Esports Latency and Delay: What Operators NEED to know!

The issues associated with latency and delay in esports betting are almost impossible to avoid. However, there are ways of mitigating your risk as an operator and maximising your commercial potential in this market.

Mark Balch is the Vice President of Product at Bayes Esports and is an esport maven, navigating the betting industry for over a decade.

Read below as he deep dives into the complexity of these issues and their related challenges, giving you a better understanding of best practice for navigating this environment successfully. More importantly, how you can effectively work with market-leading suppliers like Bayes to achieve success and future growth in this burgeoning sector.

As we continue to see the growth and rise of the esports betting industry, three words keep popping up every year that always attract attention; Integrity, Latency and Delay.

Everyone loves Integrity, it is key to the very value of any sport or competition, without it things fall apart pretty quickly (See StarCraft in 2016). Latency is the technical speed at which information travels around the world, whether via satellites or the internet. Delay is an intentional gap between real-time action and the broadcast. This can be seen in traditional sports or events, especially in places like China, but nowhere is it more prominent than esports.

Bookmakers since the dawn of time have always been at the forefront of getting information regarding their content as soon as humanly possible. Any delay or latency of information can result in profitable opportunities for punters. In Tennis, for instance, punters used to sit in the stands of a match and know the result of each game and point because bookmakers did. This is known as Courtsiding. Imagine punters’ delight when they learn that sometimes esports matches can be intentionally delayed for up to 25 minutes from real-time.

This situation is so difficult, players need to be trained to refrain from going immediately on social media and posting their jubilation or sorrow because it gives away the result of the match that the public might still be watching. Again something that could be exploited. This unique set of issues also can’t be solved with some precedent set by sport, because this issue is much more prominent in esports. So we need to band together and solve this collectively.

Mark Balch, Vice President of Product, Bayes Esports

Latency vs Delay definition for esports.

Let’s look at the detail of how esports works in terms of Latency and Delay. The most important distinction between esports and traditional sports is secrecy. Almost all traditional sport is done in an open playing field, and there is very little that is not seen by the opponent (in terms of players, resources etc.). The hidden aspect of sport is how each team develops their strategy, and executes it. Whereas most competitive video games intentionally hide information regarding your opponents, forcing you to get vision, or use your skills to see what your opponents are doing. A lot of strategy in video games is knowing what your opponent is doing and building a counter-strategy against it. If you had knowledge of what they are doing, it would trivialise an otherwise difficult game.

Esports is almost exclusively played on servers hosted by Game publishers or tournament organisers. These servers contain the battleground where teams go against each other. Anyone who has direct access to these servers can see everything in real-time – broadcasters, coaches, analysts, admins etc.

What is standard practice now, is that for online events (Where players are sitting in their homes) public broadcast is intentionally delayed beyond what would be valuable strategic information. This is because there would be nothing stopping a player sitting at home from looking at his opponent’s vision via a real-time stream. This is also physically impossible to stop, even with the best monitoring or technology, there would always be around it. The only way that has been found, is to have someone in the room when they are playing. This is what happens during Offline or “LAN” events, where players play in a studio or venue. During COVID, there were rare occasions where “online” events still had referees actively watching players – but this is very expensive and not a realistic solution.

Different game titles, Gaming aspect of MOBAs first FPS

Not all games are created equal, and as they all play differently, they also all have different integrity concerns and information that should not be shared with the opposing team. In CSGO for example, the most valuable information regarding your opponent is where they are. A lot of the game is positioning, timing, finding or hiding from opponents. This is only really relevant during each round, which lasts only about 2 minutes – which is used a lot in terms of broadcast delay. Whereas in MOBAs such as Dota 2 and League of Legends, again, vision of your opponents’ locations are key to success. This is done through Wards which grant vision of an area without you needing to be there. Finding and removing these wards is an extremely important and difficult skill in high levels of play and again knowing exactly where they are would break the game. These wards usually have a lifespan of 5 minutes – again, this is what determines broadcast delay for these games.

This leads to each game having a different set of delays, others are different again, Battle Royales can be delayed the entire match, Card battle games can have huge delays too. Whereas a game like rocket league or FIFA might not need one at all.

