The worlds of esports and online gambling have been gravitating towards each other some time. Harris Hill, senior iGaming and esports consultant at BettingJobs.com, shares his insight to help operators ensure they are in the driving seat to cash in
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you would have noticed the explosive growth of esports from niche sector to multi-billion-dollar industry.
From international CS:GO and DOTA 2 tournaments, to the emergence of Twitch and the professionalisation of esports teams, there is no escaping that this is now a very big business.
The rise and rise of esports has simultaneously seen a degree of convergence with iGaming. Major global esports tournaments have seen billions wagered on their outcomes, while many successful esports teams now have betting companies as sponsors.
Indeed, according to Statista, by 2020 $23.5 billion will be wagered globally on esports. In other words, this is an opportunity iGaming operators simply cannot afford to miss.
Why it is important for operators to offer esports
Traditional gaming and sports betting operators are facing something of a millennial problem, and it is no secret that iGaming operators have struggled when it comes to grabbing the attention of younger users.
This has generally been the result of offering a sub-standard user experience. Millennials tend to be more demanding than older peers. They are digitally savvy and have been raised on technology.
They are also used to world-class online and digital experiences, such as those offered by the likes of Facebook, Netflix and Instagram. Even social gaming products are often slicker in terms of UX and UI than online casinos or sportsbooks.
While iGaming operators and suppliers have made some significant progress on this front over the last couple of years - the online slots experience is one example of a product vertical which has come on in leaps and bounds of late - the sector still needs to find better ways to engage with younger customers.
Esports could provide a vital bridge. It is a segment that offers much of what iGaming has struggled with: engaging 18-30-year-olds in an organic fashion while building brand loyalty.
Accordingly, we’ve seen many iGaming operators attempt to jump on the bandwagon - not always successfully, it must be said.
But as esports and iGaming continue to converge, it will be those who find the sweet spots between the two that will ultimately win out.
How to build a successful esports betting operation
The first thing to note for operators looking to build an esports betting business is that this is a very different process to that of traditional sportsbook teams.
While esports is often treated by operators as another set of markets in the same mould as tennis, football or golf, the truth is it requires a unique approach across a range of fields, including marketing, development and trading.
Remember, successful esports betting operators are appealing to an audience that does not bear much of a resemblance to those customers betting on other sports.
As such, the best product offerings have a very different feel and functionality to an ordinary sportsbook.
For instance, streaming is at the heart of the rise of esports; millions of people log onto Twitch every day to watch the world’s best players compete.
While streaming has become an important part of traditional sportsbooks, it is likely to be a feature that needs to be placed front and centre of any esports offering.
Another difference is in the way the esports community has embrace blockchain and cryptocurrencies; they have been used in the space for a number of years now, allowing the industry to drive rapid growth through new and pioneering technologies.
In comparison, the online gambling sector has been slow to leverage the power of blockchain and crypto, with a great deal of education still to be done among regulators, operators, suppliers and – most importantly – consumers.
Picking a winning esports team
Recruiting specialised esports expertise is the only way to build a product offering that will resonate with users. This is not a job for someone who only has experience building traditional sportsbooks, as many of the rules simply do not apply.
So what roles are required?
At the moment, the majority of sportsbook operators are using third-party platforms to generate their esports odds and markets.
But for those looking to take their esports offering to the next level, they will need to build a team of dedicated esports traders. As with many roles in the esports gambling sector, the best candidates often have come from an esports background before being trained in the relevant iGaming fields, rather than the other way around.
This is particularly true of trading. While trading has become increasingly automated, there is no substitute for the depth of knowledge that comes from knowing esports inside and out. A seasoned trader who dabbles in esports simply won’t be able to compete.
You should consider a highly-experienced trader as your single most important investment. Without a trader capable of keeping on top of shrewd and in-the-know punters, you could well be on the wrong end of an even greater expense.
Elsewhere, you will need to recruit a number of esports-specific roles, even if your esports offering is sitting within the infrastructure of an existing sportsbook.
While certain roles, particularly on the development side, can be fulfilled by your existing sportsbook team, for others you will need to hire dedicated staff.
These include an esports analyst, who should be able to assist your operation across a wide range of activities, particularly product development, marketing and trading. Pick a top-quality analyst and he or she may also be valuable in sharing their knowledge with the rest of the team.
On the marketing front, do not expect existing content writers to be able to write on esports with authority. If you are trying to engage a new audience, you need to be able to communicate with them on their terms.
Content managers tend to cost between £20,000 and £45,000 per year according to the Betting Jobs Salary Survey, and investing in one focused on esports is well worth the money.
