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Competitive Gaming: finding new audiences

By - 13 November 2019

G3 interviews SIS’ Rohini Sardana about the latest developments shaping esports and the way in which SIS is assisting operators to achieve their goals

This year, SIS announced the launch of the industry’s first live esports betting product built for sportsbooks, SIS Competitive Gaming. What attracted SIS into the esports landscape?

We are always monitoring betting verticals and market trends to assess customer needs, and esports has been on our radar for the last few years. When we researched the esports betting landscape and spoke to bettors and operators, it was evident that most existing esports betting products were centered around pre-existing tournaments that have been created for the benefit of the game publishers, which provides a number of challenges for bettors, such as the complexity of the current ‘strategy style’ esports products. Our research suggested that there was an opportunity for an esports betting product which was built with betting in mind, so SIS Competitive Gaming was born.

You are pioneering a different approach within this vertical. Are you excited for the opportunities that this represents?

Yes, it is very exciting to have launched a ground-breaking new betting product within the esports sector. The research we undertook has been key to the product development of SIS Competitive Gaming, in creating a product that operators told us they wanted. The opportunity for operators to have live streamed esports events will also help esports gain increased traction with current sports bettors as we know that having live pictures available increases customer engagement and in turn, betting revenues. Also, utilising a “Watch and Bet” format will help to attract new audiences to the sector, as the content will be available to view without the need to have first placed a bet. This, coupled with betting commentary, on-screen graphics with betting triggers and a range of pre-match and in-play markets will provide additional information to bettors to support them with understanding what is going on and help to drive incremental revenues for operators globally.

Is it a case of attracting a new type of audience and demographic into the market, or convincing the traditional bettor to try their hand at esports betting?

As I touched on earlier, it’s about framing the proposition correctly and clearly so that any bettor (established or completely uninitiated) will engage with it. Take a scroll through the esports buttons of any operators currently offering esports, and you’ll soon discover many markets on offer for games such as DOTA and League of Legends that will be unfamiliar to traditional bettors.

As part of our research, sports bettors told us that they would engage more with esports betting products if the format was aligned more with products that they were familiar with betting on. This was the thinking behind the creation of SIS Competitive Gaming, a live betting product that has been optimised for sportsbooks. The schedule of c15,000 head-to-head matches has been designed around times that will drive incremental revenue for operators.  The matches are ‘quick-fire’ and offer a range of pre-match and in-play betting opportunities so there is always something to keep bettors engaged. We are really encouraged with the level of interest from operators across a number of territories, both mature and emerging, and we have recently agreed a deal with a leading operator in Eastern Europe and will be launching with them very soon.

First-person-shooter (FPS) and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games are hugely popular with video gamers, yet by their very nature they are difficult to predict and complex to understand. How are you looking to achieve a reliable pricing market on esports events?

Yes, as you suggest, the popularity of first-person shooters and multi-battle arenas on streaming platforms such as Twitch isn’t mirrored by interest from current sports bettors, since their formats don’t really match up that well with the consistent pricing of existing betting markets. From an operator perspective, the common issue that arises when offering markets on esports events is the reliability of the prices available. That’s down to the fact that there are very few traders around who have the esports expertise to produce accurate prices on these events, which can be very complicated with multiple variables that impact the possible outcomes.

SIS Competitive Gaming solves this challenge, as our team of specialist traders are experts in the games that we offer. They are also supported by a proprietary trading application and industry-leading algorithms to deliver optimised bookmaker margins. At the end of the day, it’s all about discovering what will work. With solid pricing and continuity of events, esports can follow and surpass the success story of virtual sports which was in its early days was labelled “a cartoonish folly” but now accounts for over 20 per cent of retail betting revenue.

In recent years, there have been match-fixing scandals in competitive games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and Overwatch. How can the integrity of esports betting be maintained?

Esports is no different to other sports in that it faces challenges when it comes to the integrity of its events. We work alongside ESIC (Esports Integrity Coalition) and they’re doing a fantastic job in ensuring that every tournament is fair and transparent. This integrity team is also playing a big role in educating the younger demographic as to the consequences of cheating. Integrity has been at the heart of the product-development process for SIS Competitive Gaming, and we have implemented a range of controls and operational processes to optimise its high-integrity status.

We have a dedicated integrity referee, trained by the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC), who monitors each game with a real-time link to our traders. As we have control over the entire eco-system, we are able take a number of measures to protect our operator customers from suspending betting, and can remove any player from tournaments whilst investigations are undertaken.

Live pictures are generally not available to bettors on esports. How is SIS utilising the ‘Watch and Bet’ model into its esports betting product?

SIS Competitive Gaming is delivered as an end-to-end solution, with live streamed pictures, data, commentary, and on-screen graphics with betting triggers, plus an extensive range of markets and prices. Our ‘Watch and Bet’ format is proving to be very successful for operators in helping to increase bettor engagement. This approach, which allows bettors to view live sporting events without needing to place a bet, increases engagement levels, particularly as we know that bettors are more likely to wager on events that they can see.

What are your predictions for the future of the esports betting landscape?

I think the sector is going to go from strength to strength over the next few years. You only have to look at the recent media coverage from some of the Fortnite and FIFA World Cups to see that interest is growing and awareness of the sector is at an all-time high. Betting turnover on esports will also increase exponentially as general interest and awareness of the sector increases. The key at this stage is how to engage the traditional sports bettor in this relatively new sector, and we feel that products like SIS Competitive Gaming are perfectly poised to help betting operators introduce esports to their existing sports bettors as they provide sports based games and markets that are already familiar to them.  It really is an exciting time for the sector, and we are thrilled to be part of it.

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