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Esports and Sportsbook: Match Made in Heaven? With Zohrab Karapetyan from Digitain

Many of us in the industry will be keen to get a piece of the esports pie. Its experienced fantastic growth and offers operators a unique opportunity to tap into a whole new community of players.

However, before the traditional sportsbook operators are able to take full advantage of this promising vertical, market positioning is essential. 

We spoke with Zohrab Karapetyan, Sportsbook Product Manager at Digitain to get a better understanding of the true esport betting opportunity and how it can be leveraged effectively and provide sustainable growth for the future.

The impressive growth of esports over the last 18 months has been brought to the whole industry’s attention. Exactly how much growth has this sector experienced and does it have the potential to match the revenue levels generated by traditional sports betting products in the future?

“At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, when most live sports were totally cancelled, eSports became one of the hero products for iGaming operators, including our own network of operators. In our case, we revised our product development roadmap and focused on quickly bringing in additional betting products in order to mitigate any impact on our partner’s revenues. As well as adding a number of additional virtual sports providers we also beefed up our eSports roster, created a new dedicated area for esports with special content and also launched our own eSports brand, Cyber Masters, which focused initially on eFootball.

“The revenues across the industry for betting on eSports in that initial period when there were no live sports saw fantastic growth – around about 300-400% over 2019. This settled down when football behind closed doors returned, as you would expect, but still showed a healthy increase over the previous year of around 25%.

“The long-term future of betting on eSports is healthy, as new cohorts of younger customers get involved. Personally, I don’t see betting on eSports revenues to get close to betting on football, for example, for a very long time. I saw somewhere that 30 million viewers watched an eSports live competition over a few weeks a few years ago, which is fantastic but, to put into some context, 400 million people globally will watch a high profile EPL game live. At an estimated 3-4% of total stakes across the industry, eSports has a long but positive way to go to compete with football.”

During the Lockdown, traditional sports were severely impacted but esports was able to continue at a relatively normal level of activity. Should Sportsbook operators be looking at esports to mitigate the risk of any future lockdowns?

“Undoubtedly, and I would say this has already started to happen in most cases. The interest in providing an engaging eSports product portfolio is high amongst our own operator network, for example. We have seen some excellent stats that make the story even more compelling for operators to take our own eSports products and also from the other providers we have integrated onto our platform; 35% growth per month in new user engagement, 82% monthly retention and a 20% growth in user frequency.”

Some industry commentators believe there is a strong link between engagement drivers for traditional sports fans and esports fans. What is the cross-sell opportunity between the two verticals?

“I read an article recently that suggested the recent Euros competition, and all the coverage and heightened interest in the sport would generate a big increase in interest on eFootball betting.

“I think this could be true and as more eSports players get involved in betting on eSports events – then there is an obvious cross-sell opportunity. However, it’s early days and, personally, I’d rather focus on building up loyalty and engagement in their betting on esports from these new customers, than look to try and cross-sell too forcefully. Let them get used to the brand and the user experience for a product they’re familiar, comfortable with and knowledgeable about first.” 

For Sportsbook operators that may be interested in integrating esports products into their portfolio, how easy is it to integrate into back-end systems? What is the most efficient route into the esports market?

“Generally speaking, it is pretty straightforward to integrate an eSports feed into an iGaming platform. In our own case, we have integrated our own eSports product, Cyber Masters into 80 operator systems across 20 countries, which does show the appetite for betting on eSports – especially on eFootball and eBasketball – which I would say are the key eSports that will give an operator traction early on.

“However, you need to ensure that the full eSports service you deliver is of high quality, including a high-quality video streaming service, lightning-fast odds and data feed and a fully customisable experience to suit your partners’ different business needs.”

Editor’s note:

Zohrab clearly doesn’t see a massive cross-sell opportunity between the two verticals, in fact, he describes the two communities as being very disparate. For operators to successfully engage this community they must treat it separately from any of their other products and give it the time and attention needed. 

The business case for introducing esports into your portfolio is obvious and companies like Digitain will make it very easy for you to integrate a product like this into your existing systems. So we look forward to seeing more of these products on the market in the future.