2020 brought over a number of surprises to the iGaming industry. And since there’s hope even in the most challenging times, last year’s surprise was the huge surge of interest in esports betting, a smaller vertical which took the spotlight during the real sports crisis. With close to zero sports events available to bet on, bookmakers turned their attention to esports.
Almost one year later, Daniel Bennett from Compare.bet, a leading portal of reviews of top esports bookies, sportsbooks and casinos, sat down with Malte Hegeler, Head of Product Development OddsMatrix at EveryMatrix, to discuss the company’s journey into the fascinating world of esports, the product revamp and how can sportsbooks thrive in the esports arena.
Compare.bet: EveryMatrix seems to have really embraced the esports market of late — compared with your traditional sports offering, what kind of product updates have been made in this area?
Malte Hegeler: Our journey into esports began two years ago, in early 2019, when we launched the first version of OddsMatrix Esports Services, a product that we deliver either as a feed solution or as a hosted solution with a dedicated front-end for esports.
Fast-forwarding to 2020, esports were given an enormous boost when traditional sports were globally interrupted by the pandemic. Esports were a viable backup vertical, and as a B2B provider, we wanted to help clients adopt them as fast as possible to diversify their revenue streams.
It was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and we focused the whole team’s efforts on increasing our coverage and live streaming capabilities. The results handsomely repaid our efforts: live events took a huge leap, from 1,000 to 50,000 per month, with live streaming available for 25,000 monthly events.
Currently, our Esports Services provide 22 disciplines, including six traditional sports simulations: FIFA, NBA2k, eHockey, eVolleyball, eTennis and eFighting. The latest additions are Virtual esports, with NBA2k, Mortal Kombat and Injustice as the most popular titles.
Compare.bet: How much of an impact do you think Covid-19 has had on the esports betting space? What level of uplift has been seen and what proportion of those new esports bettors do you think will be retained going forward?
MH: The initial impact was outstanding. When the lack of events caused punters to switch from real sports to simulation games, we saw esports turnover growing by a factor of 30. Now, while all major real sports competitions are back, turnover remains constantly around seven times higher than pre-Covid.
This increase is obviously a result of the fact that we supplied our dedicated esports front-end to a diversity of traditional sportsbooks, either existing or new clients. But also dedicated esports clients such as Luckbox experienced a growth of about 500%, which is incredible.
At the moment, simulation games reached a stable turnover, and in the short term we expect them to perform even better during season breaks for real sports.
On the mid-term to long-term, we foresee a growth for pure esports. Classic first-person shooters like CS:GO already profited a lot from the sports crisis, partly because they are easier to adopt by traditional bettors, partly because they have been around for more than two decades and their fanbase is in their mid-thirties now.
But younger generations are coming from behind, and this will probably result in a steady growth for certain multiplayer esports, like LoL, Dota or Overwatch. Then I also mentioned Virtual esports, a product which is likely to attract bettors that want to have quick fun with titles they enjoyed for decades, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.
Compare.bet: What percentage of turnover/ GGR is coming from esports currently, how has this trended, and where do you see this going in the future?
MH: At the beginning of the real sports crisis, things went haywire, with crazy increases for esports. As expected, once traditional sports came back, esports’ percentage from turnover steadily declined to a sustainable level.
Currently, a stable 10% of the overall turnover and GGR is covered by esports, with FIFA, CS:GO and NBA2k leading. Where this goes depends on our clients’ future focus. But we expect it to grow constantly in the next years, as esports fans mature and can spend more on digital entertainment.
Compare.bet: Are there any key differences in demographics or behaviour that set esports bettors apart from traditional sports bettors, particularly in terms of customer acquisition from both affiliate and operator perspectives?
MH: Esports bettors are significantly younger, with a higher share of women. Unlike traditional punters, they are less experienced in sports betting, so they need better explanations of bonuses, as well as wagering conditions. Also, they are more attracted by visual content, with logos and streams.
Compare.bet: How much crossover is there between players betting on more traditional sports and esports, and what’s the propensity for one to become the other?
MH: Crossover from real sports to simulation games is massive. A football fan is highly likely to like FIFA and enjoy the fact that the big teams are playing 24/7. It is working out well for first-person shooters as well. The gameplay is easy to understand by all generations, while we do not expect a 50-year-old tennis fan to become a punter in Dota.
Compare.bet: From both acquisition and retention perspectives, how can sportsbook offerings be optimised for esports bettors?
MH: This ties into one of my previous answers, where I mentioned that the betting rules need to be better explained for esports punters. To this, I would add that you need to offer fair terms and conditions, an updated visual presentations and off-hand, informal communication.
Compare.bet: Will offers and innovations like free bets, request a bet, cash out, and odds boosts play a lesser or greater role in esports vs traditional betting?
MH: Due to the speed of real esports and to a lower number of pre-live events, esports betting allows for fewer multibets, and also fewer selections within a multiple bet. This makes odds boosts less relevant.
Cashout as well is considerably less used in esports, where the esports ratio between cashout bets and overall stakes is half of the same ratio in traditional sports betting. That happens because cashout is much more frequent for pre-live bets, while in esports live betting has a 93% share, and things happen much faster. Also, esports punters are newer to betting, so they might not even be familiar with this option.
Free bets, on the other hand, work if the conditions are fair, and they are a good way of attracting first-timers.
Compare.bet: How do you identify up and coming esports and betting markets, and how important is it to rapidly integrate these opportunities into your solution?
MH: Our Business Team has in place a strategy that involves monitoring betting sites, but also developments in the esports communities. We are very aware that we need to find a good balance between quickly spotting and integrating trends and considering their long-term potential.
On top of this, we often get requests from our clients, which we are more than happy to accommodate. One such example is 2020’s hit Valorant, a multiplayer, tactical first-person shooter that we will soon lunch for one of the clients. It’s a highly acclaimed title, with an already solid fanbase: on the first day of its beta launch, it had 1.73 million viewers on Twitch, coming in second for most concurrent viewers on the platform.
But it’s also particularly tricky with new titles, because it takes time until a professional scene has developed, and even more time until a betting product is created. You need to be able to provide correct odds, a live offering, as well as a substantial number of markets in order to have a good return of such an important investment.
Compare.bet: Considering the large number of esports fans that are under 18, what role does EveryMatrix play in maintaining integrity and protecting vulnerable players in esports betting?
MH: While the responsibility for stopping underage bettors falls on the operators, we do provide them with several tools they can use. For instance, the compulsory default age limit for players is +18. We also encourage them to promote their content on the appropriate websites, and to have well-executed KYC procedures in place in order to meet compliance and integrity criteria across the full platform.
Then, EveryMatrix can integrate third parties like the identity-verification services Idenfy and ShuftiPro into our payments platform to monitor and spot potential problem punters. Operators have access to services that include AI-based facial and document identity verification of KYC measures.
Compare.bet: What’s the esports fan presence like within the company? Is it something that has a strong fanbase amongst staff, and do you think that’s an important factor for getting the product right?
MH: Like with most tech companies, I think a solid esports fan base comes with the territory. So yes, we can count plenty of CS:GO, LoL and Dota fans amongst us. We even have former professional CS:GO and Dota players at EveryMarix, and of course nearly everyone plays FIFA or a fighting game like Mortal Kombat once in a while.
I myself have been an avid Hearthstone player, and I confess I enjoy watching PUBG tournaments. So, there is no shortage of esports knowledge or ideas inside the company.
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