Esports 2021: Breaking the Authenticity Barrier, with Ben Cove, CMO of Pinnacle Sports

Although eSports activity saw a major spike last year, we shouldn’t forget that this sector has been on a meteoric rise for the last few years regardless. The betting industry knew of this sector massive potential way before Covid-19 hit and have been trying to tap in ever since! Being a relatively nascent sector, operators have had mixed results in regard to player engagement and truly building a community repour with this new type of player.

Ben Cove is the CMO of leading eSports operator, Pinnacle Sports and we caught up with him to hear his thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 on the industry, the importance of authenticity and how events such as the Pinnacle Cup will help push the industry forward.

Esports performed very well last year since the onset of the pandemic. Do you expect this trend to continue, or will it settle down to pre-pandemic levels when the lockdown is over?

“Esports betting has enjoyed a sustained upward trajectory for more than a decade now, and we fully expect this to continue long into the future. We’ve seen revenues rise exponentially year-on-year since we first offered prices in 2010.

At Pinnacle we work hard on ensuring our product, prices and content-first approach are all tailored to the expectations of the esports community, and this has been proven to retain customers in the long run. So while the pandemic did bring a further spike in activity last year, what’s even more pleasing to see is that is hasn’t seen a tail off since traditional sports returned.”

Operators in the past have struggled with being truly accepted as an authentic part of esports culture. How can this be improved in the future? Will events such as the Pinnacle Cup set the benchmark for the future of eSports community engagement?

“Being authentic is key to operator success in esports, and as a brand, there’s no doubt that’s been a major part of Pinnacle’s success to date. The typical user behaviour of someone from the esports community doesn’t necessarily correlate to that of a traditional betting customer – they come in via different channels and engage with content in different ways.

It takes extensive resource and expertise to be able to deliver a truly engaging esports product to this audience. Esports fans want a brand they can understand; and one that understands them. They also want brands that give back and support the community – and this is why The Pinnacle Cup makes so much sense. Any betting operator who goes into esports half-heartedly, without the proper expertise, or with a shallow offering, will ultimately be found out.

The Pinnacle Cup is fantastic for the maintenance and growth of our brand awareness, but that’s not enough. Once customers become aware of your brand, you also need to ensure it resonates with them – you need to build that trust and for us, that’s achieved through community engagement and a consistent content strategy that penetrates across all touchpoints. That includes bespoke markets for specific esports, real-time data feeds to back up customer decision-making and generous pricing that makes bettors feel like they’ve got a fair shot against the book. We welcome this battle with our players, and results show that they’re enjoying it too.”

The reputation of the esports betting industry has often been tainted with headlines surrounding poor integrity and player protection. What can operators and the wider industry do to ensure issues of integrity are avoided and industry reputation is improved going forward?

“The infrastructure surrounding the esports industry is evolving quickly to ensure that integrity issues are dealt with at source – and this is a hugely positive move forwards. Integrity concerns can be hugely damaging to the industry and it’s on us as operators and suppliers to push for sustainable solutions that ensure everyone’s getting a fair deal, and that esports players and bettors are adequately protected.

Data provision is a key function that helps mitigate untoward activity. Working with data suppliers, such as GRID – as we have done for the ongoing Pinnacle Cup – gives us masses of data points to analyse for both trading and integrity purposes.

The more data we record, both pre-match and live, and the more third-party integrity services are educating teams and monitoring events down the ladder, the better the reputation will be for esports. It’s worth noting that esports is able to learn huge amounts from processes in other, more mature sports, and in taking these on board, we’ve already seen huge strides taken.”

Why did Pinnacle choose CS:GO as the game to focus on for the tournament? What other gaming titles should we, as an industry, be looking at in regard to attracting the most player interest in the future? Why?

“The ‘big three’ esports are League of Legends, Dota 2, and CS:GO, and between them, they dominate betting revenues. Choosing one of these was a no-brainer for the inaugural Pinnacle Cup, and CS:GO got the nod due to our relationship with data partner GRID and the strength of our regional European connections in the esports community.

GRID provide us with mammoth data sets that fuel our trading teams to offer bespoke markets on CS:GO. This data also gives us confidence to go that bit sharper on the margins – offering the best possible value to our customers.

In terms of future gaming titles, Pinnacle started trading the FPS Valorant last year, and although it’s still early days in terms of professional activity, we fully expect it to take on the bigger esports in the future. It’s developed by Riot Games, the team behind League of Legends, so it’s got pedigree, and is likely to appeal to a vast audience looking for action-packed betting opportunities.”

Editor’s Note: After catching up with Ben, it’s obvious that Pinnacle have really taken the time to understand the eSports market. This knowledge has allowed them to be seen as an authentic part of the community, which has played a large role in their success to date. Events such as the Pinnacle Cup are a great demonstration of how the gaming industry can better engage with this sector, built on a foundation of reliable data, integrity and strategic partnerships.

With large strides already being made in data management, community relations and new, exciting games such as Valorant being integrated, the potential for growth is impressive. The authentic example lead by Pinnacle is a trend we’re keen to see continue into the future.

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