Manatt Digital has revealed the three companies that will be pitching in the live finals of the Manatt Digital Esports Startup Launchpad.
The finalists – FirstBlood, Maestro, and Vantage – will have the chance to pitch live to the audience at the Esports & Casino Resorts conference on October 26th in Las Vegas.
“We were very impressed with the submissions that entered into our Manatt Startup Launchpad pitch competition,” said Eunice Shin, Managing Director, Manatt Digital.
“We look forward to hosting the pitch presentations and competition of FirstBlood, Maestro and Vantage at the inaugural Naruscope event,” Shin added. “These strong contenders will be sure to excite and impress the attendees with the caliber of their solutions and offerings in this dynamic eSports sector.”
More about the Manatt Digital Esports Launchpad finalists
The launchpad finalists were selected from dozens of entries by a judging panel that included representatives from Manatt, Narus, and external voices from the VC and esports spheres.
- FirstBlood is a “decentralized esports platform that lets players challenge each other in the field and win rewards.” More at FirstBlood.io.
- Maestro “helps broadcasters maximize their strategies using a suite of engagement tools to delight and monetize fans while capturing robust audience behavioral data.” More at Maestro.io.
- Vantage Sports is “a training platform for League of Legends players who strive for excellence,” offering data-driven insights “provided as personalized feedback so you can measure your performance against players at your position and rank.” More at VantageSports.gg.
“I love pitch competitions, and was really inspired by many of the entries we saw,” offered John Caldwell, partner at conference producer Narus Advisors.
“Unfortunately, we had to cull it to three finalists, and I’m looking forward to what Maestro, FirstBlood and Vantage bring to the stage at Naruscope next week. The future of esports looks especially bright when viewed through the lens of these entrepreneurs.”
More about Esports & Casino Resorts
The event is being put on by Narus Advisors and Global Gaming Business. It will take place on Oct. 25-26 at the SLS in Vegas.
The event will cover various angles of how casinos can benefit from the explosion in popularity of video gaming in general and esports specifically, such as event hosting, understanding the esports fan, and esports on the casino floor.
A complete program is available here.
- Answering the common concerns casinos have about esports
- What esports games are the best fits for the casino resort environment?
- Bringing esports to the casino floor
- Keys to hosting a successful esports event
- Indian Country and esports: An opportunity for innovation
Speakers are pulled from a diverse pool of experts and executives, including:
- Imari Oliver, VP Sales and Global Partnerships, Esports at WME | IMG
- Nick Allen, Director, Esports Operations at Twitch
- Rahul Sood, CEO, Unikrn.com
- Steve Arhancet, Co-CEO / Owner, Team Liquid
- Seth Schorr, CEO, Fifth Street Gaming, Downtown Grand
eSports on the airwaves, er satellite-waves
If you aren’t convinced yet that eSports are the new sports-sports, consider this: Soon SiriusXM listeners will be able to tune into the eSports equivalent of talk radio.
The show, which will be called IGN eSports Today, sounds like it will sound a lot like classic sports radio. Fans will be able to phone in and speak with eSports players, get advice, and hear commentary on some of the most popular titles such as Dota 2, League of Legends, and CS:GO. Kevin Knocke will be the host.
IGN eSports Today can be found at SiriusXM’s Bleacher Report Radio, which is channel 83 on the service. More information here.
Collegiate eSports in the OC
A smattering of universities around the nation have cottoned on to this whole eSports thing, and the latest addition to that list is the University of California Irvine (UCI). The university has received financial backing from game developer Riot Games, which plans to put up $250,000 to help fund UCI’s plans to build an eSports studio, a competitive gaming arena, and for student scholarships.
According to the OC Register, 72 percent of 1,200 polled UCI students say they are gamers, and the school is ranked as the number one gamer school in the United States. Eighty-nine percent of students at the school are in favor of the creation of an eSports team, the OC Register reported.
Not to be outdone, an April 7 editorial in the Daily Bruin, the newspaper of UCI’s cousin to the north, UCLA, called for the latter to follow in the former’s footsteps and create its own eSports initiative.
Noting the rapid growth and immense size of the eSports market, the editorial said, “If UCLA ignores these trends, it might be late to the next big thing in collegiate competition.”
