Esports: The Next Big Betting Trend?

For fans of the traditional Big 4—NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB—the idea of competitive video gaming as a sport is a head-scratcher. But esports contests are now considered real sporting events, and yes, you can bet on them.

Esports: The Next Big Betting Trend?

It’s a scene that’s played out in generations of homes over the decades: a young video gamer, hunkered down in front of a computer console, engaged in virtual shootouts with cartoon-like opponents and ignoring Mom’s call to supper.

From the 1970s on, untold millions of kids and teens were raised on video games like Pong and Space Invaders, and later, Dungeons and Dragons, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. They played alone in their bedrooms or basements. They played with friends in video arcades. And eventually, thanks to the internet, they played in multiplayer virtual matches.

Today, the audience for video gaming has only grown. And a sophisticated, competitive, team-based version known as esports has become a global phenomenon.

Billion-Dollar Boom

In 2018, when the HyperX Esports Arena opened at the Luxor in Las Vegas, UNLV research scientist Brett Arbanel predicted esports would become a billion-dollar global industry “within three years.”

She was right on the money; according to research firm Newzoo, esports will generate $1.08 billion in revenues this year. And Juniper Research projects a 67 percent growth in esports and game streaming by 2025 for a market value of at least $3.5 billion (other estimates put the figure in the $9 billion range).

“I was shocked when I saw the numbers,” said Brian Sabina, chief economic growth officer for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which will kick in $200,000 to start an Esports Innovation Center in Atlantic City. In an interview with the Philly Voice, Sabina called esports “the fastest-growing college sport in America. Nearly 500 million people tune in to watch esports events.”

In another development, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio is adding a Helix eSports Center, just as lawmakers debate legalizing sports betting in the state. Esports Entertainment has teamed up with the Cleveland Cavaliers to be the NBA franchise’s “official esports tournament platform provider,” and according to Market Watch, on news of the partnership earlier this month, shares of Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment and Esports Entertainment were up, 7 percent and 3 percent respectively.

Comcast Spectacor and the Cordish Companies are also betting big on esports’ appeal. They’re investing $50 million in the Fusion Arena, a “next-generation esports and entertainment venue” at the Philadelphia Sports Complex, site of Cordish’s Xfinity Live! Casino.

‘Next-Gen’

The clue is in the term “next-generation.” For gaming enthusiasts, esports franchises like Team Liquid, FaZe Clan, Vitality and Cloud9 are the rock stars of their era. These teams compete before tens of thousands of people at live events, live-stream to millions more, and win millions in prize money in the bargain.

And while some traditionalists scoff at the definition of video games as a sport, athletes like Shaquille O’Neal and Alex Rodriguez have a different view. Both have invested in NRG Esports, launched by Andy Miller, co-owner of the Sacramento Kings. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors has invested in L.A.-based esports company TSM, and David Beckham founded Guild Esports, the first esports company to go public on the London Stock Exchange. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith Schuster, himself an avid gamer, recently launched and esports organization, Diverge Esports.

The Betting Element

Esports might be a big deal, but are its fans also bettors? Adam Weinstein, CEO of esports and DFS company ThriveFantasy, says yes—with an asterisk.

“When it comes to fantasy and betting, nobody’s been able to successfully align with or take the time to put a strong focus on esports as a primary sport, especially here in the U.S,” according to Weinstein, whose company currently offers games for CS:GO, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Valorant (with Call of Duty, Overwatch, and several other titles in the works).

His firm is “dialed into this market and putting our attention, resources and technical acumen to cornering this market,” Weinstein said, for a simple reason. “Gamers are young, affluent and have the tendency to gamble. This market will only grow. We’re betting on esports and our prop-bet style platform to fill that whitespace.”

Just how does betting on esports differ from betting on major league or college sports? “As far as the actual act of betting, esports and sports betting aren’t that different—you’re betting on outcomes,” said Weinstein. “But the audiences are completely different, and the channels by which they view and interact with the games, contests and tournaments are as well.” Traditional sports are still mostly broadcast on television. Esports tournaments are streamed, through non-broadcast media like YouTube and Twitch. But that’s all to the good, as esports fans “tend to be younger and more tech-savvy than the traditional sports audience.”

GGB News asked Weinstein to talk about the future of esports, and convince naysayers that these competitive games are indeed sporting events. Here are excerpts from that interview:

GGB News: How do prop bets work in esports betting, and what are the kinds of things people could bet on?

Weinstein: Our platform is focused on prop-style bets. So will Ryan Tannehill throw more than two touchdowns? Pick yes or no. Will Scump have more than 45 kills in Call of Duty? Pick yes or no. We only deal with the top players and simple props, so there’s no need for our users to have to do hours and hours of research and set lineups based on knowing backup tight ends or second-tier esports athletes.

Props are a fun and simple vehicle for our game because they’re based on the outcome. This creates an engaging second-screen experience for our users, as they’re invested in particular statistical outcomes of what these athletes are doing in-game.

A by-product of props is that they actually help educate users on specific intricacies of the game. For instance, in the esport game Valorant, you may not have known that assists are a statistic that athletes are trying to accomplish. So by placing a prop bet through our platform and watching the live event unfold, you’re actively educating yourself on new ways to play and bet on the game.

You’ve said your prop betting concept means users don’t have to know and research every player on every team like traditional DFS, so they have a chance to win more. Can you explain why?

With traditional betting, there are so many variables that can impact a particular outcome. For instance, if you bet on a team to win a game and their best player injures themselves during the game, you’re probably less likely to win.

However, with prop betting, there’s a larger ecosystem of options that you can pick from. Will this player score a goal? Will this player achieve five kills by the end of the session? Props allow users to make simple decisions and become invested in particular nuances of the game.

How do you respond to people who think esports shouldn’t fall into the sports bucket at all, since there’s no athletic component?

It’s the same argument people use in saying NASCAR isn’t a sport because the drivers are only driving a car. The stamina, reaction time and mental sharpness it takes to be a NASCAR driver is incredible, and sports science shows just how physically and mentally tough those drivers need to be to achieve success.

There’s a stereotype that these players just sit in dark rooms all day, playing video games. There’s a new focus in the industry surrounding the physical aspect of gaming. Esport athletes seriously focus on eating right, mental health strengthening and physical exercise to increase their stamina and mental sharpness. The hand-eye coordination that these players require to be on the top of their game is astounding. Esports athletes are 100 percent athletes.

Will esports and esports betting one day be mainstream? It’s even been floated as a possible Olympic event.

Absolutely. The 2024 Paris Olympics are actually featuring esports as a demonstration event. As I’ve stated, the research and projections on the growth potential of the esports market is nothing but a pure hockey-stick curve.

Right now the esports audience is very young, but as they mature, there’s no reason why esports won’t become more mainstream. Will it ever be as mainstream as the NFL? Nobody’s denying the strength of the NFL as the leading sport for betting—it has its own day, dedicated every single week to nothing but the NFL. It’s a perfect medium for betting. However, if you put all the esports titles together, we think the market could even surpass the NFL.

We’re not even in the first inning of the growth of esports. Our bet and thesis for Thrive is esports, esports, esports.

Articles by Author: Marjorie Preston

Marjorie Preston is managing editor of Global Gaming Business. She is a writer, editor, author and expat Pennsylvanian who now considers herself a New Jerseyan. Based on Brigantine Island north of Atlantic City, Preston has been writing about the gaming industry since 2007, when she joined the staff of Global Gaming Business as managing editor of Casino Connection.