This article originally appeared in the November / December issue of the magazine Gambling Insider : John Griffiths, Sales Director of Spicy Mango, Unveils His Insight into the Development of Esports During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The current global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus has had a severe impact on almost every country, industry and person around the world. In March 2020, one industry that initially came to a complete halt was sports. As a few months later began lifting blocking restrictions, fans saw many sports resume, albeit with no live viewers and the usual sporting atmosphere.
But has this created an opportunity for esports to grow in its place? We spoke to John Griffiths, Commercial Director of Spicy Mango, about the changing world of esports, whether traditional broadcasters can meet the challenge of opportunities and what role betting has to play.
Can you explain how the pandemic initially affected the world of sports?
The coronavirus pandemic has had the biggest impact on the world of sport. When the lockdown stopped all, most major sports either paused, postponed or canceled the season, with massive delays in the resumption of many sports such as the English Premier League and Formula One. Even the world's top sport, the Olympics, was announced. is to be postponed to 2021.
Esports revenue is estimated to exceed $ 1 billion in 2019, an increase of 27% compared to 2018. About last year esports entered the big leagues and Comcast announced it would build an arena worth $ 50 million dollars to host esports tournaments
At a time when the vast majority of the population was confined to their homes, watching sports live on TV would be a very enjoyable way to spend the extra hours saved on the daily commute. Unfortunately, when all sports were canceled, apart from a few repetitions of classic matches or races, there was a huge void for sports fans.
So was this an opportunity for esports and online gaming to become more popular? How will this affect or affect broadcasters and betting companies?
Absolutely. Esports is growing fast. In fact, esports revenues are estimated to have exceeded $ 1 billion in 2019, an increase of 27% compared to 2018. About last year esports entered the big leagues and Comcast announced it would build an arena for worth $ 50 million to accommodate esports tournaments. The leader is Fortnite, with 350 million registered users as of 2020, and other games including Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch are also trying to take a piece of the competitive gaming landscape.
There has been a huge increase in esports coverage over the summer, as seen in motor racing, cycling (virtual Tour de France), football, horse racing and even ice hockey. In some cases, this increased range has resulted in increased betting opportunities. In one example, this year's Virtual Grand National was watched by nearly 5 million free-to-air viewers, and the average race bet was £ 2 ($ 2.59), a significant increase over the 2019 Virtual Grand National, which had 737,000 viewers.
But unfortunately, this betting success wasn't seen in other sports that were seen as a substitute until the real ones came back. While esports may not yet be able to compete with traditional sports, is it instead offering the sport and its fans the opportunity to compete year-round, and younger rising stars to showcase their talent?
However, as in any environment, the development of esports was and will undoubtedly be associated with initial problems. And with market leaders like Amazon and Alibaba trying to take the path to the esports business, where is the future of its viewers headed? With the sport almost entirely watched by gamers, broadcasters and bookmakers are asking themselves how can they make it appeal to the masses - and should they?
Is this an investment that broadcasters and bookmakers should make?
With an Amazon Sport Now subscription, which now includes Arena Esports in their monthly membership, and broadcasters like the BBC, among others, have already made a leap into the esports world by broadcasting specific tournaments, broadcasters and OTT platforms are clearly trying to take advantage of this always-growing market. But considering 15 million people watch esports worldwide on sites like Amazon's Twitch and Google's YouTube daily, and the 16 to 24 esports viewers grow by more than 60% in 2019 ., How does subscription or broadcast service compete?
Esports demographics plays an important role here: does demography and its purchasing power give broadcasters enough opportunity to make a decision, is it worth the investment? The purchasing power of the current largest demographic group - 16-24 year olds - may not be compelling enough for more broadcasters or betting companies to consider this approach.
However, in reality, traditional sports can learn a lot from esports when it comes to digital fan engagement, with the ability to display real-time data, match stats, and backgrounds for key players or participants that viewers can then use to not only engage with sports, but they inform about their bets.