And on the other side of the pond
Heading across the world, the UK government has similarly acknowledged that eSports is poised to continue its expansion. To that end, the government has thrown its support behind the eGames, a competitive eSports series set to coincide with this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Future events will similarly be centered around Olympic competition, both in summer and winter.
Ed Vaizey, the UK’s minister for culture, was quote by Wired as saying:
“The eGames promises to be an exciting venture that will give eSports competitors across the UK even more opportunities to showcase their talents on an international stage.”
As yet which eSports titles will be included remains to be seen, though we do know that teams from each participating nation will compete in both group and individual events. The eGames will be monitored by the non-profit International eGames Committee.
Like the Olympic games themselves, prizes will be awarded in the form of medals – and you guessed it – the medals will be gold, silver, and bronze. Also like the Olympic games, there will be no prize money awarded, which might come as a blow to some eSports athletes who are used to competing for ever-increasing cash prize pools.
Photo credit: Lawrey / Shutterstock.com
eSports is one of the fastest growing markets in the world and everyone is scrambling to get a piece. With interest as high as ever, Sky Sports is planning on taking a close look at the online betting market for various games in a new documentary.
Joel Dale, a London-based independent filmmaker, has reached out to the Counter Strike: Global Offensive community on Reddit in an attempt to learn more about people’s experiences with betting on matches since it was made available several years ago.
Competitive gaming industry careful to distance themselves from scandals
Valve recently took a hard line with players who fixed competitive matches, and there was another similar incident with Riot’s League of Legends nearly two years ago. Despite not having the authority in most jurisdictions to impose punishments beyond bans, the competitive associations were quick to deal with these improprieties. In some cases, criminal charges were brought against those who perpetrated the schemes.
Despite its meteoric growth, eSports is still avoiding mainstream coverage in the US and it will likely be a few years until any scandals reach the general public, which may limit any damage they can cause. The industry itself seems to shrug it off fairly consistently – most likely caused by the constant influx of new games and new competitive scenes.
Perhaps this is exactly why eSports betting has grown the way it has – there are so many more games and ways of betting that each market has its own circle of dedicated players and in turn its own ecosystem.
Concerns about ulterior motives have players worried
Very possibly for good reasons, many people on Reddit were suspect about Mr. Dale’s true motive for wanting to talk about their experiences. He seemed more interested in learning about the bad rather than the good, and many thought this to be a piece perhaps driven by those who want to pass legislation that would curb the fledgling market before it becomes entrenched. Dale dismissed these ideas, however, claiming he simply needed player experiences to illustrate both sides of the argument.
In this reporter’s eyes, it seems as though the argument for eSports betting is as simple as “allow consenting adults to do want they want and offer help to those who need it.” Concerns about problem and underage gambling are generally what those who wish to legislate away gambling cite in order to make their case more powerful. Indeed, Dale says that he has experienced issues with gambling in the past and this is likely to be a large part of the documentary.
eSports and betting go hand in hand
Regardless of the legality of a betting market for any sport, there has always been a massive demand for it. Las Vegas reportedly took in $116 million worth of bets for the 2015 Super Bowl and nearly 120 million people viewed the game in its last minutes.
During the last League of Legends World Championships, 36 million people took part in watching live online despite the game being less than seven years old. With the relative ease of placing a bet online versus going to a major sportsbook to place a bet in Las Vegas, it’s no wonder that so many people are willing to place bets on eSports match outcomes.
For good or ill, the documentary is likely going to be the first of many mainstream looks into the eSports betting market, itself being a drop in the pond of legal online gambling that has flourished over the past few years.
On December 10th Electronic Arts (EA) made an announcement that they are launching a brand new competitive gaming division. EA hopes to turn games like Battlefield, FIFA, and Madden into competitive eSports franchises.
The creation of the new division won’t affect current EA competitions. There will be no change in regional or worldwide competitions that have been announced for next year.
In the announcement, Andrew Wilson, CEO of EA, explained that the EA Competitive Sports Division (CGD) will be built around three core pillars:
The purpose of the three core pillars is to create a competitive atmosphere within EA games. EA hopes to become a hub for the eSports community, and to create live events and new ways to broadcast eSports around the world. With these specific values EA hopes to make eSports mainstream.
