Esports Betting Doubles Down In Absence of Live Sports

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  • NBA 2K could help bridge the gap between traditional sports and esports fans.
  • A $30 billion global esports betting market could be set to double with an increased focus on the industry.

Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA 2K Players Tournament kicks off April 3, BetMGM is offering up a free-to-play game to engage its users. 

While the BetMGM app option for the tournament between NBA players is only available in New Jersey, betting on esports is a clear sign of the times during the coronavirus outbreak. With the absence of most live sports – except Belarusian soccer – sport betting operators are turning more to these virtual events. 

The bracket game’s deadline is Sunday and the tournament runs through next week, with a $20,000 prize to be split among winners. BetMGM will also match the winning prize with a donation to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Refund.

“The [NBA 2K bracket] is a bit of light entertainment during a difficult time in the sports calendar and world,” a spokeswoman from BetMGM said. “Hopefully, it’s the start of more esports offerings as we continue to work closely with regulators and look forward to offering more diverse esports platforms in the future.”

Easing the regulations on esports betting in the U.S. could be a boon to the sports betting industry, said Daniel Kelly, academic director of graduate programs and clinical associate professor at NYU School of Professional Studies Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport. 

Kelly pointed out that the global esports betting market is projected to grow to $30 billion this year, saying that number could double with the coronavirus outbreak momentum. 

“The way the market is growing, I don’t think the world will turn back fully to the way we consume sports,” Kelly said. “With this opportunity to be the only option, it will continue to be on an upward trend with the investment that people are making in esports and the esports betting options growing.” 

The premier esports globally have been League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, but games like NBA 2K could help bridge the gap between traditional sports bettors and esports, Kelly said.

Earlier this week, FanDuel partnered with the Drone Racing League to offer a free-to-play daily fantasy game around the league’s SIM Virtual Tryouts. 

FanDuel’s DFS competitor DraftKings has seen success with its free-to-play game based on NASCAR’s iRacing eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series.

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DraftKings has scrambled to find more live sports to offer its users, ranging from soccer and hockey in Belarus and Russia to darts and ping pong, Johnny Avello, the company’s sportsbook director, said. 

Beyond its expansion to obscure sports and entertainment and political pools – the March Democratic debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders drew 70,000 participants – it’s also expanding esports efforts. The company already had a daily fantasy option for League of Legends but has now added Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

“Esports certainly has some potential,” Avello said. “We’ve been discussing it for about three years, but when you have all the major stuff going on, for some reason, it doesn’t appeal to a majority because we have so much content to offer, but there is a group out there that does enjoy it.

“Esports is moving into the mainstream, and some of the offerings, when this is all said and done, will stick.”

A large reason some esports betting could stick is the content is engaging, and people are being drawn in as they search for competitive action during the absence of traditional stick and ball sports, Mark Balch, head of product and partnerships at Bayes Esports Solutions, said. Bayes Esports Solutions is a joint venture between Sportradar and Bayes Holding, a sports betting data and services company.

Balch said he foresees this time period “being strangely beneficial for the long-term growth of esports.” Among the reasons it could be good for betting is the detailed in-play options, he said.

“The people that have started consuming esports content for the first time have generally done so because they are at home with more time on their hands, and they’re looking for something new to engage with,” Balch said. “It’s rarely a case of a traditional sports fan replacing that interest with esports. So when traditional sports do return, we shouldn’t lose a lot of those new fans we’ve attracted. The amount of time people are able to dedicate to playing and watching esports will likely decline, but the increased interest in esports will persist once traditional sports resume.”