The International Starcraft 2. © Wikipedia

From ancient times people have been seeking the adrenaline rush and gambling was just one of the solutions they found to get their fix. While eSports betting is only the latest chapter in the saga, it promises to be one of extraordinary magnitude. Betting on video games is a new thing, as the eSports themselves are just getting the recognition they deserve worldwide.

It all started with some video game players who took their activity seriously and teamed up to outshine their competitors. With the advent of Internet, the popularity of these matches went beyond the LAN parties and players from all over the world got the chance to watch the games as they unfold. Developers and publishers took notice and started to invest heavily in these competitions, increasing the hype even further and motivating players to go pro.

Bookmakers offering eSports Betting

It was only a matter of time until bookmakers realized the huge potential of these games and added them to their betting rotation. It is now possible to wager on League of Legends, StarCraft 2 Legacy of the Void, Counter Strike Global Offensive, Dota 2 and Heroes of the StormNitrogen Sports and William Hill are some of the gambling operators accommodating video game fans, but Pinnacle Sports were actually the pioneers.

Many of those who play the games also watch the matches on Twitch and are up to date with the latest results. Not surprisingly, when these people get together and discuss the video games and the most accomplished players, they like to predict the outcome of matches and pick winners. Bookmakers are simply meeting these needs and as the popularity of eSports betting is on the rise, they need to make their offer more tempting to increase the customer base.

One way of attracting players is by offering better odds than their counterparts, a straightforward solution that works like a charm for all sports. Occasional promotions, welcome and reload bonuses serve the same purpose, although they are not targeted specifically at eSports betting. So far, none of the gambling operators found it worthwhile to invest in live streaming, so that punters can watch the games in real-time. Truth be told, this need is met by professional live streaming channel such as Twitch.

Which are the popular video games for eSports Betting?

The beginnings of eSports betting are difficult to indicate with pinpoint accuracy, but it is only fair to say that Starcraft made professional video game players famous. Koreans have been betting on the matches ever since Brood War came around and the best players enjoy superstar status within country borders. The real-time strategy game is still proudly sitting at the top of the list, but it is no longer the most-watched video game worldwide.

Starcraft 2 Legacy of the Void is the latest installment in the franchise and the one that is played at virtually all tournaments. Its saga started nearly 2 decades ago and the games are fun to bet on, because the outcome can change in a split second. The popular game formats are 2 out of 3 and 3 out of 5 in the final stages of the tournaments, so nothing is left to chance.

Dota 2 Tournament. © Valve Corporation.
Dota 2 Tournament. © Valve Corporation.

League of Legends is the most-watched game right now, a multiplayer online battle arena game that was produced by Riot. Inspired by the Dota game, a Warcraft mode, it is a slightly simplified version with cartoonish graphics that appeal to a broad audience. At the highest level, the matches are every bit as competitive with teams of five members each, trying to destroy the opponents’ base

The toughest matches are broadcasted live on Twitch and millions of players from all over the world are watching. The live streaming channel also allows regular players to post their own games, which has a positive impact on the rise of eSports betting. The viewership of these tournaments exceeds that of most sports, but even regular players can have large crowds following.

Dota 2 is currently the best paying of all the games featured on the list of eSports betting, with guaranteed prize pools consisting of millions of dollars. The game derives from the original version created more than a decade ago, but features an updated roster of heroes. It is also played among 10 players divided into teams of five competitors each, trying to destroy the opponents’ base. In addition to the main tournaments hosted by land-based venues, many competitions take place over the Internet.

Counter-Strike Global Offensive is the last installment in the first person shooter series and the most popular in this genre of eSports betting. Players participate in different game types and try to complete various objectives to win the game. Betting on these matches can be done prior to kickstart, as well as after the games have started, with each team trying to reach a predetermined number of points. The best bookmakers offer similar markets as those in traditional sports betting, to ensure a healthy diversity.

Screenshot of Counter Strike Global Offensive. © Valve Corporation
Screenshot of Counter Strike Global Offensive. © Valve Corporation

The main threats to the eSports betting industry

The growing interest for eSports betting should ensure the success of the industry, but there are a couple of challenges that need to be overcome. The very nature of the games makes it likely for players to lose matches that they should normally win, as a single mistake can decide the outcome. Having said this, there is always the possibility of some teams and players losing on purpose in order to benefit themselves or others from betting on those matches.

Back in the day, this was only a theoretical possibility that few took seriously, because the industry wasn’t large enough. Since the rise of eSports betting there were many instances in which even prominent players gave into temptation and through the games. In one infamous case, a player who admitted his deed eventually tried to commit suicide, bringing the issue back in the spotlight. Most of the bets were forfeited, but in some cases players got the chance to cash out their profits before bookies reacted.

The same peril affects traditional sports, so at least in theory, gambling operators should use the same safeguards to protect themselves. The fact that eSports is such a new industry and not yet properly regulated, makes it more difficult for bookies to create a safe environment. Players are also supposed to feel safe and comfortable when betting and focus exclusively on beating the house edge, rather than worry about the games being rigged.

Another serious threat than the industry needs to address is the gamer exploitation, with many players signing contracts that hurt them in the long run. Unlike professional athletes, the vast majority of Pro players is very young and knows very little about legal matters. As they join various teams, some have to sign agreements and sponsorship deals that are not in their advantage. This is a sensitive issue that can only be deal with gradually, but if left unaddressed it will severely hurt the gaming community.

League of Legends World Championship. © Riot Games
League of Legends World Championship. © Riot Games

The Future of eSports Betting

eSports betting is still in its infant stages, despite the fact that the number of punters is rising at an accelerated pace. Bookmakers tried to tap into the immense potential of video games and it is still difficult to make accurate estimations as to where the industry is heading. The numbers however speak for themselves and with more than 150 million viewers worldwide, the sky seems to be the limit.

Asia is the biggest market estimated at more than $400 million, followed by North America who amounts for less than this sum. Europe barely scratches at the surface of $100 million, so compared to traditional sports wagering, eSports betting still has a big gap to close. It has a competitive advantage over its peers, due to the fact that most of those coming from behind are young people. Virtually all of those who bet on video games also play them, so they have solid knowledge about the market they are betting on.

Bookmakers have had plenty of time to find the best ways of extracting profits from sports betting, but they are to some extent in uncharted waters when it comes to eSports betting. At the time of writing, most bookmakers don’t make a lot of money from this niche and the vast majority of them only break even. This means that players are either winning small or at least stay afloat, which means a great deal to those who are afraid of the crushing bookmaker margin.

eSports betting is only going to go upwards over the next couple of years, and most online gambling operators are expected to jump on the bandwagon. Ignoring videogames is no longer an option, but healthy competition ultimately benefits the punters who will enjoy better odds and a more diverse offer.