Heading EA’s new branch CGD is Pete Moore, whose title will be Executive Vice President and Chief Competition Officer. Also joining CGD is Todd Sitrin, Senior Vice President and GM of CGD.
Todd Sitrin, head of EA’s global marketing team, has been with EA for 14 years. Sitrin also played an incredibly large role in the marketing and strategy for EA Sports which has helped make the company’s sports video games top sellers.
Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts, described how revolutionary the new eSports division hopes to be:
“The formation of the Competitive Gaming Division is a groundbreaking opportunity for Electronic Arts to celebrate your passion for play and competition.”
More on Moore
Prior to his new role in charge of EA’s eSports division, Pete Moore was the head of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Division. In this role Moore oversaw both the Xbox and Xbox360 console projects. Moore was also the President for Sega of America until July 2007 when he joined Electronic Arts.
With his new position, Moore will be leading strategy and operations for CGD. Moore will also be working on game development with studios. EA hopes that Moore’s leadership will help to create new and competitive platforms.
Moore has been such a key and recognizable role in the company. Moore is so famous within the gamer community that he was once parodied in the cartoon South Park. The episode Crack Baby Athletic Association focused on the NCAA’s association with EA.
Within the press release, CEO Andrew Wilson expressed his excitement for Pete Moore’s new role in the company.
“There is no one better in our industry to lead this new effort than Peter. He was an early pioneer in championing competitive gaming programs, such as the FIFA Interactive World Cup and the EA SPORTS Challenge Series, and Peter’s personal passions for the player experience, sports and competition, make him a tremendous leader for this new division.”
What games will be impacted?
FIFA, Madden NFL, Battlefield, and a variety of existing titles will all be focuses for EA’s attempts to get further into eSports. These are all highly competitive games, some of which have already had large competitions.
One tournament hosted eSports event used to take place regularly was the EA Sports Challenge Series. The EA Sports Challenge Series included the games Madden, FIFA, and NHL. The top 256 Madden players and FIFA players competed in Las Vegas, most recently in 2013, for $400,000. The top 512 spots for NHL competed for $200,000.
The largest tournament run by EA which is still going is the FIFA Interactive World Cup 16’ (FIWC 16). For the year 2016 the FIWC has already reached two million player entries. This is the second time the tournament has reached two million players.
Ten players will qualify for the FIWC tournament final. The finalists for this year’s FIFA Interactive World Cup will compete for the title and a grand prize of $20,000 in March 2016. Finalists will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City for the final match.
In the coming months it seems likely that Electronic Arts will expand their existing tournaments and continue to add new ones in an attempt to capitalize on the growth of competitive eSports.
Azubu, a California-based live streaming company, has raised $59 million dollars for their strictly eSports-based streaming business. Azubu operates exclusively in eSports streaming and is a direct competitor with eSports streaming giant Twitch.
This new round of funding for Azubu comes primarily from various European investment companies including London-based Sapinda Group and Sallfort Privatbank of Switzerland. Sapinda Group already invested $34.5 million into Azubu back in March of 2014.
Azubu aims to create a different atmosphere than live streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube. Both Twitch and YouTube allow and encourage a variety of non-gaming streams. At any time, you can go to Twitch and find things like live podcasts streams, bands practicing, or live streams on casual games like Minecraft.
Azubu believes that eSports deserves a strictly eSports live streaming website. In a press release Azubu CEO Ian Sharpe said:
“We believe that the global eSports community deserves a broadcast and viewing platform that’s designed specifically for their businesses. We are developing our technology in direct collaboration with the community and brand partners in order to provide the best possible, and crucially, most monetizable streaming experience.”
The importance of live streaming eSports
Live streaming sites like Twitch have made it possible for fans to watch eSports at home, just like one would any traditional sporting event. Prior to the growth of streaming, the only way to watch an eSports event was live – obviously cost prohibitive for fans needing to travel and purchase tickets frequently.
Twitch’s platform has become far more than just a streaming site – the site has become a hub for gamers around the world. Twitch is really one big community for gamers.
