With over a decade of shaping the esports betting vertical, Marco Blume, Pinnacle’s Trading Director, was an apt choice to discuss the future direction of esports betting in the Big Question feature of Gambling Insider. Asking the following question, alongside industry peers, Blume lays out his thoughts and aspirations for the booming market.

"After enjoying rapid growth throughout the early stages of the pandemic, what does the future look like for esports?"

The pandemic was no doubt a boost for the esports betting space. But it was by no means the catalyst that made it a mainstream betting product, as some claim. Esports took root decades back and from a betting point of view, there have been viable products in action for over 10 years now. These offerings have evolved into first-rate betting destinations in their own right and will continue to succeed despite external disruptions.

The shutdown of the sporting calendar thrust esports in front of a new, largely traditional sports betting audience, but we must not forget the massive fanbase that esports already had worldwide. And it’s this community that we have to appeal to in shaping esports products for the future.

Cross-selling from sportsbook is something we should aspire to, but tailoring esports offerings to the mass market and not to the unique requirements of the esports fan first is to do a disservice to the millions worldwide who have enjoyed betting on CS:GO, Dota 2, and the likes long before soccer and tennis seasons went on hiatus.

We are at a fork in the road in the esports betting journey. On the one hand, we’re seeing leading operators and suppliers finally take this vast market seriously, delivering broad content in a way that legitimises the space but perhaps doesn’t excite the audience. On the other, there’s an increasing number of standalone esports betting destinations that live for the gaming community. They’re run by esports fans and deliver betting experiences in a way that these same fans enjoy.

The future success of this space probably lies between these two approaches. There’s no reason why major sportsbooks can’t deliver esports content in the same manner as specialist operators. It does require a rethink in delivery though. Esports fans are undoubtedly more engaged with their pastime than the average soccer fan would be. This means that as an industry we must serve them at a higher level.

Authenticity is key to building trust over time and successful esports operators of the future will be those who have taken their products to this unique audience on different levels. Content should be specific to individual esports titles, not just adapted from the core sportsbook variety. Pricing should be sharp, fair, and accurate. After all, these titles are data-driven and their fans are well-versed on the risk-reward of competitive gaming. All of this content should be packaged in a way that suits the specific demands of the esports audience.

The future of esports is as its own betting vertical. Esports encompasses over 35 traded titles, so crowbarring the catch-all term alphabetically between Darts and Formula 1 on a sportsbook will undersell the offering and deter acquisition. Specific hubs are needed for esports fans to find their own space to bet in. This could mean spin-off brands, tailored betting layouts, or darker-themed aesthetics, but at its core, it requires giving the esports fan a destination of their own, not an add-on to an incompatible sportsbook environment.

If we can get this right as an industry, esports can sit as a tier-one, top-three sport across the board and not just within a niche few betting companies. In the meantime, we’ve got to keep our fingers on the pulse of this ever-changing sector.

The mobile gaming sector is booming and yet remains pretty much untapped from a betting point of view. The last PUBG Mobile Global Championship saw over 64 million fans tune in over its four-day Finals event, yet PUBG Mobile is hardly represented as a betting product. This is just one example of many where new titles are finding major regional audiences – in this case Indonesia and India - and it’s our responsibility as esports advocates to serve these fans in the same way we do with the likes of LoL and emerging titles such as Valorant.

We’re on the right path as an industry. But it’s important to remember that the esports audience is a unique one. We won’t be successful in the future unless we tailor betting experiences to them and treat them with the respect they deserve, with esports as its own gaming vertical, built for the community by experts from within it.

The article has been adapted from the original publication in Gambling Insider.

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