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Sports betting and eSports - will it ever happen?

Sports betting and eSports - will it ever happen?

Published: Thursday, January 23, 2020Tagged: eSports, Gaming

It’s safe to say that eSports are quite a big thing right now. And while tournaments may not draw the public viewing figures of the more traditional sports, the prize funds available at the likes of The International and the Fortnite World Cup actually dwarf their traditional sports counterparts.

Sports betting and eSports - will it ever happen?

But what about betting on the outcomes of these tournaments? Is it even possible to get odds on tournaments like these? We’ll get to that later, but first let’s take a quick look at how eSports has grown in terms of monetary value and spectatorship in the last few years.

ESports on the rise

The continuing growth of the eSports industry has seen more and more casual viewers tune in to watch live gaming tournaments. In 2017 there were an estimated 192 million casual viewers and 143 million avid fans, making for a total global audience of 335 million. This was a 19.3% increase on the previous year, and by 2018 the total viewership had grown to 380 million.

Impressive figures, but did you know that by 2021, it is predicted that the global audience for eSports will have grown to an incredible 557 million people? That’s phenomenal, yet still it is considered a niche industry that’s only popular among gamers

During this period, we’ve also seen huge growth in the market value of the industry, which is clearly represented by the prize pools on offer at the biggest tournaments. The International in 2019 had a total prize pool of $34 million with almost $33 million of that coming directly from the fans. This was due to Valve’s decision to allocate 25% from the sale of all Dota 2 Battle Passes to the prize fund. That means that the total sales for Dota 2 Battle Passes in 2019 amounted to almost $132 million.

At the first ever Fortnite World Cup the prize pool topped $30 million while game developers Epic Games actually pledged $100 million to Fortnite prize pools throughout the entire year. Interestingly, the prize pools for these tournaments beat those of some of the world’s most popular traditional sports tournaments throughout the same period.

For example, the prize fund for the US Golf Open was $12.5 million while the Masters was set at $11.5 million. In fact, at $57 million, the US Tennis Open is the only major sporting event with a prize pool greater than either the International or the Fortnite World Cup.

And if we compare the viewing figures for specific events, eSports isn’t that far behind traditional sports on that score either. The US Tennis Open was said to have brought in over three million global viewers while the Fortnite World Cup Final had around two million. It’s these statistics that will have the most effect on the global betting industry in relation to eSports.

Betting and spectatorship closely aligned

While major online betting providers such as Foxbet offer odds on a wide variety of sports, they have yet to include eSports tournaments such as the International. This is likely down to the fact that most eSports fans haven't actually considered betting on an event as a possibility.

Another reason is also that the mainstream public aren’t quite into the whole idea of spectating on eSports just yet. But as we mentioned earlier this is likely to change, with viewing figures among casual observers continuing to increase year on year, and the average person now a little more clued up on how video games require incredible skill to master.

With all this in mind, it’s only a matter of time before the average viewer decides to take a more vested interest in the outcome of the tournaments. Sure, they can support a team, but unless they’re a part of the gaming community, they’ll have no real affiliation to any particular one. What will it make it more interesting for the non-gaming public is to add a little spice to the game with a bet on the outcome.

There are already some select specialist bookmakers that provide odds on live tournaments, but again unless you’re a part of the gaming community, you won’t know they even exist. Incredibly the eSports betting industry was worth a reputed $7.4 billion back in 2016, from that point it was predicted to reach the $30 billion mark by 2020.

Yes, these stats kind of make a mockery of our initial question regarding sports betting and eSports, but the fact remains that this is still a very niche industry. However, an industry that is growing so rapidly can only stay under the radar for so long.

With spectatorship figures rising globally each year, we fully expect the heavyweights of the sports betting industry to get involved sooner rather than later. And when that does happen, we can expect a knock-on effect that will see eSports become more mainstream as betting providers look to promote their new cash cow.

Is betting on eSports actually enjoyable?

Now, this is something that some of you may have considered – what is so exciting about betting on eSports? For most of us, we can fully understand the buzz of choosing a horse and watching it race. Or the thrill of choosing a team to win the World Cup. But for many gamers, the thrill of watching eSports is more than enough. So what gives?

Well, as we said earlier, it’s most likely the casual viewers who are actually betting on eSports. These are the people that don’t actually play the games, but who enjoy watching and appreciate a bit of skill when they see it. It’s these types of viewers that betting providers will look to convert into long-term fans and, ultimately, paying customers.

They are also the types of fans who will help push the industry into the mainstream and bring more attention to the games we love and play. And while this may not sound quite so exciting as you think, it could result in eSports tournaments being shown live on primetime TV. Imagine your grandparents or parents watching the Fortnite World Cup and screaming for the team they have money on. Now that is something we thought we'd never see.

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