Not only that, but each game has different completion dynamics. MOBAs are a great example of this, seemingly looking like the game is only going one way, when suddenly one mistake or lucky event leads to the other team suddenly winning the game. This is a double-edged sword for betting, as it is difficult to follow in terms of trading odds, but it is also very unpredictable, which is usually bad for punters. This also means that within the 5 minute delay, a game can be won or lost.

What does this mean for the live betting experience? It is not good news. According to almost all data we can find, the larger the delay, the worse the live turnover is. The best way to measure this is by comparing Dota 2 and League of Legends. League of Legends is very well run, and official data is carefully guarded and distributed via a single channel (Bayes). Therefore the public must get its action from the delayed streams. Dota 2 on the other hand, has all of its tournament data made available via a special API that is built inside the game. This API shares data regarding every match ever played. Right now there is an endpoint that negates the delay that is set by the broadcasters and makes a handful of data points available in almost real-time. These data points also happen to be the most important for betting, kill score, gold and buildings for example.

This means that Dota punters can see bits of the match in real-time, but so can bookmakers, so in a way everyone is in a level playing field. This translates to a much higher live to the pre-match betting ratio for Dota. Even though the match is delayed, punters can see odds and the data that powers it together. Punters are therefore more likely to trust the odds and know the state of the game.

For the most part League of Legends has the same delays, but no such real-time information exists, therefore the gap between real-time data and delay broadcast can cause some confusion. Odds don’t quite line up with what you are watching, and it is hard to judge exactly what you are betting on.

Tiering of tournaments and impact of official data etc.

Adding to this is the complexity of regions and tiers. Regions sometimes have specific rules regarding broadcast, some don’t want any delay for a better experience, and some have a mandatory delay set by the government. Add technical and regional latency to this and you have every tournament having a unique set of timestamps from real-time data, to official data, to public broadcasting.

Higher-level tournaments can see organisers afford to have extra admins, multiple encoders for ingesting streams, safeguards etc. However the lower you go, the less likely you are to find such a setup, and the harder it becomes to even understand if there are standards at all.

This is why bookmakers are realising they need to rely on official data sources as Bayes Esports is offering if they wish to lead the way in terms of not just risk but also betting experience. COVID has forever changed the world and I think Online tournaments are here to stay. It is very unlikely that a large portion of tournaments will be played in venues, so having official and guaranteed official data from the source is the only way to guarantee consistency and the highest quality product possible. Even if you could perfectly capture data from a stream, it is always behind broadcast and likely missing data points. The sports industry does not suffer from this as much, as getting a scout to do an unofficial collection of data is not that difficult. For esports, partnerships and direct access is the only way.

Delay and odds vs official data. Betting Engagement and real-time.

It is not a secret that in the last few years, development of esports betting products has fallen short of where it could be. If you think about how esports is inherently digital, and all of the gamification aspects, it should be right up there with pushing the boundaries. But more often than not it is lagging behind and product innovation is limited outside of some exceptions.

The true reasons for this are too complicated to list here, but a big part is data availability. Having fast, quality, official data is key as stated to delivering a quality experience for punters. And for a lot of game titles outside of CSGO, Dota 2 and League of Legends, data is not just difficult, it is practically non-existent. And there is the old scenario of chicken and egg, do you build something if no one is interested. But maybe betting interest is low because there is no official data-driven product in the first place.

Aligning betting experience with sporting integrity and broadcast.

As an industry, esports is moving towards a more centralised and coordinated series of events. And as an industry, we need to do more in terms of safeguarding our players, teams and sporting integrity when it comes to the topic of delays and latency. We need to protect the revenue stream that bookmakers and sponsors bring to the industry, but ensure that the highest level of security measures are put in place.

Players must be monitored and kept in a clean environment away from distraction so they can focus on the game, and not try to find a way around the game mechanics such as the CSGO Coach bug a few months back. Making sure that tournaments have competitive integrity should always be the #1 focus, as this is why people buy tickets and tune in to watch.

At the same time, organisers and publishers should be willing to agree to and set standards across the board which make it easier for audiences and bookmakers to appreciate why broadcasts are delayed but also to what extent. And where possible, push for as many events as possible to have a central location where players can come and play in a monitored environment.

The final piece of the puzzle is for betting companies to ensure the highest levels of security, vetting and protection of their data assets in order to maximise the betting experience for punters, and help esports companies become more self-sustainable.

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