Esports: The New Champion of Sports Gambling
The NBA and MLB are trying—but largely failing—to capture the attention of sport-deprived fans through esports tournaments featuring professional basketball and baseball players competing as themselves in NBA2K or MLB: The Show. Meanwhile, esports leagues with real, professional gamers like the Call of Duty League (CDL) and Overwatch League (OWL) are quickly becoming more of a preferred option for people to watch and wager on while the nation is sheltering in place.
Gambling on esports continues to skyrocket while gambling on more traditional professional sports has plummeted after the NBA, MLB, and NHL regular seasons were all postponed and March Madness was canceled due to COVID-19. Sportsbooks are feeling the pain of not having sports in action. In fact, Nevada sportsbooks had a 96% loss in revenue for the month of March compared to both February 2020 and March 2019.
Maybe it’s speculative or maybe it’s just wise business practice to help a struggling Nevada economy, but the Nevada Gaming Board just allowed sportsbooks to start offering odds on the Call of Duty League on April 17.
No Cheating In Esports
Thanks to a new, multi-year partnership between Activision Blizzard, the developer and publisher of the two popular video games, and Sportradar, an anti-match fixing and integrity strategy and policy solutions provider, gamblers looking to wager on OWL or CDL can now do so with confidence.
Actvision Blizzard Esports CEO Pete Vlastelica knows his video games and esports leagues are in prime position to make a jump into primetime thanks to quarantine guidelines during a global pandemic. “It’s not surprising there is increased attention around our live competitions in the absence of traditional sports. Our collaboration with Sportradar is a specific engagement to increase integrity efforts we already have in place,” the CEO and Commissioner of the Overwatch League said.
Rahul Sood, CEO of UNIKRN, an esports betting and entertainment company, told Sports Illustrated “this is a big win for gambling on esports simply because, in theory, bookmakers can now use live data to create live betting markets at a fidelity that will make betting on traditional sports seem slow. This is also great news to see publishers getting on board with wagering.”
Ensuring the integrity of matches—especially with the explosion of wagering on esports—is of the utmost importance to the companies. “As fans increasingly engage with wagering on matches, we need to ensure we are doing as much as we can to proactively protect our ecosystem,” said Jason Hahn, Head of Strategic Initiatives at Activision.
Billions Wagered On Esports In 2020
Protecting the ecosystem is one thing. Protecting $14 billion, the estimated amount of projected gambling revenue generated by esports for 2020, is an entirely different task, and a very large one at that.
So how will Sportsradar maintain “integrity” for OWL and CDL matches? According to the company’s press release, Sportsradar’s “Fraud Detection System (FDS) monitors odds from over 600 betting operators worldwide, utilizes proprietary algorithms to identify anomalous activity and is operated by a team of dedicated integrity analysts that review any unusual betting patterns. If abnormalities and potential integrity issues are flagged, Sportradar’s team alerts the relevant league in real-time of any integrity issues and aids in any resulting investigations.”
The next set of matches in the Overwatch League take place on Saturday, May 9. The inaugural season of the Call of Duty League starts this Friday, May 8.