With less than a week to go until Christmas, the esports betting action is now officially very thin on the ground.
The World Cyber Arena and the Intel Extreme Masters were the last two major events of 2016 and both concluded this past week.
So, as much as we like to encourage the world of esports betting, for the next week or two it’s best to play your favourite games, crack open a drink and enjoy the holidays.
We’ll be back before the end of the year with a 2017 esports betting preview.
The world of esports this week
Since we’re essentially all out of events for the year and there’s little action to be had at any of our usual list of esports betting sites, we’ll jump straight into the summary of the past week’s action in the world of esports.
As you might have guessed, it’s essentially a rundown of the World Cyber Arena and Intel Extreme Masters games!
League of Legends
The year’s final League of Legends major at the World Cyber Arena in Gyeonggi, Korea, saw Samsung Galaxy pip Kongdoo Monster to the $50,000 first place prize, with Team Liquid and Immortals picking up joint bronze medal spots.
There was a lack of major Counter-Strike: Global Offensive action this week, but never fear – before the year is out, we’ll be giving you a chunky preview of 2017 esports betting and rest assured that CS:GO features heavily in that plan.
There was a double Dota 2 whammy in China this past week with victories in Yinchuan and Shenzhen for Invictus Gaming/iG Vitality and Evil Geniuses, respectively.
The former win came at the World Cyber Arena, while the latter was in the China Top 2016.
Heroes of the Storm
Besides the ongoing Gold Series League, which won’t wrap up until a week or two into 2017, there’s nothing to report on over in this neck of the esports woods.
The Intel Extreme Masters saw a whitewash victory for INnoVation over Stats, with a 4-0 victory clinching Lee Shin Hyung the $15,000 first prize.
This came alongside a win for ByuN in the World Cyber Arena, defeating Patience in the final.
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Another feature at the Intel Extreme Masters was Overwatch, with LW Red topping the table to take home $50,000 after beating Lunatic-Hai in the final best of five match.
Finally, Hearthstone fans managed to se some action as SilverName topped the list of World Cyber Arena competitors to win $87,200.
888poker has partnered with FlowEsports to emphasize the synergies between Hearthstone and poker.
The FlowEsports Hearthstone team has over 10,000 weekly viewers on Twitch, and the team includes two players who are also professional poker players.
The FlowEsports Hearthstone team consists of:
- Daniel Märkisch (C4mlann)
- Tobias Graap (TwoBiers)
- Vetle Stubberud (Xzirez)
- Johannes Steindl (JonnyStoneHS)
Daniel Märkisch and Johannes Steindl both competed in the recent World Series of Poker (WSOP) Circuit Event in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, where Märkisch finished 20th.
Once a week the team streams a poker game to complement their Hearthstone broadcasts.
888poker explains that Hearthstone and poker share similar characteristics. Both use playing cards, and the Hearthstone “life counters” function similarly to chips in poker.
Online poker operators want to attract esports players
It is noteworthy that this deal is between 888poker and FlowEsports and not with 888sports.
But it is the poker division of 888 that wants to benefit most from the partnership with FlowEsports.
Online poker is generally declining in popularity, partly because of the introduction of new regulation and high taxes, but also because the demographic which forms the base of esports players is similar to that for poker.
Poker can be considered the original esport, requiring skill and concentration, much like modern esports.
Having been brought up on video games, the millennial generation may find it more natural to use their leisure time for esports rather than online poker.
888poker and other operators want to alert esports players to the fun of poker, pitching the game as a natural sibling of esports, and a natural progression from competitive esports tournament play.
“Poker was a natural fit as I had the right mindset to figure out how to beat my opponents and the drive to put in the hard work and dedication necessary to be one of the best. Hearthstone has many similarities to poker in that it’s a turn based card game where you are trying to figure out your opponent’s moves so you can optimize your turn. I think my experience in poker will allow me to learn quickly and fulfill my desire to be one of the best in Hearthstone.
