Virtual sports took center stage during the months when there was no live sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several opinions emerged during that time around this vertical, especially in regards to its potential and its ability to compete with traditional sports betting.

However, the most important thing was not the explosive growth of these products, but the challenges and opportunities that operators face to retain players’ interest in the long term.

According to Araksi Sargsyan, Head of Business Development at DS Virtual Gaming, companies with the greatest flexibility and creativity have won in an ever-changing period. In a year that has been completely affected by the pandemic, there are markets that experience more activity than before the lockdown, but also others that, when faced with a second wave of coronavirus, could be harmed by stricter regulatory conditions and even closure.

“Throughout the year, the trends in virtual games consumption changed constantly, depending on countries’ effectiveness to contain the spread of the virus,” said Sargsyan to SBC Americas. “The year was really difficult and unexpected for all industry representatives, regardless of the verticals. Plans are formed long before a year begins, and of course no one could’ve predicted a pandemic a year ago. As suppliers, we share all the successes and difficulties that our partners are going through,” she added.

The key to navigate a year full of uncertainties is to have an adaptable omnichannel offering. “What’s interesting about our approach is that, even before the pandemic hit, we made sure that our products were available physically and online.”

DS Virtual Gaming currently features many alternatives, like web games for bookmakers, games in POS and self-service terminals, in retail and mobile devices, as well as web integration services, affiliate systems, mobile solutions and more.

“Our existing solutions have allowed us to react to global changes as quickly as possible. All that was required was to transfer the physical operation to an online platform that we provided in a couple of days. As I said, flexibility in decision-making and implementation has played an important role throughout this year,” she said.

Beyond adaptability, in order to hold a larger share of the market, it’s necessary to give special attention to each player, which is perfected by acquiring more experience operating in different markets.

DS Virtual Gaming has taken care of this by providing virtual games in different countries. “It’s interesting that the popularity of a game in a certain country doesn’t guarantee success in a neighboring territory,” Sargsyan said, adding that it’s key to pay attention to details, games selection and to have a good performance in different markets. “The selection of games that will become the flagship of the company next year, and in two to three years as well, must be thoroughly reviewed to the smallest detail,” she advised.

Latin America’s role

Sargsyan, who participated back in June in the ‘Sustaining new verticals post-COVID-19: How to build long-term success for poker, virtual sports and others’ panel at SBC Digital Summit Latinoamérica, assured that currently, Latin America is “without a doubt, our strongest market.”

“In some countries, DS Virtual Gaming products equal virtual games, they can be seen at any betting site regardless of the operator. However, we don’t plan to stop there,” she said. DS Virtual Gaming is developing games specifically for the Latin American player: “While many say that the continent is already flooded with different types of operations, I see great potential here.”

The regulatory changes in different jurisdictions in the region, such as Colombia, and the imminent opening of other markets, like Buenos Aires and Brazil, have led different operators to set up and seek strategic partnerships. Suppliers, for their part, are focusing on the importance of localization and adapting their products in each market.

“We want to be closer to Latin America’s rich culture, their traditions and preferences. For us, the biggest goal is for players, when they go to betting shops (which are incredibly popular in Latin America) and they place bets, that they don’t think that this or that game was made in some distant country. Our games should hit so close to home that they take for granted that the manufacturer is their compatriot, who was in charge not only in keeping up with trends, but also taking them to a new level,” Sargsyan explained.

In addition, she highlighted the advantages of having regulated markets in the region: illegal gambling doesn’t allow governments to benefit from enormous resources, and it also decreases the quality of the whole experience, as there is no responsible structure in place to protect the interest of the players. Sargsyan believes that “it would be an interesting collaboration” to be able to share the DS Virtual Gaming experience with regulators in countries that want to legalize the gaming industry.

When landing in new countries, large companies often focus on the experience of large territories, such as Europe, Asia and the US. Is it necessary for Latin America to learn from companies in these jurisdictions? According to Sargsyan, it would be more important to call it an experience exchange rather than a learning experience, “since the solutions that were born in Latin America can also be innovative in Asia, Europe and the US.”

“Given that Latin America is a relatively new market, my advice is to learn from the mistakes of other countries when regulating the market and making certain decisions. I would very much like to see the synergy between regulators and operators, as someone who visits betting shops, communicates with players, cashiers, administrators, lawyers, financiers, knows in depth the interior kitchen of the industry, which is the main source of their income,” she said.

And she added: “Creating healthy competition between operators, with equal rights, in a good environment to kick off new businesses and being open to everything new, will necessarily lead to success.”

Virtual sports’ long-term success

Virtual games have already become a fundamental product in the gaming industry, regardless of the growth that it has experienced in the past seven months. “I understand that many will turn a blind eye to our vertical and I won’t hide the fact that I was once skeptical about this type of product,” she commented.

Many believe that the challenge lies in becoming a mass segment, such as sports betting. Sargsyan, on the other hand, stressed that it’s already a business with a large number of customers.

“When I started working in the B2C segment, naturally I followed every bet on the platform and I couldn’t believe how crazy virtual games’ turnover was. After work and on the weekends, I would go to betting shops and follow players’ activities. And when you see that between 5 to 10 bets on virtual games are made on sports, there is no doubt that this vertical already has a strong niche,” she concluded.