Esports has definitely come a long way over the past several years. Once considered a niche industry that was only big in South Korea, it gained lots of popularity in other markets.
The US is one of these markets, with more esports tournaments held in America with each passing year.
Tourneys like Dota 2’s The International and League of Legends’ World Championship see the winning teams earn millions of dollars.
The industry’s rise has caused esports betting to become more popular, too. Many online sportsbooks now feature sections dedicated to esports lines.
Taking everything into account, you’d think that video game gambling has reached the heights of NFL betting. The reality, though, is that esports wagering still has a ways to go before reaching its full potential.
Where is this form of betting truly at right now? Where can it go in the future? I’ll answer these questions by discussing the industry’s current status and its massive potential.
Not Much Esports Interest in Nevada Sportsbooks
Nevada doesn’t comprise the entire world’s opinion on gambling. But the home of Las Vegas is often used as an industry barometer.
So far, this barometer has revealed a chilly reception for esports. Specifically, Nevada sportsbooks haven’t shown much interest in pushing for esports betting.
Sandra Douglass Morgan, who chairs the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB), spoke on the matter at a 2019 UNLV gaming conference. She said that only four operators requested the ability to offer esports gambling.
“There seems to be public interest in esports.” she said, “But not a significant demand from licensees to offer wagers on esports events.”
The encouraging news is that gamblers are interested in betting on video game tournaments. The lack of operators’ interest is more due to industry oversight.
“As esports evolve and oversight and sectioning organizations emerge,” Morgan continued, “the board expects an increase in the amount of esports style wagering.”
According to an esports study by Brett Abarbanel, director of research at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, some esports fans also have concerns. These fears revolve around potential match-fixing, only not in the traditional sense.
Abarbanel’s report, however, shows that esports enthusiasts are worried that competitors will cheat to win.
Abarbanel noted that the young age of many competitors leaves them susceptible to outside influences.
“The age of participants was an important consideration for esports spectators,” he explained. “Several of those questions said minors who accept a bribe shouldn’t face punishment because of their inexperience.”
He also said that most of the study participants weren’t overly concerned with match-fixing and esports gambling.
“Results indicate that esports viewers are not deeply concerned by match-fixing,” Aberbanel wrote.
“In addition, spectators typically view gambling as a cause of corruption among competitors, but also understand and accept some elements of the practice.”
Esports Betting Is Still Growing With or Without Nevada
Sportsbooks in the Silver State might not be jumping at the chance to offer esports betting. However, investors still have a strong belief that the industry will increase in popularity.
Zev Fima, a research analyst for Jim Cramer’s Action Alerts, thinks that there’s a synergy between esports and betting. He believes that more bettors involved means more esports viewers and vice versa.
Fima sees the industry becoming big enough to where casinos will be able to open dedicated esportsbooks. He also views esports betting as appealing when considering the global audience.
He’s so high on this global viewership that he believes esports betting and viewership could surpass the NFL.
After all, the NFL’s audience is almost entirely made up of Americans.
Jennifer Roberts, associate director at UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation, states esports wagering is poised for growth.
“[Betting popularity] will change as consumers understand that it’s an opportunity,” she says, “once consumers are engaged with this sport and know that there are betting options out there.”
Online Sportsbooks Taking Big Interest in Esports Betting
While regulated land-based sportsbooks ponder match-fixing concerns, online bookmakers have moved full-steam ahead.
It’s hard to find an internet bookmaker that doesn’t offer esports betting these days. Most feature sections that are dedicated entirely to video-game wagering.
Some of the top US-facing online sportsbooks even put a separate tab for esports at the top of their homepages.
Esports will be listed alongside:
This scenario is quite a departure from several years ago, when most internet betting sites didn’t offer any esports lines. If they did, it was only around the time of major events involving CS: GO, League of Legends (LoL), or Dota 2.
Certain bookmakers have dedicated their entire operations to video games. These esportsbooks cover a wide variety of markets, including some or all of the following:
|Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)||Dota 2||Street Fighter||Fortnite: Battle Royale|
|Call of Duty||League of Legends (LoL)||Mortal Kombat||Rocket Leaguee|
|Overwatch||StarCraft||Super Smash Bros.||FIFA|
|Battlefield||Warcraft||Tekken||World of Tanks|
|Halo||Arena of Valor||SoulCalibur||Hearthstone|
Numbers Indicate Big Growth
You can see that there are already plenty of signs that esports gambling is growing. But what about hard data?
Statista forecasts that $23.5 billion will be wagered on esports by 2020.
Keep in mind that many esports fans don’t even think about the betting sector. The $23.5 billion in total handle could skyrocket in the ensuing years once there’s more awareness involving the gambling side.
Challenges Facing Esports Betting
Much of what I’ve covered so far casts a positive light on video game gambling. But the industry also faces some significant obstacles as well.
Nothing is guaranteed for competitive gambling and esportsbooks. That said, here’s a closer look at the challenges the industry must overcome.
Only Major Tournaments Receive Serious Coverage
Again, esportsbooks dedicate their entire operations toward serving video game bettors. Most of these gambling sites cover more than a dozen markets.
Most esports bettors still use general sportsbooks.
The problem here is that sportsbooks have to cover a wide range of sports, from baseball to hockey.
Their audiences are too general to offer dozens of daily esports lines across 10 different games.
These types of sportsbooks usually only cover CS:GO, Dota 2, LoL, Overwatch, and possibly a couple more markets. I’m sure the largest online bookmakers still make decent money off this limited selection. But the betting side won’t truly take offer until the biggest operators have a wider variety.
Betting Is Mostly Big in Asia
Esports gambling has been slow to take off in the US and many other countries. While many people enjoy watching the action, they aren’t yet aware or confident enough to bet on it.
Asia is currently the biggest hub for esports action.
The world’s largest continent is passionate about both watching matches and wagering on them.
This is understandable when considering that esports first boomed in South Korea.
They’ve since become highly popular in China, Japan, and several other Asian nations.
Esports is still finding its bearings in Europe and the Americas, though. Competitive gaming will have to continue growing in these continents before global betting picks up.
Few Lines at Land Based Sportsbooks
Nevada operators are leery about offering esports gambling. As previously covered, they want to see more oversight in video gaming before they move forth.
Of course, the gambling industry is much bigger than just Nevada. But if one of the world’s premier sports betting destinations doesn’t care about esports betting, it’s telling about the industry as a whole.
Investors and prominent Nevada regulators do see encouraging signs for growth. In fact, some even believe there’s potential for dedicated brick and mortar esportsbooks.
They want to see more regulatory and industry development before covering the activity.
The idea that esports betting will continue its fast rise isn’t a slam dunk. However, various signs point to this form of gambling becoming much bigger in the near future.
First off, competitive gaming as a whole keeps gaining global influence. Hundreds of millions stream esports contests on a daily basis, and this audience will only continue growing.
Online bookmakers have picked up on the trend.
As a result, they’re covering more esports markets and tournaments than ever before.
Statista reports show a large increase in betting activity as well. They project $23.5 billion worth of esports betting action by next year. Sandra Douglass Morgan of the NGCB noted that the Nevada public has shown plenty of interest in esports gambling.
Of course, the industry definitely faces challenges. Asia comprises the bulk of betting activity, while other continents have been slow to embrace esports wagering.
Land-based sportsbooks aren’t thrilled about the industry right now. Major online sportsbooks have dipped their toes into the market, but most don’t cover many games.
Despite these obstacles, esports betting seems poised more for growth than stagnation. That said, you can expect to see more and more video-game gambling offered in the near future.