They’ve been scoffed at when they’re referred to as athletes. Their matches have often been dismissed as falling way short of legitimate sport.
But the amount of cash already being wagered on esports and those who play them is anything but child’s play. Try $6.7 billion on for size. That’s the number projected to be bet on eports in 2018 alone based on a report by software analytics company Narus and renowned industry research firm Eilers and Krejcik Gaming.
The same study forecasts a $13 billion number by 2020. In both cases, those figures constitute both legal and illegal betting.
In other words, it ain’t exactly wagering a pack of baseball cards with your buddy on a game of Super Mario Bros. anymore.
Esports betting options could multiply quickly
There aren’t currently many options in the U.S. when it comes to legal esports wagering, by the way. The Downtown Grand in Las Vegas had the distinction of being the first U.S.-based casino to take a bet on an esports competition when it booked wagers on an Oakland-based League of Legends event in 2016. To date, it remains the only U.S.-based location in which you can place wagers on esports matches.
Naturally, that’s all poised to change drastically now with the elimination of the Professional Sports and Amateur Protection Act (PASPA).
There’s been no shortage of speculation on how extensive the U.S. sports betting market would eventually get in the wake of such a decision. However, essentially all of those projections have been based on wagers for conventional, on-field/court sporting events. Based on the aforementioned numbers, esports betting holds substantial potential, if it can enjoy enough market penetration.
Companies such as Unikrn (which counts Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as an investor), Betway, Pinnacle, William Hill and Ladbrokes have long been taking wagers on esports competitions worldwide via their websites. A repeal of PASPA opens the floodgates for not just those entities with respect to legally serving U.S.-based bettors, but casinos and other sports betting-licensed entities in states with favorable sports betting legislation, as well.
Existing esports demographics point to potentially explosive betting market
Newzoo’s Global Esports Market Report 2017 divulged the following pertinent numbers:
- Growth to 589 million esports viewers by 2020.
- Approximately half of the esports fan base is age 21-35.
- An estimated 71 percent are male.
- 62 percent of esports enthusiasts have full-time employment, and 50 percent are classified as high-income earners.
All of those numbers are certainly conducive to a particularly lucrative potential esports betting market, considering many of those demographics match or exceed those that have previously been correlated to sports betting in past studies.
Pro leagues’ involvement would likely drive betting market to new levels
There’s also an x-factor that could become increasingly common in coming years – esports tournaments and competitions based on the signature video games of the actual professional sports leagues.
Official association with the leagues will inevitably drive credibility and interest from a certain percentage of the general public that may not be familiar with or doesn’t presently take esports seriously. Heightened interest in any “wagerable” competition in turn typically results in a more robust betting market.
Coincidentally – or perhaps not – it’s the NBA, already an envelope-pusher with sports betting in more ways than one, that has broken the ice in this regard. They jumped into the esports arena in early April with the rollout of the inaugural NBA eSports League based its renowned NBA 2K video game franchise.
Amidst what were some snickers from the masses, they even held an honest-to-goodness draft night, complete with commissioner Adam Silver announcing the selections of 102 gamers that made the cut out of over 70,000 applicants. And no, the draftees didn’t emerge from their basements in pajamas to accept their official team hats.
Rather, it was a first-class event that crystallized the seriousness with which the league appears to be taking the venture. In all, the NBA 2K League boasts a total 17 esports teams, all backed by existing NBA franchises.
It’s likely the tip of the iceberg.
If the NBA meets with any success, it’s wouldn’t be a stretch whatsoever to see the more monolithic NFL eventually spring into action with a similar concept based on its legacy Madden franchise. And next month, Major League Soccer (MLS) is debuting its FIFA eClub World Cup in anticipation of the actual event.
This article was originally written on April 11, 2018.