What's the difference between esports and traditional streaming?
Streaming platforms like Twitch offer a unique experience to users. From esports tournaments to video game streamers to chattering streamers, Twitch gives users the autonomy of what they want to watch and when. Moreover, by being able to interact with other players via live chat, this platform creates a sense of the community that players want to be part of, a community sometimes more important than the tournament they are watching.
However, given the static nature of the broadcast, which only allows the viewer to watch, not interact, will players choose to watch it on the big screen? Again, esports audiences are important: by 2021, ordinary esports viewers will surpass esports fans and players by 57 million, perhaps due to increased awareness that gives broadcasters the opportunity to appeal to far more than the players themselves . Bets also play a huge role in this; The fact that the esports experience may not be considered as influential means esports betting may remain niche. However, there is an option to use technology to give esports and betting a fighting chance as live sports will continue to be limited in the coming months.
What changes can senders make?
For broadcasters considering a change of approach, if they are unable to offer a live preview of the match, they have to decide what they want viewers to get from their sports coverage. EA worked with ESPN on a four-part series called Road to Madden Bowl to help tell the story ahead of the Madden Championship, which allowed EA to reach an audience beyond their traditional online distribution, which added buzz to the tournament.
Watching traditional sports on OTT services has grown in popularity in the last few years. There is certainly an appetite for sports fans, with the 63% of sports fans saying it would pay for the free-to-air OTT channel and the 56% saying it would pay more for online broadcasts than for traditional TV channels. So we are already seeing the changes taking place in this area
However, it isn't necessarily just a matter of broadcasters making esports work for their formats, when esports can also change its formats to become time-limited and therefore more broadcast (and betting) friendly. Many mainstream sports are changing their formats to attract a wider audience - both live and on TV - such as Rugby X, The Hundred, and Tie Break Tens. Esports could just as easily make this change to match existing broadcast schedules and thus broaden the audience and betting opportunities. With no time limits, broadcasters will be wide open to making esports attractive and working for their audience, and by making better use of the available data, bookmakers can also ensure they are expanding their options.
What are the challenges of esports betting?
Watching traditional sports on OTT services has grown in popularity in the last few years. There is certainly an appetite for sports fans, with the 63% of sports fans saying it would pay for the free-to-air OTT channel and the 56% saying it would pay more for online broadcasts than for traditional TV channels. So we are already seeing the changes taking place in this area.
However, there has always been a stumbling block that often comes with OTT streaming services - often 15-20 seconds - which in a critical World Cup match could result in losing a winning goal or a penalty. In this case, once the bets are added to the mix, the challenge only increases.
If a viewer places a bet on the result of a match while watching on OTT, the delay may be the difference between the bet being cashed in and the viewer raising the stake. However, this delay can also mean that the viewer's decision to withdraw money is losing money if the game state changes within the 15-second delay. This is an area that clearly needs attention if esports have any chance of becoming mainstream.
As one of the fastest-growing online gambling categories, esports betting is expected to rise to $ 12.9 billion by 2020, and the growth will not stop there. To keep the user experience intact and to ensure that OTT services do not stop the viewer from getting the most out of their betting sites, these providers need to consider how best to use the technology to reduce latency and provide the same betting experience as broadcasting offers.
What do you think is the future of esports?
It's clear that despite the rise in popularity, esports are still in the exploration phase for broadcasters, gaming companies, and bookmakers. While we hope the world will not experience another global crisis like COVID-19 for many decades, it may simply provide an opportunity for esports to accelerate its development and find a new audience, an audience that will hopefully see the excitement, joy and joy that younger audiences have enjoyed and nurtured over the past decade, and a bit more purchasing power will drive esports faster.
With lots of questions to answer, it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years as to which companies decide to take the trip, and broadcasters and betting companies will be able to overcome the limitations and capture the interest of a wider audience.