As a member of Team PokerStars, I’m honored to be back in the esports competitive scene playing Hearthstone as a part of Team Liquid.”
Lew joins fellow PokerStars Team Pro, Frenchman Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, who signed up with Team Liquid in November last year.
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Poker to esports and esports to poker
At this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event, which came with a staggering total prize pool of $63,340,268, the final table of nine players included Griffin Benger.
Benger was the 2004 CS:GO World Champion, but he switched to playing poker full time and won his seat to the $10,000 buy-in tournament in a qualifying competition at 888poker.
888poker will hope to encourage more esports players to emulate Benger’s success. He finally walked away from the event with $1.25 million in prize money after finishing in 7th place out of a starting field of 6,737 players.
The year is winding down, which means that while some esports have been put thoroughly to bed until 2017, others are exploding in a climactic multi-million dollar finish to the year.
Let’s take a look at some of the best esports betting action heading into December.
Where the action is
Oh, and naturally their markets and whatnot are top-notch as usual, too.
Over at SkyBet we have all the markets you’d expect for CS:GO plus The Boston Major bets, while they’ve also got a few of the lesser-spotted markets out there such as smaller StarCraft 2 and League of Legends events.
Nothing shocking from Unikrn here, though we should point out that their articles could do with an update since the ELEAGUE Group D review is still proudly emblazoned in headline position despite the finals playing out this past weekend.
Bet365 have a few World Cyber Arena and Intel Extreme Masters markets up already for the early birds who fancy catching a worm.
Additionally, there is even a market for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, for the early birds who fancy catching other early birds.
Sometimes it feels like our Pinnacle summary could be copy-pasted week-to-week, but this writer probably won’t get paid if that happens so once again we’ll have to say that the markets are OK, the information is outdated, and the offer overall is pretty meh.
PaddyPower and Ladbrokes
PaddyPower’s esports betting offers have taken a real nosedive recently, with once again a solitary market open.
On the other hand, Ladbrokes have really upped the ante with theirs and are now quite competitive.
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The week in esports events
There’s a lot concluding and a lot kicking off as the year comes to a gripping end. Let’s check out the major action that’s concluded and will be coming up.
The Boston Major is underway as Dota 2 teams fight for the year’s second-largest esports prize pool. The group stages have played out, and we have 16 teams through to the Main Event, which kicks off on Dec. 7.
Just last night, OpTic defeated Astralis to win the ELEAGUE Season 2 title and $400,000 in prize money after a series of intense matches.
Now we have just another few days until the finals of the Esports Championship Series in Anaheim, where $750,000 is up for grabs.
League of Legends
There’s still not a lot to report in the world of League of Legends, though paiN Gaming did win the XLG Super Cup in Brazil last night.
With a R$28,000 (US$8,090) first prize, it’s not really on the same level as The Boston Major or ELEAGUE finals, though – still, congratulations to paiN Gaming either way!
Heroes of the Storm
Now that Ballistix have won the Heroes of the Storm Gold Club World Championship (an impressive follow-up to their Fall Global Championship victory in November) there is no more Heroes of the Storm action in major tournaments for 2016.
The World Cyber Arena 2016 gets underway in China later this week, which is the event that StarCraft fans have been waiting for. After that, the Intel Extreme Masters in Korea will round off the year nicely.
Team EnVyUs won the inaugural Overwatch APEX, defeating AF.Blue and taking down the penultimate major Overwatch event of the year ahead of the Intel Extreme Masters later this month.
Like many of us, Hearthstone 2 players are eagerly awaiting the World Cyber Arena, which begins in 10 days’ time in China.
A Boston-based startup is connecting esports players who want to be more successful with the human capital they need to improve their skills.
Gamer Sensei, which matches up gamers with master “senseis” who offer personalized instruction and tools for improvement, announced on the back of its official launch last week that it acquired $2.3 million in venture funding from lead investors Boston Seed Capital and Accomplice.
