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Which esports are people betting on – and what should operators take away from this?

| By iGB Editorial Team
The lion’s share of betting money still goes on legacy esports but traditional sports fans helped Madden, FIFA and NBA2K enjoy a stellar 2020.

By Kenneth Williams

The most popular esports betting titles fall under two categories. The first includes legacy esports, particularly the ‘Big Three’: League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. These all have over a decade of competitive history with millions of dollars in prize money having been won. They’re also some of the most popular video games globally, giving them a stable fanbase. All three titles also receive significant developer attention. Riot Games owns League of Legends, and Valve controls both Dota and CS:GO.

The second type features sports simulation games. Betting on Madden, FIFA and NBA2K exploded in 2020 due to the cancellation of many major sports leagues. While not entirely identical, these titles feature similar rulesets to their real-life equivalents, meaning traditional sports fans find the transition easy and many of the fans who flocked to esports last year stuck with it even after real play resumed. These games also have consistent competitive events thanks to developer support and partnerships with many major sports leagues. Several NFL, NBA and soccer teams sponsor players for their virtual equivalent.

The games mentioned above are the most popular betting attractions, but plenty of other esports have long-running competitive scenes. Here are some more common video games in sportsbooks:

  • Overwatch – A six vs six class-based shooter with cartoony visuals. Developer Activision Blizzard runs the Overwatch League, which operates in a similar fashion to the NFL or NBA.
  • Call of Duty – The popular first-person shooter franchise has a historic competitive scene. The franchised league is also run by Activision.
  • Valorant – A tactical shooter similar to CS:GO, designed by Riot. The game is relatively new and many top Counter-Strike pros immediately switched over to Valorant.
  • Starcraft 2 – One of the oldest esports and the first to be featured on television. The Korean scene dominates the real-time strategy game, but other countries put up a fight.
  • Hearthstone – While not as popular as it once was, Blizzard’s card game is still very competitive. Both developer and third-party events are commonplace.
  • PUBG – The first massive battle royale title. Developer-sponsored tournaments make this one of the most popular battle royale esports.

What existing esports betting operators need to know

Current esports bookies are already familiar with some of the unique traits of video game betting. They’re more familiar with the process of integrating new titles and already have an esports-focused portion of their user base. Esports bettors rarely stick to just one game, a trend shared by their traditional counterparts. However, esports are still new media and entire new genres with different competitive formats can emerge with varying degrees of competitive grandeur. 

The most important thing for existing esports betting sites to consider is the necessary services needed to offer a new title. Data services for one title rarely apply to another, and companies that offer esports data applications will need time to develop new software. Existing titles might already have the framework, but the majority of Starcraft 2 bettors are probably already wagering with a current site.

The speed of esports events further compounds the difficulty of making esports odds. The Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues are streamlined, steady and scheduled weeks in advance. Dota events are sporadic. The level of maintenance needed should be included in your entry plan. Developer-sponsored franchised leagues are becoming more popular in esports, so newer or legacy titles could switch to them in the future.

What’s important for new esports bookmakers?

When assessing the cost of offering esports betting, there are many factors to consider absent from traditional sports. The titles you plan to offer should be the first thing decided. As new esports titles are developed, older titles lose relevancy or die off. Oddsmaking software and dedicated data platforms will eventually become obsolete. A game’s shelf life should be the number one concern for esports betting decision-makers. 

For example, Valorant is less than a year old and is still growing. However, it has guaranteed support from the developers of League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world. Even if it isn’t huge now, Valorant esports will provide an excellent onboarding point when in-person play becomes feasible again.

The opposite is true of Hearthstone. The devs still care about it, and the casual audience is somewhat engaged, but it’s unlikely to return to its heyday again. Operators that already offer Hearthstone betting still benefit now, but the return on investment isn’t comparatively high for new sites.

When evaluating whether to enter the esports space or not, estimate the length of the game’s popularity and include it in your assessment. Remember: not every site needs to accommodate every esport. Knowledge of a game’s potential popularity and its unique logistical hurdles will help you determine which esports are right for your sportsbook.

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