A new report from Eilers Research projects that the esports betting market is a huge potential growth industry, with estimates of total wagering exceeding $20 billion within five years.
The report, available via Eilers’ website, is called “eSports Betting: It’s Real, and Bigger Than You Think.”
Esports betting, under the radar, until now
Eilers Senior Consultant Chris Grove talks about the esports betting industry, and why it’s suddenly prepared to come into its own:
“While much has been written about esports’ cultural and economic explosion, little has been written about the nascent industry surrounding fan wagering on eSports. eSports betting has remained under the radar due to low visibility into the financial performance of the product and a mainstream blind spot regarding the very existence of such activity. Both forces are starting to subside.”
The takeaway from the research? There are a confluence of factors that mean the eSports betting market could take off, and in very short order. More from Grove:
“Our high-level conclusion: eSports is an extremely hospitable environment (technologically, logistically, culturally and demographically) for real-money online wagering. Penetration of eSports betting into the gamer community and general growth of eSports betting has each been dampened to date by structural barriers that are now weakening. Concurrently, eSports betting is beginning to benefit from tailwinds generated by positive macro trends for both eSports and the broader online gambling industry.”
Different vehicles for eSports betting
There is already a vibrant market for capturing eSports wagering. There are currently a number of different platforms for eSports bettors to be acquired, as the Eilers research notes:
- Traditional sports books that take eSports wagers
- eSports betting-only websites
- Fantasy eSports (which currently is considered legal and is not regulated in most of the United States)
- Game-mediated betting (based on in-game items)
Three startups this year — AlphaDraft and Vulcun in fantasy eSports, and Unikrn in sports betting — have raised nearly $30 million in investments. Clearly, venture capitalists believe in the market, which is one reason for a bullish outlook on the eSports betting industry.
The last of those — game-mediated betting — is a huge market, but is not included in Eilers’ analysis.
While customer acquisition could be looked at as something that could slow the growth of eSports betting, the cost of acquiring customers should be fairly low, for a variety of reasons, according to the Eilers report.
By the numbers, on eSports bettors
Already, there has been considerable momentum behind esports betting. Eilers estimates that there are more than 2 million paid actives between eSports betting and fantasy eSports, with that number set to experience 10x growth.
But there’s also plenty of data out there that lends itself to believing that the growth in the Eilers report is sustainable. The reasons are at least threefold.
First, there’s a solid and growing legion of eSports viewers, providing a huge prospective pool of bettors:
- There are more than 200 million people who watch or play eSports, a number that is only going to rise.
- In 2014, there were 89 million “frequent viewers” of eSports that consumed 3.7 billion minutes of media.
- Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard: “From our perspective, if you look at just spectating hours on our franchises, over the last 12 months, spectator hours have jumped to roughly 1.5 billion hours. And we expect that we’re really in the first inning of eSports opportunities.”
- The CEO of a media company told Fortune: “There are now almost as many gamers in the world as traditional sports fans, and eSports is set to become bigger than ice hockey during 2015.”
- By 2017, there will be nearly as many esports fans as there are NFL fans.
- Viewers of the top esports finals already eclipse most major sports:
Then, there is the consideration that eSports viewers and players have money to spend:
- League of Legends, the current biggest eSport on the planet, generated $1 billion in 2014 via microtransactions.
- The average U.S. eSports viewer spends $200 a month on games, in-game purchases and peripherals.
- What the average esports enthusiast looks like in the U.S., per Eilers.
There are also a solid number of those viewers and players who are already betting. Consider:
- Pinnacle, the leader among traditional sportsbooks in the esports category, has taken over a million eSports bets in its history.
- Unikrn, the eSports-only wagering site, believes it will double the number of eSports enthusiasts it has access to through its Pinion platform from 10 million in the next year or so.
- Vulcun has increased its prize pool for this year from $250,000 to $10 million in the course of about six months.
Not without risk
The prospects for eSports betting, as good as it looks from a lot of angles, are not guaranteed.
Eilers sums up some of the circumstances that could crop up that would stunt eSports betting’s growth:
Realizing the eSports betting opportunity requires successful navigation through a number of existential threats. Game integrity is the most obvious and compelling of those threats. The early-stage nature of eSports invites corruption […] We also note that an answer to the open question of how gambling regulators will ultimately approach eSports betting could have profound implications on the market’s potential.
Still, even with potential problems at every corner, the eSports betting market might be a huge portion of the online sports betting sector before the end of the decade. And that would be amazing growth, considering the market didn’t even really exist at the start of the decade.