There have been lots of news and stories about eSports in past few years. There seem to be lots of hype around eSports but not only hype but also serious new business opportunities. I have tried to be active in that area and have visited in many seminars and some events to learn and understand more about that “rising star”. It was great to notice last week in ICE event in London how big part of expo and seminar was about eSports.
I think that it’s fun story how eSports became to my life. I was going to participate in one gambling seminar about 5 years ago. I studied the agenda of that event and noticed that there was one session about eSports. That was totally new item to me and for some reason I decided to find out information about that from internet. I read about Counter Strike, Dota 2 and League of Legends. I also was interested in understanding how big that sport was in Finland and found out the ranking list of Finnish players. There was one very familiar name on that list – the same name than my son has. I told that to my son and mentioned that I didn’t know that there is another person in Finland who has the same name (my family name is not common) than he has. The even stranger thing was exact the same nickname. My son looked at me and said “You can’t be serious! It’s me!” It’s obvious that I’m not so good dad when I didn’t know that my son was among the best players in Finland. I didn’t even know that he was playing at all because he hasn’t been active PlayStation-player as a kid.
After that incident I have learnt a lot about eSports. I have got lots of information from stories, events but also from my son. He is not playing eSports actively anymore, but his good friends Jesse and Lasse are doing that at world-class level. Thanks to good sources I have understood how tough sport it’s at the top level. Those players are real professionals who are practicing hours and hours every day. It’s not at all just geeks with energy drinks!
Is eSports sport or not? That has been the theme of public discussion here in Finland. To me it’s sport for sure but I think that it’s totally irrelevant question. I believe that active eSports players don’t care about that at all. That discussion started in big newspapers more than one year ago when the organizer of the Finnish Sport Gala published the candidates for the best athlete in Finland. One of those candidates was MATUMBAMAN who won with his team The International tournament in Dota 2 (World Championship). Almost at the same time the Finnish Olympic Committee took eSports under their umbrella. Last year the same kind of discussion started again when JERAX and TOPSON won the same The International tournament and got invitation to the President Palace and SERRAL won the World Championship in Star Craft II game. It’s obvious that we have lots of top level eSports players here in Finland!
What is the relationship between eSports and Sports Betting? Some years ago, gambling companies were thinking about to introduce some gambling features inside eSports games, but it didn’t finally happen because that kind of action would change those games and that should be purpose. Instead of that companies decided to offer eSports in Sports Betting as any other sports. It has worked well at least here in Finland. It depends a little bit how you analyze the popularity of different sports in Sports Betting, but I could say that eSports in nowadays among the 4 – 6 most popular sports in Veikkaus offering. It’s at the same level or even higher than for example basketball. I believe that there would be lots of new ideas and options left. We tested one new thing, probably as the first company in the world, this week. We introduced eSports “Football Pools”-game. You know the game where you should select “home win”, “draw” or “away win” from 12 – 14 matches. This time those matches were eSports matches.
What gambling companies could reach by offering eSports and what are the biggest risks? Customers who are making bets in eSports are younger (not too young!) than average Sports Betting customers. They are not using a lot of money but are quite active to do it from weekly basis. That new potential target group is also reason why some gambling companies are nowadays sponsoring eSports events – it will give good reputation among younger customers. I visited in Counter Strike Major tournament in London and were surprised about the structure of audience. There were lots of young people but not so young than I expected them to be. There were quite few who were under 18 years old. I was probably the oldest one at the Wembley Arena but that’s another story… Of course, there is also few quite big risks due to those quite young players. The first on is the risk of match fixing. eSports players don’t understand those risks because they are not aware about that. That’s why gambling companies and eSports organizations should concentrate on education. The other risk is more related to Sports Betting. Companies shouldn’t make any marketing campaigns in the events where are underage audience than that’s very difficult to control.
I believe that the popularity of eSports will increase and there is also huge potential from Sports Betting business point of view too. But we should seriously take care of the integrity of eSports at the same time!