Another area that demands dedicated attention is compliance. This a growing focus of traditional sportsbook operators, and those offering esports markets will have to prioritise compliance as well.
Indeed, concerns over underage gambling continuing to plague the sector – particularly when it comes to skin betting – so it’s not something you can neglect.
Filling these roles will not be easy; esports is a new industry with limited expertise and intense competition for the best candidates. Lean on resources such as Findmyexpert, and use consultants as a way of getting your operation up and running in the early stages.
These consultants can share knowledge, upskill existing staff and ensure your esports betting product is competitive on a project-basis, saving your budget for full-time hires.
A new breed of operator?
We have seen many established sportsbook operators add esports betting markets in recent years. But what we are beginning to see, and are likely to observe a lot more of, is the rise of dedicated, esports-focused operators.
The reasons for this are myriad. While some established operators have enjoyed success by bolting on esports offerings, their brands are not particularly well designed for the sector.
Heritage operators have struggled for years to engage millennials; adding an esports tab to their site is not going to change that overnight.
Instead, new operators with the freedom to design a product offering and brand that resonates strongly with an esports audience are jumping on the opportunity.
This new breed of esports gaming operators is likely to have a background from within the esports sector - but less experience in iGaming.
To succeed they will need to recruit the right expertise from iGaming and ensure they are delivering a quality gaming experience.
Staffing a sportsbook from scratch is never cheap, and while esports-focused sportsbooks can save in certain areas such as expensive data feeds covering global football matches, a significant investment is still required.
Key senior roles will include a chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer. You will then require a trading team and round the clock technical support.
The good news for esports betting operators is that they can streamline set-up and running costs by leveraging new technologies such as the blockchain, white-label platforms and cloud solutions to run their books lean and mean.
These state-of-the-art technologies do much of the heavy lifting, and require less man power. Of course, reducing the quantity of staff needs to be balanced out by ensuring the quality of those onboarded into key roles.
These people will prove critical in identifying the right technologies to work with, devising and deploying effective marketing campaigns, crunching the numbers to offer the best odds, etc.
A note of caution
Not all the press around esports’ convergence with iGaming is positive.
Much of the negativity has focused on ‘skin betting’, that is wagering digital goods, such as a new costume for your in-game character.
These digital goods are usually earned by playing a game, or buying them using an in-game currency. But over the last few years, countless websites offering gamers the chance to wager or trade these items have sprung up. The concern is that these sites are allowing children to gamble.
A number of gambling regulators around the world have spoken on the issue. The UK Gambling Commission, for instance, has estimated that every week around half a million children in Britain participate in skin gambling of some form.
Meanwhile Belgium ruled that in-game ‘loot boxes’, where gamers pay to open a box with an unidentified prize inside, should be classified as gambling and therefore made illegal as far as children are concerned.
Nonetheless, many operators are now offering esports wagering - that is actual betting on the results of esports matches - in a safe and regulated fashion. Following this route is the only way to ensure sustainable growth for the industry.
It is important to note that esports’ convergence with iGaming is still a relatively new phenomenon. The roles that are required today may be very different in three years’ time, as the new sector begins to mature.
Esports was a demonstration event at the recent Asian Games, and will be a medal event at the 2022 event. It would be no surprise to see the leading esport players competing at the Olympic Games in the future.
Many of the old rules we apply to sportsbook management do not apply. It is very possible that the lines between marketing, trading and product management will begin to blur, with expertise emerging that covers all three.
This is a fluid sector, and the younger demographic that you will both employ and be attempting to engage does not always fit traditional roles.
To find the very best talent, esports and iGaming must better communicate. Currently, we are seeing iGaming operators begin to recruit heavily from the esports sector, but I would expect to see the reverse increasingly occur as esports stakeholders start to lay claim to their share of opportunities presented.
Remember, both esports and iGaming are notably international industries, with particularly large sectors in Asia. Leaning on consulting to cut back on some of the logistics of hiring full time from abroad will become commonplace as the industry grows.
It is clear that esports and iGaming have been running towards each other for some time, and this convergence offers huge potential for both operators and suppliers on both sides of the divide.
But in order to unlock the potential of this opportunity, it is paramount to onboard the brightest minds and creative talent.
This may mean approaching recruitment in a more innovative manner, and being more open-minded to both who you recruit and how you define individual roles.
But the prize of capitalising on a once in a generation convergence of two exciting and relatively young industries simply cannot be missed.
The Betting Jobs team will be attending this month Betting on Sports Week, which runs from 18th-21st September at Olympia, London. If you would like to arrange a meeting to discuss recruitment across the iGaming and esports sectors, contact Harris Hill at email@example.com.