[toc]Predictions for the year ahead are always treacherous; even the best attempts at prognostications are liable to be upended before January is out. This goes double for a sector as fast-moving as esports and its attendant betting sector.
Still, what we can forecast with a reasonable degree of confidence are the themes we will be writing about in the months to come, so here are our tips for what to watch out for as 2018 unfolds.
More esports-related ICOs
Yes, I’m afraid we have to talk cryptocurrency.
The esports betting sector found itself in the middle of what we can call the ICO fever that took hold in 2017. Headed by Unikrn, which garnered both enthusiasm and at least $15 million for its Unikrn Gold initial coin offering in the late summer, esports was at the vanguard of the token gold rush.
In truth, what happens next with the burgeoning token economy is beyond the scope of this article, although we are hearing from other esports-related ventures that planned ICOs have been pulled on the basis that the crypto market is a touch too frothy.
That is an understatement. Still, should Bitcoin continue its miraculous ascent, surely others are likely to take advantage with more esports and esports betting-related offers. Whether anything much will come of these is more debatable.
Questions over the viability of esports betting
A not unrelated theme from last year that is likely to feature again in 2018 is the question of just how much revenue is being generated by the various esports betting offerings. Again, we wrote last year that there are suspicions that the amounts being bet at the traditional bookmakers are likely very small.
William Hill told Esports Betting Report last October that it saw revenues of circa $1.3 million a year, or about as much that is wagered on a non-Wimbledon tennis major.
It is likely a different story at esports betting market leaders such as Betway and Pinnacle. But despite the latter’s much-publicized claims about the volume of esports bets, there is very little yet being said about profits.
Meanwhile, there is at least half a suspicion that the enthusiasm shown by Unikrn shareholder Mark Cuban in the company’s coin-offering pivot might be because actual betting volumes on the site are stubbornly refusing to match the token hype.
Skin betting continues to thrive
In comparison with the legitimate betting sector, the evidence we have seen from the ongoing loot boxes controversies would indicate that skin betting remains a thriving sector. For various reasons, this will continue to be a thorn in the side of the legitimate betting sector and — when they do turn their attention to the issue — the games publishers.
One strand of thought that has been expressed is that the esports betting operators need to get to grips what skin betting represents in terms of innovation being forged from below by the esports players themselves. Certainly, if the official betting offerings are failing to enthuse the audience as much as skins trading evidently does, then it will fail to entice the needed level of customer numbers that would make further investment in the offerings worthwhile.
Further regulatory issues around loot boxes
The questions around whether loot boxes constitute gambling came to the fore with Star Wars Battlefront II and the ensuing furor has seen questions raised in the UK parliament, a clarifying statement issued by the UK Gambling Commission and statements on the issue coming from both the Belgium and Netherlands gambling authorities.
These might be isolated and certainly the UK Gambling Commission is tiptoeing around the subject for the very good reason that – as yet – there is no obvious case to answer with regard to actual gambling. But still, the issues raised by loot boxes are a good example of how the regulatory embrace welcomed by the regulated esports-betting sector could have implications in the wider space.
Match-fixing scandals will gain further attention
Alongside the increased regulatory attention being paid to esports, instances of match-fixing will also be a focus in the months ahead. The Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) has already made its presence felt in esports betting circles and it is to be hoped that it will continue to rally more names to its flag, including the publishers and tournament organizers.
Corruption is obviously corrosive and needs to be dealt with in a coherent fashion or the sports will suffer. In a sense, the uncovering of scandals and murky practices has a cleansing effect and should be welcomed. But as much as the response to individual instances needn’t be overwrought, action needs to be seen to be done.
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Esports and the US
One huge area of interest for the sector pertains to the ongoing US Supreme Court case regarding the federal sports betting ban (PASPA) and the potential for further sports betting openings in the US.
The interest shown by various Las Vegas interests in staging esports tournaments – including a deal announced in December between MGM Resorts International and Unikrn for a series of events starting this month at the MGM Grand – suggests there is growing enthusiasm for esports among casino groups eyeing the potential for attracting a new audience.
It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that the same US gaming groups might seize upon the opportunity offered by any kind of PASPA repeal to offer esports betting. Certainly, William Hill US has already laid down a marker, having been offering esports betting in Nevada since late 2016.