Bigger The Industry, Bigger The Risk: Esports Integrity And Taking It To The Next Level

The impressive growth of esports in recent years has caught the attention of the whole gambling industry. Many operators are now attempting to add the vertical to their portfolios, often with varied success.

Focussing on standard revenue streams, there is still a large gap between esports and traditional sports betting. 

But most industry observers concur it is only a matter of time until this gap is closed, although there are still some significant hurdles to this being achieved. For example, like many sports,  esports has at times struggled with issues of integrity.

We caught up with Max Sevostianov, COO at Betbazar, to hear his thoughts on how much growth potential the esports sector still has. And, equally importantly, we asked how we as an industry can accelerate this growth through applying improved integrity standards.

Just like any other popular sport, esports has struggled with issues of integrity. What do you think we can do as an industry to help improve this going forward, and is there anything that can be learned from the experiences gained in traditional sports like cricket or tennis?

“Esports is making great strides in strengthening the integrity surrounding the phenomenon. But we must continue moving forward as the popularity of the sector keeps growing. 

“Integrity must be at the core of any competitive industry, and there is a collective responsibility to provide a fun, safe, and sustainable environment for the esports community.

“A strict and robust regulatory framework is essential to provide all stakeholders with a clear understanding of best practices. Esports should implement strict regulations and rules designed to prevent cheating and nefarious activities. Anyone who violates these rules should face suitable penalties to demonstrate our seriousness as an industry.

“There is much to learn from traditional sports that have taken appropriate steps to enhance integrity through collaboration with key touchpoints. This involves open dialogue between broadcasters, rights holders, agents, teams and players. By collaborating with traditional sports organisations, esports can adopt best practices and share knowledge to improve integrity in the industry.

“Education plays a crucial role, as all stakeholders across esports must be aware of acceptable behaviour. This could take the form of training sessions, workshops and readily available educational materials.

“Technology has been the driving force behind the growth of esports and can also protect its future. The use of technology can help improve the integrity of esports by detecting cheating and other forms of misconduct. While respecting data privacy, suitable exploratory work should be done to build a picture of the officials and players that play a starring role. 

“Technology can be integrated into existing systems to monitor changing player behaviour. It’s even possible to accurately track player heart rates and pulses within global esports; although this won’t detect misconduct on its own, it helps complement the bigger picture when compared to other betting activities and historical patterns.

“Integrity in esports requires a collaborative and proactive effort from industry stakeholders, including players, fans, organisations, and regulators.”

Some operators, when launching in this sector, are using scraped as opposed to official player/game data to make up their odds and related content. This may be cheaper or more easily accessible, but is it the best way forward?

“Using scraped player and game data instead of the official version for pricing up markets and content may be cheaper and more easily accessible for operators, but it won’t lay the foundation for long-term, sustainable success.

“Scraped data may not be as reliable or accurate as official data, which can lead to errors in odds calculations and ultimately result in losses for both players and operators. With so many choices available to them, players will quickly move on to other providers if the data presented is inaccurate. Using official data ensures a better and cleaner user experience for players. Esports is such a dynamic vertical that bet propensity is incredibly high, so if the right parameters are not put in place to ensure valid data, you’ll soon be left far behind.

“Another issue arising from scraped data is that it often violates copyright laws and licensing agreements. We are increasingly seeing the introduction of technology to prevent the ability to scrape data in the first place. Major providers are doubling down on their commitment to ensuring that official game and player data becomes the norm.”

Many operators are aware of the growth potential esports offers but struggle to engage the fans because they are not regarded as an authentic part of the community. What are some key ways to gain authenticity in the esports sector?

“Gaining authenticity within esports requires commitment. The occasional campaign or one-off project won’t suffice, as players will see through that. Consistency is key, which comes from long-term sponsorships and partnerships with respected esports organisations, teams and players. Well-targeted campaigns help build brand affiliation with a proud and knowledgeable esports community. Communicating with these communities in the right language and understanding the nuanced culture is also important to avoid coming across as an operator that is just jumping on the bandwagon without thorough research. Markets matter too; some games, like Dota2 and CS:GO, particularly resonate within specific regions.

“Another way to gain trust is by supporting grassroots esports communities that are nurturing future stars. This builds a rapport with the up-and-coming talents, which will pay dividends over time as they reflect on their path to the top.

“Supplementing this with relevant content is also important. This can come in the form of live streams, live commentary and well-produced game analysis. Finally, having the right technologies in place to support the many esports options available demonstrates that you’re taking the vertical seriously and not just treating it as an add-on.”

It’s no secret that the Covid19 pandemic was a major boost for esports betting activity and it has continued to grow impressively since. Will it ever reach the same engagement levels as mainstream sports? What will it take to get there?

“Esports certainly benefited from the pandemic, but the vertical was already gaining traction before 2020. Whether it will reach the same engagement levels as traditional sports is difficult to predict.

“There are certain developments that can help close the gap, with the first being the increased growth of media coverage. Gaining more broadcast time and column inches will drive awareness for the vertical and showcase why it is enjoying such success. As mentioned in the earlier question on integrity, improving regulation and transparency within esports will encourage more people to take a look for themselves if they can trust what they are experiencing.

“Esports’ importance will also grow as operators see the benefits of being able to attract and engage with a new audience as more traditional sports bettors age. Investment today in esports and global esports will pay dividends in the future as operators look to future-proof their businesses.

“Investment will lead to the best technology being able to present a rich array of esports options. Upcoming esports players have grown up with the most intuitive and agile technology, and they will not settle for anything less than a frictionless gaming experience.

“Much can be learned from mainstream sports too. And esports would do well to adopt some of the best engagement practices that have been around for a long time. Initiatives such as fan engagement, VIP experiences, competitions and live events. There is plenty of talk about the future of traditional football in the UK following the Super League movement, and it will be worth watching what happens here to see if there are learnings for the esports space.”

Editor’s note:

After catching up with Max, it’s clear that although the pandemic did cause a spike in activity, the sector was already on an upwards trajectory. 

But the bigger the industry, the bigger the potential risks.

Max believes the key to improving esports industry integrity is greater transparency. This is a practice that we should adopt from the traditional sports sector, who have found great success in enhancing integrity standards through collaboration with key touchpoints. 

Critically, it involves open dialogue between broadcasters, rights holders, agents, teams and players. Future forward we look with excitement and keen interest to see how this dynamic industry will continue to mature.

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