And if early reports are any indication, the five-person company isn’t having trouble scaling.
Thousands of gamers, hundreds of Senseis
The company’s co-founders told ESBR that thousands of gamers have signed up in recent weeks to be paired with an instructor.
Once competitive players sign up to seek the wisdom of a master player, a proprietary algorithm will partner the player with the sensei best suited to them. The senseis will offer personalized, one-on-one lessons for players across a wide range of titles, including Hearthstone, the founders’ favorite game.
Lessons are conducted remotely, with the sensei and the player using whatever communication method (e.g. Skype) best suits them. Lessons can start at as little as $10-$15 an hour, co-founder William Collis said. He likened the relationship between player and sensei to a mentorship.
“It’s not some threatening coach yelling at you,” Collis said. “It’s really more like a friend that stands by you and helps you grow.”
“Many hundreds” of expert players have applied for and received sensei certification during the past two months in which the company was in private alpha, Collis said. Since becoming a sensei is a distinction created by the company, and largely new to the small but growing esports training industry, certification is entirely at the discretion of Gamer Sensei.
The certification process, similar to the lessons themselves, takes place online. Certification sometimes takes several days or even a week, and involves a formal application as well as multiple interviews and mock lessons where aspiring senseis demonstrate how they would coach a player.
Applicants are graded on a combination of hard skills (such as technical in-game acumen) and soft skills (like approachability and personality).
Collis’ business partner Rohan Gopaldas stressed that some of the world’s best players are not the best at communicating to other players how they can improve, and therefore don’t make the best senseis. Conversely, some players who aren’t among the best in the world have a knack for instruction.
Not just Hearthstone
Within Hearthstone tutorials, senseis have helped players get more comfortable with everything from gaining an edge in a skill-intensive mirror match, to formatting an optimal lineup for a tournament. Collis and Gopaldas say their site has received the most demand for Hearthstone lessons, compared to lessons for other titles, but that could be attributable to their own personal interest in the game.
Sensei instruction supports titles beyond Hearthstone, though, including League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients 2, Overwatch, StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm. The co-founders plan on expanding to more titles, including the possibility of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in the coming months.
The company also has a curriculum development partnership with NRG eSports, a North American outfit which fields teams in both LoL and CS:GO, and has backing from the owners of the Sacramento Kings, Alex Rodriguez, Shaquille O’Neal and Jimmy Rollins.
While the details of the NRG partnership aren’t entirely clear, Collis said that some of NRG’s players might be made available to gamers looking to learn. The real opportunity with NRG, he said, was in working with the team to devise a way to teach the games most effectively.
Potential head-to-head betting application
To be clear, Gamer Sensei’s co-founders told ESBR that the fun and internal reward of improving one’s skill at a competitive game, and not esports wagering, inspired them to create their business. But one incidental avenue where lessons could prove effective is in the world of head-to-head esports wagering.
Head-to-head betting takes place when esports players wager on themselves either to win a one-on-one match or an esports tournament. While this form of wagering is not expressly regulated yet in any state, it is believed to be skill-based because it consists of players wagering on their own abilities.
A representative from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement told ESBR this week that, at least in New Jersey, head-to-head wagering is believed to be legal, as opposed to traditional sports book style wagering or skins wagering, which fall into legal grey areas.
Nevada is currently in the process of regulating esports betting, and is expected to affirmatively legalize some form of esports wagering by mid-fall.
With the field of gamers rising into the hundreds of millions, the subset of those gamers willing and able to bet on themselves will only grow. A fun, approachable and affordable option for gamers looking to improve their level of play could also provide a way for gamers to make money off their skills.
A new report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming and Narus Advisors estimates that just under five percent, or roughly $28 million, of all esports wagering in 2016 will be of the head-to-head variety.