Anyone can stream essentially anything they want on Twitch. Twitch streams are so diverse that members of the community often refer to them as life-streams.
Without live streaming sites, there would be little to no money in eSports. Live streaming basically created an entire economy for gamers on the internet. Without live streaming, professional teams would have significantly smaller fan bases, and there wouldn’t be salaried players, sponsors, or fame.
Professional live streamers aren’t the only ones making money from eSports streams – sportsbooks around the world are adding eSports to their rosters. Betting on eSports is blowing up and people are learning to make money at it.
The explosion of the eSports industry as a whole is a direct result of the success of the culture of streaming content online.
Can Azubu compete with Twitch?
There are very few differences between Twitch and Azubu. Just like Twitch, anyone can stream on Azubu – however, Azubu will be strictly eSports. Being a strictly competitive streaming site could limit the amount of viewers, and could potentially make drawing in crowds difficult.
Azubu’s creators have worked hard to create features that are unique to their platform. One of the features available on the platform is called “modules.” Modules are customizable apps that are inserted into your viewing screen, and allow you to view different matches or content within the match you are already viewing.
The features and limited live streams could actually hurt Azubu’s future. The differences between the streaming sites just aren’t that significant.
Recently, sites like YouTube have thrown their hat into the eSports streaming arena. YouTube is obviously quite powerful and is likely already frequently visited by Twitch users. It seems far more likely for YouTube to have a chance to grab a significant share of the market from Twitch than any other competitors.
Considering the existence of Twitch and YouTube’s presence in the space, it is quite difficult to imagine a site like Azubu doing much damage to these behemoths with far greater budgets and existing viewership.
From the perspective of gamers, Twitch is basically perfect as-is. The streaming site has a gigantic cult following, and the community isn’t clamoring for new features or complaining about existing ones. Azubu may be trying too hard to be a me-too product which is attempting to fix something that isn’t broken – or even flawed.
Video game producer Blizzard Entertainment has announced that the 2016 World Championship for their immensely popular and still rapidly growing game Hearthstone will feature an impressive $1 million prize pool. This is a sharp increase from the $250,000 prize pool at the same event in 2015.
Hearthstone is a card-based strategy eSports game which has recently attracted tremendous attention from top professional poker players due to the similarities in skill set necessary to excel at each game.
Just 16 players will qualify to play for a share of the $1 million Hearthstone World Championship prize pool. Qualification takes place through Ranked Play starting this week at DreamHack Winter 2015 and extending through late 2016.
In addition to the $1 million prize pool for the flagship Hearthstone event, Blizzard has also announced a $100,000 prize pool for each of the nine annual Season Championships.
All of these changes mark a drastic increase in the popularity of the game and a clear desire from Blizzard to make Hearthstone a cornerstone of eSports competition for years to come.
Other eSports with 7-figure prize pool events
Although Hearthstone is the most recently released eSports game featured in a $1 million tournament, it’s not the only one.
Valve Corporation’s Dota 2, interestingly enough a sequel to Blizzard’s own Defense of the Ancients (the intellectual property rights were sold in 2012), is the game played at The International – far and away the eSports event with the highest annual prize pool.
According to eSports prize pool tracking website eSportsEarnings.com, The International 2015 sported an $18.4 million prize pool – up from $10.9 million at the same event one year earlier.
Three other eSports in addition to Dota 2 have been played at 7-figure prize pool tournaments: Smite, League of Legends, and Call of Duty (four separate versions of Call of Duty have had $1 million events).
Blizzard should certainly be pleased that Hearthstone, released in May of 2014, is reaching a milestone which only the most popular eSports ever have.
Comparing eSports prize pool growth to other games
Growth in prize pools obviously provides incentives for professional players and increases interest in a game among casual ones, but in a grander sense the prize pool increases in any eSports game are representative of the growth of the game as a whole.
The number of annual eSports events with 6-figure prize pools has been rapidly increasing and shows no signs of stopping, and it seems a virtual certainty that the same will soon happen with 7-figure events.
A cursory look at the prize pools in some traditional sports shows that while a few leagues dwarf even The International, eSports events are already comparable to prize pools in several mainstream sports.
According to a list on BetHQ, a massive €1.1 billion (yes, with a b) was distributed to teams in the most recent season of soccer’s UEFA Champions League.
