In the first of a series of interviews with speakers from the forthcoming Casual Connect USA, iGaming Business caught up with Kingsley Edwards, founder and chief executive of esports start-up Leet, which was recently acquired by Unikrn, and co-owner of the Rogue esports team, to discuss the esports scene in Las Vegas and how it is helping attract Millennials to Sin City.
iGaming Business: Young people are still coming to Vegas but today’s young generation, Millennials, are spending more on nightclubs and restaurants and less on the casino floor. How are the casinos going about reversing this trend?
Kingsley Edwards: Casinos are starting to use esports and video games to attract a younger demographic. Currently, this is mostly being done on the events side. Leet started working directly with casinos and gaming regulators in 2015 to implement video game tournaments that are hosted on property. Going forward, we will see more technology and marketing geared towards attracting Millennials in fun and engaging ways.
iGB: We understand you placed the first legal esports wager at the William Hill sportsbook at the Downtown Grand last year, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board recently extended existing wagering laws to esports. How big is the esports opportunity in Vegas?
KE: Esports in Vegas presents a huge opportunity for the city. As more gaming events get booked here and new innovative technology gets deployed online and on the casino floor, we'll start to see a shift in what casinos are typically used to in terms of demographics and culture.
iGB: There was a report out recently that suggested esports are more popular among Millennials than traditional sports. Is there significant interest among Millennials for betting on esports, and how are you going about marketing and raising awareness around this?
KE: The skins gambling headlines of the past year show that Millennials are interested in betting on esports in multiple ways. It has to do with the way you present the product. Marketing is mostly done on social media with the current esports verbiage and tone that is familiar with the customer.
iGB: Offering wagering inevitably raises integrity issues, and esports is different from other sports in that the game publishers effectively own and control it. Are the publishers aware of how important it is that they get behind the drafting of clear rules, regulations and guidelines for players, teams and tournament organisers, in order to avoid a damaging scandal further down the road?
KE: Publishers are becoming more aware of the importance of how they handle these situations. Tournament prize pools are larger than ever and professional players are getting to the point where they wouldn't want to ruin their careers and reputation in the community for doing something they know is wrong.
iGB: How important is the skills-based element to Millennials compared with previous generations?
KE: Skill-based elements are a very important part of the total package. We enjoy feeling like we have an impact on the outcome of an event.
iGB: You’ve talked before about expanding into casinos outside of Vegas, are you also planning to expand more online as states begin to legalise online gaming across the US?
KE: Yes! I'm very excited for the future of online gaming and the products we can offer.
iGB: What other opportunities exist for casinos to target Millennnials?
KE: Unikrn and other companies will release new products in this space that will further help casinos target this demographic. I wish I could share what we have under our sleeves, but you'll have to wait to find out.
iGB: Focusing more specifically on VIPs, in which ways does a VIP gamer differ from a regular casino VIP, and how do casinos need to change their approach to effectively target these?
KE: VIP gamers are usually well-respected members of the esports ecosystem. They typically have a large online following and can act as important brand ambassadors for casinos. If the casino is familiar with esports and how important it is to their future growth, they can expect the same level of respect as a traditional casino VIP. The important thing is to be as authentic as possible. This is done by hiring the right people who understand gaming culture.
iGB: Finally, your company was an early adopter of bitcoin. Do you still believe bitcoin has a lot of potential for the gambling industry?
KE: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies present a lot of opportunity for every industry. We will continue to be outspoken advocates for these technologies as adoption among customers continues to grow.
Kingsley Edwards will be speaking on the panel ‘Making Casinos the VIP Destination for Gamers’ at Casual Connect on 1 August in Seattle.