Cracking the glass ceiling of elite gaming
Gamer Sensei was born out of Collis, Gopaldas and third co-founder Jiapeng Ji feeling frustrated with what they felt was a lack of options to improve at their favorite game, Hearthstone.
Night after night of repeated defeats produced feelings that extended beyond normal frustration. Gopaldas equated the sensation with a feeling of lost utility, or an even graver notion: that gaming was somehow becoming a waste of time.
The Harvard Business School grads wanted advice from the best, and an avenue to improve their skills beyond just watching others play and reading about game strategy. If this sounds like a more modernized, customized version of what went on during the online poker tutorial boom roughly a decade ago — estimated at one time to be a hundred-million dollar industry — that’s because it is.
But unlike many of those websites, which charged monthly fees, relied largely on tutorial videos and training exercises, and didn’t necessarily find the teacher who was the best fit for a student, Gamer Sensei is all about customization and interactivity.
“It’s interactive,” Collis said. “You can ask questions and get answers, and really develop a deep understanding of the material by having a dialogue with someone. It’s not just watch-and-learn, it’s a back and forth. And it’s customized.”
Once they realized the success of their model, they wanted to bring a personalized learning experience to the gaming community, a population estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.
“Our whole goal is to open the global market of talent of incredibly skilled gamers throughout the globe, and bring them to your doorstep,” Collis said. “That’s the beauty of the cloud-based model.”
Another day, another esports sponsorship: Spanish soccer club Valencia CF announced Tuesday that it’s sponsoring a Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft team after acquiring four players from the Samsung Gaming esports team.
Esports Observer first reported the news on Sunday.
Team to debut at Gamergy
The team’s first competition will reportedly be at Gamergy, a Spanish esports tournament that runs from June 24-26. The team will feature two of Spain’s most popular Hearthstone streamers on Twitch.
Valencia said in the release that its goal is to reach 10 million spectators in 2016, with that goal approaching 20 million by 2019.
A club official said on the team’s website that this move represents both a “project” and a “challenge,” noting that it put the team in the vanguard of the esports sector.
According to multiple reports, the six-time La Liga champion is keen to market its presence elsewhere in competitive gaming, including FIFA and Rocket League, the latter a vehicle-based soccer game developed by Psyonix.
Hearthstone betting on the rise
Hearthstone was developed by Blizzard Entertainment and is an extension of the wildly popular Warcraft series. In the collectible card game, two players do battle by playing cards from a hand.
According to industry sources, Hearthstone is not among the most bet-on titles for either traditional esports wagering or skins wagering (a distinction that falls to the triad of League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Defense of the Ancients 2) but still holds significant and growing appeal.
A spokesman for Pinnacle told ESBR last month that Hearthstone was its fifth-most bet-on title. According to Blizzard, the game has more than 50 million active players.
Soccer clubs betting big on esports
Valencia is by no means the first soccer club to enter the potentially lucrative esports sponsorship space. In Germany last month, Bundesliga team FC Schalke 04 acquired the LCS spot occupied by the League of Legends team Elements.
FC Schalke’s Bundesliga counterparts VfL Wolfsburg sponsor two individual FIFA players, and signed a partnership deal with the STARK eSports teams, owned by the eponymous gaming consultancy, which compete in FIFA and DotA2.
On May 6, English Premier League team West Ham sponsored FIFA esports player Dragonn, the 2016 FIFA Interactive World Cup runner-up, who will now play as the team in future events.
Esports sponsorship has grown at a feverish pace throughout other industries in recent weeks, as well, both in Europe and the United States.
Canal+, Gillette, Comcast join space
On Monday, French television giant Canal+ became the first major television channel to sponsor an esports franchise. It is sponsoring Team Vitality, which has teams competing across titles including LoL, Call of Duty and FIFA.
Another major media company, Comcast, announced on June 2 that it would sponsor Evil Geniuses, an esports organization competing across titles including LoL, Dota2 and Halo. As part of the deal, Comcast also said it would sponsor the Cologne-based esports giant, the Electronic Sports League.