Admittedly, eSports isn’t near that. If we ignore season-long commitments and focus purely on short-term tournaments, however, the biggest eSports prizes are actually getting quite close.
The largest annual horse racing prize pool is the Dubai World Cup Night, which pays out a bit over $27 million. Golf’s FedEx Cup has a $35 million prize pool. In tennis, Wimbledon’s prize pool between all of its tournaments is about $40 million.
With The International leaping from $10.9 million to $18.4 million from 2014 to 2015 and prize pools across a variety of eSports seeing similar growth, it seems quite possible for top eSports tournaments to exceed some of the biggest events from the traditional sports world in the next few years.
The eSports world, especially at the professional level, is quite noticeably lacking in female players. This unfortunate truth comes despite the fact that eSports tournaments are some of the biggest public competitions in which all genders can compete on completely equal ground. Even poker, the game which may closest resemble eSports in terms of fairness of competition between genders, typically sees a higher percentage of female participants in major events compared to most eSports tournaments.
According to eSports tournament earnings tracking website eSportsEarnings.com, the female player with the recorded highest gross earnings is Katherine “Mystik” Gunn. While Gunn has an impressive $122,000 in lifetime earnings, that leaves her in just 241st place among all players. Only Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn joins her in the top 300, and just two others rank among the top 1,000 overall.
Earlier this week, betting site Unikrn announced that it is launching Team Unikrn: the first-ever all-female team assembled with the goal of being competitive at a professional level. The team will focus on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and is made up of five CS:GO players: Julia “Julie” Strunkowski, Perrine “Lalita” Allesiardo, Melania “Gina” Mylioti, Sophia “Kim” Benfakir, and Camilla “Parmaviolet” Hart.
Unikrn’s reasons for starting the team
There are quite a few ways in which Unikrn will benefit from Team Unikrn. Company CEO Rahul Sood explained his thoughts in a press release:
“The time is now for a women’s professional gaming team to take center stage, and we have the team to do it. At Unikrn, we’re big advocates for women in tech, and specifically women in eSports, and we’re thrilled to see Team Unikrn take the world of CS:GO by storm.”
Team Manager Neda Samimi expressed similar enthusiasm in a quote on the team’s website:
“With Team Unikrn, we’re here to advocate for women in gaming and tech. eSports is the ONLY sport where women and men can compete on the same playing field and Unikrn is here to support that. I feel confident that with Unikrn’s support, I’ll be able to lead the team to great success and improve the playing field for girl gamers in the industry.”
In addition to all of the company’s voiced reasons related to advancing women in eSports, there are quite a number of financial benefits that will come alongside Team Unikrn’s launch. Most obviously, an all-female team will likely receive a tremendous amount of press at major eSports events.
Launching the first all-female team is a virtual guarantee for high levels of attention surrounding their matches – and by extension, quite a large number of potential customers seeing Unikrn’s branding on the team’s clothing and gear.
Is Unikrn entering areas it shouldn’t?
About a month ago, Unikrn launched the Unikrn Competitive Integrity Program. The program’s goal is to help deal with match-fixing issues in competitive eSports by issuing certificates of integrity to tournament organizers and other entities in the pro gaming world.
Team Unikrn is the company’s second attempt at addressing an issue in pro eSports. First they tackled game integrity, and now gender inequality. Although both ventures, if successful, can have a positive impact on the eSports world as a whole, it is difficult not to ask whether or not it is appropriate territory for a betting site to enter.
In American sports, gambling ventures (with the exception of fantasy sports, but that’s another topic altogether) are typically kept far away from professional sports to help preserve the integrity of the competitions. In Europe there is a somewhat softer stance, and it is not atypical to see an online betting company prominently advertised at stadiums and even on player uniforms.
However, the concept of a gambling site actually owning a team would seem absurd in any league in the world. Can eSports be the exception, or will integrity issues eventually prevent a betting company like Unikrn from maintaining ownership of a team?
Video game manufacturers, eSports-specific media companies, and tournament event organizers were the first companies to recognize the massive potential of eSports as an entertainment product several years back.
