional live sporting events has created an increased focus on, and demand for, esports. High profile events and tournaments (including celebrity matches) coupled with a lack of alternatives has attracted not just new observers and fans but also new punters. This has inevitably caught the interest of gambling operators who are now devoting significantly more attention and resources to accepting bets on esports markets. We are seeing not only more nimble online operators expanding further into this space but also well-established Las Vegas casinos keen to get involved following the Nevada Gaming Control Board approving esports betting on four major titles.
The relationship between esports and gambling can be complicated and raises issues relating to consumer protection (including potential exposure to minors) and integrity. Casinos and oddsmakers are also still getting to grips with the various titles and how to price the markets. Having said this, the potential synergies between the esports and gambling industries have not yet been fully explored or exploited. The announcement that Activision Blizzard, one of the leading global game publishers, is teaming up with Sportradar to introduce a betting integrity programme for two of its leagues is a big step forward for both industries and a clear indicator that Activision Blizzard wants to become more active in the betting space. Whilst one would expect traditional sporting events to return to dominate betting markets as we begin to emerge from the global crisis, the pandemic has definitely boosted the stock of esports which have been firmly, and perhaps irrevocably, placed on the gambling industry's radar.
Originally published Hassans, May 2020
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