Another American corporation, Santa Clara, California-based Intel, has sponsored the ESL’s Extreme Masters series of tournaments since 2006.
Also on Monday, Boston-based razor maker Gillette teamed up with Gfinity to become the title sponsor a Pro Evolution Soccer championship this July in London.
Former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox, who rebranded Gravity Gaming in 2015 after purchasing its LCS spot, has expanded his new Echo Fox esports company to include teams over five titles, including LoL, Call of Duty and CS: GO. Fox’s CS: GO team will make its ELEAGUE debut on June 21.
Reports earlier this year from Fox Sports indicated that Dallas Mavericks owner and serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban was considering starting his own LoL team.
Image credit: Dmitry Shkurin / Shutterstock.com
The close link between poker and esports is about to be exposed to a wider audience as Amazon Coins and Poker Central broadcast a “Worlds Collide” event on May 24.
The event pits three poker pros against three Hearthstone pros: Team Poker Central vs. Team Amazon Coins.
Team Poker Central
Team Poker Central consists of Doug “WCGRider” Polk, Maria Ho and Scott Ball.
Polk is considered to be one of, if not the, best cash game poker players in the world at the moment. He mainly plays under the screen name “WCGrider“.
The WCG stands for World Cyber Games, becausePolk was an avid eGamer before he got serious about poker.
Her team members include Aaron Paul, the actor who played Jesse Pinkman in the TV series Breaking Bad. Paul was her wild-card pick for the team, and can be seen playing his GPL matches on the Poker Central GPL live stream.
In the lineup for Team Poker Central, Ball is the wild-card. He’s no mean poker player, and in January managed a sixth place finish in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure event No. 6, a six handed, $600 buy-in event.
But Scott’s day job is being the Community Development and Poker Manager at Twitch. He is deeply embedded in the center of the relationship between poker and esports.
Team Amazon Coins
Hearthstone pros Jason “Amaz” Chan, David “Dog” Caero and Esteban “AKAWonder” Serrano fill out Team Amazon.
- Chan is the owner of Team Archon, and celebrity video streamer with a huge following on Twitch and YouTube.
- Caero is the newest member of Team Liquid whose latest in-the-money finish was a second place in the insomnia57 (Hearthstone) – Truesilver Championship. Team Liquid’s announcement this week that they are now sponsored by PokerStars means that he will get plenty of opportunity to learn more about poker.
- Serrano comes from Spain and plays for Team SK Gaming. He won the 2016 ESL Legendary Series held in Katowice, Poland. The mammoth Intel Extreme Masters, Katowice, attracted 113,000 live spectators with another 36 million viewing the events online.
The whole event will be commented on by StarCraft player Geoff “INcontrol” Robinson. Geoff is well known to esports fans not just for his playing success, but also because he has become a regular commentator on Dreamhack events broadcast from Sweden, Bucharest and Valencia.
Esports is a natural extension for Poker Central
Poker Central is a 24/7 broadcast channel devoted to all things poker. It launched in October 2015 with a fairly limited set of broadcast options.
Since then it has gradually extended its reach to the point where the 2016 Super High Roller Bowl, created and produced by Poker Central, will air on the CBS Sports Network.
The $15 million prize pool poker event attracts the biggest names in poker, who each put up $300,000 to buy in to the event. CBS will be broadcasting 30 hours of action from the tournament, which takes place at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
The cross-over Worlds Collide event is a natural for Poker Central. Not only are poker pros prominent in the event, but Ho is the host of one of Poker Central’s Twitch streams.
Poker Central managed to get over two million views for its live stream of last year’s Super High Roller Bowl cash game, which ran alongside the main event. The added demographic represented by a Hearthstone audience takes Poker Central into a larger audience than it can get from poker alone.