More recently, gambling companies have realized that same potential for the eSports market. European sportsbooks came first and they were soon followed by several daily fantasy sports companies, including industry giants DraftKings and FanDuel.
Yet another new stride towards the mainstream has just been announced this week. A new company called NRG eSports has been formed and they announced their League of Legends team roster. What makes them different from other pro gaming teams? Two of their three founders are part-owners of the National Basketball Association’s Sacramento Kings.
Who is behind NRG eSports?
Kings part-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov join Gerard Kelly, the former owner and manager of pro gaming squad Team Imagine, to found NRG eSports with the hope that it will soon become a top competitive team. Both Miller and Mastrov have impressive business resumes: Miller is a former Apple executive and Mastrov has been involved in a variety of health companies but is best known for founding 24-Hour Fitness.
Miller described some of his reasons for wanting to own an eSports team in an interview with all three founders by ThePostGame.com:
“We envision this being similar to any professional sports team. We are getting in early. I kind of look at this like the early years of the ABA or NBA. The audience is just massive. The finals a few weeks ago were bigger than any final night for NHL, NBA or MLB pretty much combined. So the audience is there and the interest is there. Sponsors will pay the bills and the ultimate goal is that the enterprise value of the brand will be worth something.”
While NRG eSports is focusing on League of Legends to start, their long-term goal is to build a brand which is recognizable across a wide variety of games and competing in major tournaments across the globe.
Top players receive star athlete treatment
From a human interest perspective, the highlight of ThePostGame’s interview with NRG eSports’ founders was hearing about how top players are treated as part of a competitive team. We’d recommend you check it out for yourself, but here are some of the more fascinating details:
- The players, manager, and “most” of the coaching staff are housed in an eight-bedroom “gaming house” in Los Angeles.
- It is typical for top competitive teams to live together.
- The NRG eSports gaming house includes a house mom, in-house cook and maid.
- All players receive a base salary plus bonuses for performance.
- Tournament winnings in the case of NRG are divided 80%/20% with the lion’s share being divided among the players.
As larger media channels begin covering events and more mainstream sponsors begin to get involved, eSports stars may eventually get the kind of treatment that pro athletes receive.
Similar teams likely on the way
With the news public that two Kings owners are now owners of an eSports team, it may only be a matter of time before others from the sports world decide to follow suit.
At this stage in the game, forming a competitive eSports team is a tiny investment for anyone with the financial capability to invest in a professional sports team in a major league. However, many of the same managerial skills likely apply: recruitment of coaches and players, dealing with roster changes over time, and having people to handle the logistics involved with travel to competitions just to name a few.
Taking those similarities into consideration, eSports team ownership could be an appealing low-risk/high-reward proposition for other owners of traditional pro sports teams. If their interest isn’t piqued now, it sure will be if NRG eSports succeeds.
Online gaming operators PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, both of which are owned by Canadian gaming company Amaya, each made an announcement on Friday showing that Amaya is actively attempting to capitalize on eSports.
Some industry analysts believe that successfully capturing the attention of eSports audiences could mean a large influx of players for online poker sites, and Amaya’s recent forays into the eSports world certainly reflect that belief.
Full Tilt’s play money client on Steam
Steam is one of the foremost distribution channels of video games to casual gamers and eSports enthusiasts alike. The service is available in twenty-five languages and earlier this year Steam’s parent company Valve Corporation announced that the service has over 125 million active users.
With such a wide user base, the motivations for an online poker site to get listed on Steam are obvious. However, the process of getting listed isn’t as simple as just submitting a game. Real-money gaming software isn’t allowed, and all games which get listed must pass a user vote on Greenlight.
In October, Full Tilt’s play-money software was listed on Greenlight and this week the software received an approval, making it the first major online poker brand to be distributed on Steam.
Full Tilt’s press release included a quote from Marketing Director Mark Ody which hinted that the operator’s involvement in eSports has only just begun:
We now have a great opportunity to share the game we love with a new audience. We are indebted to our player base, who voted in droves to help get us to this point. The process has given us some great insights into the crossover of the gaming and poker communities and we hope to capitalize on this and other initiatives in this area in the coming months.
