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Digitain: the only way is up for esports

By - 22 June 2021

Peter Nolan, Strategic Consultant at Digitain, offers G3 Pulse his vision for the future of esports. Peter discusses the likelihood of traditional betting gaining significant ground on gaming-specific wagering opportunities such as loot boxes and the role of AI in personalising the eSports gambling experience.

How significant a role does betting play in the wider eSports economy?

Recent reports show eSports revenues for last year at around $1.1bn. Most of this amount is from sponsorship and media rights, representing a growth of around 15 per cent over 2019. Actual global GGR from real money betting on eSports in 2020 is open to interpretation.

I’ve seen estimates ranging for $1bn to an unlikely $11 billion – personally, I take the more conservative viewpoint. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the only way is up in terms of eSports betting revenue growth.

The sports hiatus proved a shot in the arm for the growth of eSports betting. How much of this momentum has been maintained?

Betting on eSports was one of the hero products for Digitain in 2020, driven by the lack of traditional live sports. The UK Gambling Commission reported an overall year on year growth of nearly 3000 per cent, admittedly over a low base. Growth performance did reduce when live sports returned but was still significantly above the year before.

At Digitain, as well as adding extra eSports providers, we also introduced our own eSports products, working with an independent content supplier, SportGenerate – Cyber Masters, focusing on eFootball and eBasketball.

In terms of KPIs, we continually see an improving picture, with 35 per cent new user engagement, 82 per cent monthly customer retention rate and a monthly GGR growth rate of 30 per cent.

Fans find value in staying within the existing ecosystem, preferring gaming-specific wagering opportunities like loot boxes to formalised, sports-like betting on eSports. How does ‘traditional’ betting become the player preference? Will there be a natural shift over time?

From all accounts, skins betting on eSports currently dwarfs revenues from real-money betting, although given the variation of valuations of skins its hard to define these revenues very accurately. Skins betting is a closed ecosystem too, and therefore difficult to retrieve actual cash value as a player.

In terms of a transition to real money betting as the players preference, I think this will be likely due to the tastes of an older demographic changing over time, the potential for skins betting to become regulated or banned (as is the case for Norway and potentially the UK).

Further, real money betting on eSports will evolve and provide a better customer experience, more of a personalised service and enhanced in-play opportunities.

What is the next innovation in eSports betting?

From our perspective, we will continue to invest and develop our Cyber Masters eSports brand. One initiative that we are excited about is the introduction of our exclusive WNBA product, where all the matches are played by professional women players. We have built two new studios and introduced a new streamed player view to upgrade the whole experience.

What is the potential for growth in betting on eSports? Will it ever match or exceed other betting verticals?

Currently the ‘market share’ for the eSports product across our network of partners is around three per cent – so it has a long way to go to exceed the other prominant products. I personally feel it will never reach the levels of football revenues, but I would expect the handle for eSports to reach six per cent within three years.

How does an efficient and successful AI personalise the eSports betting experience?

We see the use of AI in personalisation of eSports in a similar way as for other sports and other gaming products on our platform. Using our advanced CRM platform, we can assess in real time our customers’ preferences for layout style, their preferred eSports game and also prioritise their preferred betting markets – and present these all in an extremely personalised manner.

What role does AI and machine learning play in the protection of eSports players from gambling harm?

We have a dedicated technology team at Digitain who are charged with developing new AI/Machine solutions across our business. A recent innovation is our AI driven customer insight application that can, using a number of specific parameters, assess and identify potential problem gambling in real time and can immediately send an alert to our partner operators for them to analyse and take proactive steps to deal with the customer activity.

This application is obviously for use across all verticals and for all sportsbook events but does apply to eSports betting activity too. The next steps for the AI-driven application are for it to automatically take real time steps to mitigate the potential problem gambling – not just to alert the operator but to automatically take more interactive steps – agreed between the operator and Digitain and platform provider.

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