[toc]The second season of Turner / WME | IMG’s ELEAGUE kicks off Friday and could underscore different forms and volumes of esports betting than this summer’s Season 1, which coincided with several skin wagering scandals.
Season 1 champion Virtus.Pro will look to defend its title and capture the $400,000 first-place prize.
The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament’s prize pool will expand to $1,100,000 in Season 2.
TBS will continue to nationally broadcast the action on Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET, but will air a portion of each group’s play, as opposed to each group’s final match. Twitch will stream all group play action live online.
Season 1 betting handle dominated by skins betting
While exact cash betting figures from licensed casinos aren’t available for ELEAGUE’s first season, the majority of betting traffic on the matches this past May, June and July was believed to have come from the skin betting sector.
Skin betting involves the wagering of virtual items, most often from CS:GO itself, as currency on the outcome professional esports matches. Skins were introduced by Valve Corp. in 2013 as an element of the in-play, CS:GO experience, and have since morphed into a form of virtual currency.
Skins have a real-world value to due to their ability to be bought and sold on third-party sites for $USD.
Season 1’s 103 matches took in the equivalent of $63 million in betting handle from the wagering of approximately 6.5 million skins on one website alone, according to research from EsportsBettingReport and Narus Advisors.
Several matches boasted individual handles of over 100,000 skins/match on CSGOLounge, which was the world’s largest skin betting sports book before it shut down skin betting earlier this year in the wake of a cease and desist letter from Valve.
Organizations such as Virtus, as well as FaZe Clan, Fnatic, SK Gaming and mousesports drew in some of the largest handles last season, and could do so again.
Smaller total action expected due to skin betting crackdown
Lower levels of skin betting are expected during season 2.
The industry ground to a sort of stasis earlier this year in the wake of four separate skin gambling scandals that eroded consumer trust and raised concerns of skin wagering’s legality.
Owners of several gambling sites, including CSGOLotto and CSGOShuffle, were found to have bet on their site and won with the likely advantage of inside information. m0E, a sponsored gambler on another site, also used to do color commentary for TBS during Season 1’s national Friday night broadcast (he was not asked back this season).
CSGOLounge no longer offers skin betting as a product. That site now operates a popular coin betting function, as well as a skin trading platform. Another popular skin betting site, Fanobet, converted to a Bitcoin and real-money esportsbook after it claimed Valve disrupted its ability to transfer skins via the game maker’s API.
Furthermore, regulators are attempting to eradicate the unregulated, unlicensed form of betting altogether. The Washington State Gambling Commission became the first US regulatory agency to investigate the legality of skin gambling, which includes not only sportsbook-style betting but also the betting of skins on casino-style games of pure chance, like roulette.
It told Valve earlier this month to stop facilitating skin wagering on third-party websites in all forms by policing such sites, which leverage its API in illicit and violative ways. Valve responded to the commission by expressing confusion over the allegations and by saying that it does not facilitate skin gambling.
Interestingly, despite several forces pushing sites to stop offering skins betting, some sites have recently pivoted to skin betting as a product.
CSGOFast, CSGOPolygon, CSGOSpeed, Bets.gg and Eazy.gg are among several sites now offering sportsbook-style skin betting in addition to their casino-style games. With the exception of Fast, these sites aren’t believed to attract large skin betting volumes yet.
New format provides fewer matches to bet on
Season 1 featured 24 teams across six groups.
Each group featured 15 matches each Tuesday through Friday. The top team from each group qualified for the single-elimination stage, while second place teams competed amongst themselves for a few final wild card spots.
Season 2 will work a little differently. Sixteen teams will compete across four groups.
Each group this season will only feature five matches, which will run Friday and Saturday. The top two teams from each group will advance to the eight-team, single-elimination playoff stage.
The eight-team final bracket will be single elimination, and conclude in a Dec. 4 “Grand Final” which of course airs on TBS.
Fewer groups means a more compact timeline of group play (from Oct. 21-Nov. 19, as opposed to last season’s May 24-Jul. 1), and could increase engagement.
Between fewer matches, increased regulatory scrutiny over skins, and fewer skin options for bettors, we should see much lower total skin handles for Season 2.
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New esports could fuel new kinds of esports betting
The potential betting volume shift from skins to cash also comes at an interesting time in the US regulatory calendar. The Nevada Gaming Policy Committee is in the process of promulgating regulations affirmatively governing esports betting.
Those regulations could very well include sportsbook-style betting on esports, and could force the committee to treat the matches as either a sport or as an “event.”
Another factor potentially fueling the shift from skins to cash betting on esports matches is ELEAGUE’s shift to other events, and potentially other esports.
Sportsbook-style betting with CS:GO skins was boosted by the growing prevalence of CS:GO matches through ventures like ELEAGUE, as well other massive tournaments like MLG Columbus and ESL One Cologne.
Similarly, ELEAGUE’s experimentation not only with different formats and tournament types, but different esports, could help popularize other, non-skins forms of esports betting.
ELEAGUE will host the next CS:GO major tournament in 2017, meaning it’s officially recognized by Valve and is one of the top two or three tournaments of the calendar year in the world.
But it also hosted an Overwatch tournament between its CS:GO seasons one and two earlier this year.
Turner, WME | IMG and other stakeholders have vowed to bring the best in-class esports experience for teams, players and fans. It just happened to pick CS:GO as the title it chose to launch with last May.
As the venture grows (in both revenue and popularity) it very likely could shift to embrace new seasons with new titles, which in turn could popularize new forms of betting—skins, cash or otherwise.