Poker pro ElkY joins Team Liquid
Just a few hours after Full Tilt’s announcement, PokerStars and professional gaming squad Team Liquid distributed press releases stating that Team PokerStars Pro Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier has joined Team Liquid as a sponsored Hearthstone pro. This makes ElkY the first jointly sponsored pro between a poker site and an eSports team.
Grospellier, a former world-ranked StarCraft player and serious Hearthstone player, is an obvious choice for a pro gaming team to pursue for a sponsorship. However, PokerStars’ choice to allow him to join an external sponsored team is an interesting one.
Hearthstone, a card-based eSports game by Blizzard Entertainment, has recently gained tremendous popularity in the poker world. High-profile poker pros including perhaps the most famous member of Team PokerStars Pro, Daniel Negreanu, have been playing the game and promoting it across a variety of social media channels. Recently, Negreanu and ElkY even played a public exhibition match at Blizzcon.
The crossover potential between Hearthstone and poker is enormous. PokerStars must believe that increasing their own brand awareness among Hearthstone fans is so valuable that it’s actually beneficial for their pros to endorse a non-Amaya product.
It is incredibly likely that ElkY will be wearing PokerStars patches at all of the major eSports tournaments he attends. If this type of low-cost advertising proves itself effective, we may see additional joint sponsorship deals emerge in the future.
Still no eSports from StarsDraft
Full Tilt passing the Steam Greenlight process and ElkY joining Team Liquid aren’t the only ways Amaya has tried to attract the attention of eSports enthusiasts. The official PokerStars online training site, PokerSchoolOnline, has a large schedule for streaming poker content on their Twitch channel, and in February Jason Somerville joined Team PokerStars Pro largely because of his exceptional success with Twitch streaming.
Despite all of this optimism, Amaya’s daily fantasy eSports site, StarsDraft, has still not announced an eSports product. Several of its competitors in the daily fantasy space have already entered the market, including DraftKings, Fanduel, and most recently Fantasy Aces.
Considering how open-minded other Amaya properties have shown themselves to be regarding eSports, it seems likely that StarsDraft is at least investigating the opportunity to expand its offerings. We wouldn’t be surprised if the company is already working on an eSports product.
Online gaming operator TonyBet, run by outspoken poker pro and philanthropist Antanas “Tony G” Guoga, has begun accepting bets on eSports events. TonyBet is a UK-licensed online casino which offers poker, sports betting, and casino games in several languages. The site primarily caters to Eastern European markets.
Live betting began on October 30th, just one day before the League of Legends World Championship grand finals in Berlin, which was the first event the operator accepted eSports wagers on.
Initial betting lines focus on biggest events
TonyBet plans on expanding their eSports offering to cover a wide variety of games, and the company mentions Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Starcraft II, and Dota 2 as games they plan on covering extensively.
In the short term, the focus is primarily on offering betting lines for the biggest tournaments in eSports. This week TonyBet offered bets on the CEVO/MLG Pro League LAN Finals, and it has announced it will take wagers on the MLG Smite Pro League Championship in December – both of which are Major League Gaming events.
TonyBet has already announced that it will be taking action on several of the most anticipated eSports tournaments which won’t take place again until 2016, and it is safe to assume that if significant interest and action is generated that the company will begin taking bets on less prominent events as well.
A representative from TonyBet stated in the company’s press release that they’re ready for expansion and to stay competitive as demand increases:
“In a market that’s so heavily saturated we aim to provide our users with an exceptional experience. TonyBet was always about being innovative and progressive, and in the rise of eSports, we aspire to respond immediately to the demand that it creates.”
eSports market in Europe poised for growth
The TonyBet representative also expressed great enthusiasm about the potential this new venture has:
“We believe that this market has a lot of potential. It’s clear that the gaming culture is gaining popularity, becoming more mainstream and people are willing and interested to participate in or watch the tournaments, so naturally we want our customers to be able to actively take part and support their favorites.”
Statistics on market size included in TonyBet’s press release and attributed to market research firm SuperData state that the European eSports market is worth roughly $72 million today compared to an estimated $143 million in the United States and $374 million in Asia.
With millions of viewers tuning in for the biggest eSports events and more fans emerging each year, industry experts believe that wagering on events is set to grow substantially in each of those markets over the next several years.