Mark Balch: esports betting and its long-term growth

Esports has taken centre stage in recent weeks as the betting industry adapts to the COVID-19 crisis which has led to live-sports becoming increasingly difficult to air. However, after the dust has settled, how impactful will esports be in the modern betting sector?

SBC America’s spoke to Mark Balch, Head of Product & Partnerships at Bayes Esports Solutions, a joint venture of Sportradar and Bayes Holding to discuss why it is important to start taking the esports section seriously and how it can improve the industry in the future.

SBCA: Why do you think it is important for data providers, like yourself, to start investing in the esports Industry?

MB: At this moment in time, esports is one of very few options to bet on from a live sports standpoint, so you can imagine the demand we’re seeing from operators. Additionally, with little to no live sports occurring right now, there is more interest and exposure to esports than ever before.

I think this period of time will be strangely beneficial for the long-term growth of esports, and I can even see it accelerating that growth based on the sheer amount of tournaments and people looking for content to consume while they’re at home. If you’re a sports data provider that doesn’t offer esports right now, there’s a good chance you’re scrambling to offer it to your customers.

SBCA: Have you seen a spike in esports betting as a result of the impact had on the betting sector by COVID-19? If so, are you confident in keeping numbers high when live traditional sports eventually returns?

MB: We’re definitely seeing a spike and increased demand from operators who want to offer esports betting markets to their customers.

In terms of the impact that the return of traditional sports will have, it will be minimal. Generally, I don’t believe that a lot of traditional sports fans are replacing their love of traditional sports with esports. Rather, the majority are replacing live sports with old games and highlights. 

The people that have flocked to esports have done so because they are at home with more time on their hands, and they’re looking for something new to consume. So when traditional sports return, we shouldn’t lose a lot of those fans we’ve attracted. The amount of time people are able to dedicate to playing and watching esports will decline, but the interest in esports will persist once traditional sports resume.

SBCA: It is expected that the COVID-19 outbreak will be impacting traditional sports for the next month, maybe even two. With that in mind, has Sportradar got anything in the pipeline regarding new features for its esports offering?

MB: The main focus of Sportradar and its joint venture Bayes Esports Solutions right now is continuing to ramp up coverage to fill the void left by traditional sports. With more people at home, there has been a significant increase in esports tournaments as well as consumption.

We’re working extremely hard to offer as much data coverage as possible during this time, while making sure that the data we’re offering is fully vetted and researched. 

Due to the lack of live, in-person events, there are more unplanned online tournaments occurring, so we’re working around the clock to try and satisfy the demand from the operators. Plus, Bayes Esports Solutions is looking to speed up negotiations and integrations.

SBCA: How crucial do you feel having accurate data in esports is to its betting sector?

MB: Accurate data is everything when it comes to betting, no matter the sport or event. For esports, speed of data is another key factor in separating from the pack, but if you have fast data that’s not accurate, it’s essentially worthless.

SBCA: What role do you see esports playing in the future of betting when compared to traditional sports?

MB: I see esports betting as a separate entity when compared to traditional sports betting. In the west in general, there’s a real passion for traditional sports, where fans have a deep, long-standing connection to their favorite teams and players. That simply doesn’t exist for esports at the same scale, and that’s reflected through betting as well because people tend to bet on things they know. 

However, I do think that as time goes on, and esports continues to grow in cultural relevance and a few more stars emerge, it will start to make a real dent against traditional sports betting. Also, given the amount of data points that are generated by esports, as compared to traditional sports, there’s a lot more opportunities to be creative with the betting markets that are offered, which is huge for increasing fan engagement.