First Movers Will Unlock Italy’s eSports Betting Growth by Oliver Niner, Head of Sales at PandaScore

With esports betting legalised amongst sweeping regulatory changes back in 2016, Italy remains an under-utilised market. If Italians want to bet on esports they'll go to overseas operators to bet on the teams and competitions they care about.

Obviously one of the big steps in firing up an Italian venture is the amount an operator needs to pony up to get started. A 7-digit entry fee to operate is certainly no small amount, but at present the Italian market is a closed shop. We’ve seen similar closed-shop situations in the US, specifically New Jersey. As an early adopter of sports betting in the US, once you’re in there is plenty of room to grow.

Building a dominant Italian esports betting brand
Oliver Niner, Head of Sales, Pandascore

The biggest Italian betting brands – the likes of Sisal, Lottomatica, Snai & more – already offer excellent products for sports betting.

These market leaders benefit from strong positions in a difficult to enter market, with regulators insist on a high level of investment to get started and limited licences up for grabs. This means that their main opposition comes from overseas bookmakers buying licences.

In a closed-shop environment such as Italy, the dominant bookmakers who have built a well-established sports product are in a fantastic position to adopt esports and drive the flourishing Italian market. And fortunately, they’ve already got some experience in building what esports punters want.

The ban on advertising from gambling-related brands in 2019 meant that many of the traditional channels that operators engaged with punters had to change. This legislation, combined with the curveball of the pandemic has “enforced evolution” on operators to change their marketing and engagement strategies.

Operators have built out their very own sports media arms, providing content and customer-centric connections with betting audiences. The Bettson-owned StarCasinò.sport partnered with Napoli, Inter and AC Milan to create digital and social-focused content that allowed fans to keep engaged with their favourite clubs, even throughout the closure of the sports last year.

First movers will unlock Italy’s esports betting growth 2 We’ve seen similar initiatives undertaken by the likes of Betway in the esports scene already, most recently culminating in the Battle of Betway Counter-Strike tournament.

This kind of content creation is incredibly familiar to esports audiences and a staple across the whole esports industry. It’s a commonly used, successful tool to build brand recognition and affinity in the space and around esports more broadly.

Considering the partnership costs for an esports organisation compared to a global football brand are lower, there is a fantastic opportunity for an operator to invest in esports in Italy with content by and for Italian fans and punters alike.

With plenty of experience over the last 2 years building out sports media arms, it’s time for operators to embrace the new sports media engine that is esports.

Challenges to overcome

There are of course some challenges that come to offering esports in the Italian market.

The biggest is the ability to bet on popular shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: you can’t as it’s currently restricted by the regulator.

Despite this, there are still strong followings for other games. In most Western markets League of Legends is the second-highest revenue generator for operators. Italy features its very own domestic LoL competition, the PG Nationals which serves as a pathway to the European Masters – where the best Tier-2 teams across Europe compete.

Rocket League is another popular game in Italy and a common 4th esports betting vertical for many bookmakers, Valorant has experienced a meteoric rise potentially filling the gap left by Counter-Strike’s absence and FIFA esports has a strong presence thanks to partnerships and investment from top-flight football clubs.

What are the green shoots?

While arguably having a more low-profile esports scene than some other nations in Europe, esports in Italy has already built a thriving culture. Italy boasts Team QLASH who are partnered with AC Milan, League of Legends midlaner Daniele ‘Jiizuke’ di Mauro, Rocket League players Ario ‘Arju’ Berdin and Lorenzo ‘DeadMonster’ Tongiorgi, a competitive national Valorant squad and more amongst its ranks.

First movers will unlock Italy’s esports betting growth 3 There’s also buy-in from sports and big brands. Serie A football clubs have banded together to create an officially sanctioned FIFA competition and AS Roma are partnered with legacy esports organisation Fnatic. Lamborghini has sponsored official Rocket League events, and bodies like the IIDEA are pushing to continue developing the scene.

Italian operators already have plenty of experience in the kind of customer engagement that is essential to a successful esports betting vertical. Building out media arms and partnering with football clubs is the kind of activity that esports fans expect.

With a few notches in the belt already and a relatively closed shop, Italian operators are poised to make the first move and capture the rising tide of esports betting in their domestic market.

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