Amazon Coins are a virtual currency for digital transactions
Amazon Coins are the Amazon version of Bitcoin, the digital crypto-currency which has become popular for use in eGaming.
Unlike Bitcoin, Amazon Coins don’t change in value — 100 coins are worth $1. Coins can be earned via in-app purchases in video games, or can be bought directly from Amazon.
Coins can be used for in-app purchases in many different games, or can be spent in the Amazon app store.
Given the big picture vision that Amazon brings to everything it does, there’s no doubt that CEO Jeff Bezos would love esports to standardize on Amazon Coins. It’s a long-term ambition, but the increasing availability of Amazon Coins shows that progress is being made.
A report by Gosugamers has uncovered evidence of multiple professional Hearthstone players in China engaging in match-fixing at the highest levels of play. Match-fixing in eSports is not too rare of an occurrence, perhaps due to the current pay structure of eSports professionals. Many pros rely on Twitch streams for a large share of their income, which could be unfortunate for those less engaging or eSports pros.
For now, in general, there is simply more money to be earned in gambling on eSports than there is in actually playing for a living. A person’s judgment could be compromised when there is a significant boost to their quality of life at stake.
The time commitment needed to be competitive at the highest levels of play in certain games can exceed that of many other occupations, and the time requirement only increases as the player pool does. However, the nature of this particular incident in China differs slightly from most others because the goal was to earn more qualifying points to future Blizzcon Tournaments, as opposed to the direct acquisition of funds from gambling. In fact, the pros often paid off other players to concede to them in a given game.
Reasons for the RenMai Ring in China
Due to the way points are awarded on the Hearthstone Championship Tour, there is a great emphasis on ranked play for the 2016 Hearthstone World Championship. Achieving a top 100 Legend rank finish in the ranked play of a season of Hearthstone can net players anywhere from 5-15 points, while merely attaining Legend rank without being in the top 100 earns players a single point. After the month is over, all player ranks reset to near the bottom, and the climb to Legend rank begins again.
These points, which are earned from tournament victories and online ranked play in the Legend ranks, are required to qualify for the Hearthstone World Championship. The difference between a single point and 15 points is obviously enormous as is even the difference between one and five.
The fifteen point reward for a first place finish on Legend ranked play is comparable to the value earned for achieving top finishes in major tournaments. As such, there is a mad rush for Legend ranked players to make it to the top 100 to earn these points.
Merely earning Legend rank alone nets a player a single point, while breaking into the top 100 earns them five points, and the points continue to increase from there. The system Blizzard implemented has made win trading as valuable as ever.
The fourteen Hearthstone pros engaged in “RenMai,” as they called it, did it mostly to earn a top 100 rank in Legend play, or to attain Legend rank in the first place at the start of a new month with less work. The Gosugamers report also included transcripts of multiple conversations between the schemers, each of which involve discussions of monetary compensation for losers, how it’s “easier” to bribe students into losing, and even instances of fear that Blizzard was watching them.
How to Avoid Match-Fixing in the Future
There is, unfortunately, no great answer to the question of how to avoid match-fixing in the short term. It would be foolish to speculate as to the ability of a particular company to monitor illegal practices in their games, since that information is not readily available. In the longer term, however, the answer is to increase the pay of professional gamers such that they don’t feel tempted to cheat in any way. The primary driver for these incidents would be removed if the money that pro gamers earned were to increase and become more steady.
There are large audience for eSports, and many professional gamers make a great deal of money from playing, but there is also a tremendous amount of sacrifice and struggle involved for some. With the various attempts to televise eSports, such as the CW broadcast of Mortal Kombat and Turner’s Eleague, perhaps more guaranteed money will be made available to players.
The future for payment could also be in more alternative sources of income that would supplement Twitch and tournament earnings, such as the innovative Matcherino crowdfunding platform. For now, the problem remains an important one that can potentially alter the veracity of any eSports bet.
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.
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.