When it comes to innovation, technical expertise, and market knowledge, few individuals can claim to understand the esports industry and esports betting more insightfully than Unikrn CEO Rahul Sood. From playing a prominent role in developing the Unikrn brand and betting site, to its pioneering Unikrn Gold cryptocurrency service and incredible UMode betting service, Rahul Sood has played an integral role in establishing Unikrn, not just as a market leader for next-gen esports betting, but as an industry expert.
With the esports betting industry having undergone something of a boom time during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and with Unikrn also expanding its range of services in recent times with a number of exciting innovations, we had a number of questions to put to Mr. Sood in an exclusive interview.
The interview touches on many different topics, including the role of esports and betting in a post-COVID-19 world, the possibility of further expansion of the esports industry in the United States, the difference between esports bettors and traditional sports bettors, the role of cryptocurrency in the future of esports betting and much more.
Here is the full transcription of the interview, posing our questions and Rahul Sood (RS) providing the answers. We are sure you will find this exchange as enlightening as we did.
ESB – What do you think the future holds for esports in an era post COVID-19? Will esports go back to be exclusively a niche area as traditional sports punters will return to standard sports betting?
RS – During COVID-19, hundreds of millions of adults who had put video games back on the shelf are being forced to stay home, and they’re rediscovering the joy of gaming. Casual gamers are becoming more regular, and regular gamers are watching more Twitch & esports content.
But the fact is that upcoming generations will be esports fans, we’ve seen this trend for years. What COVID-19 did is increase the rate that esports interest permeates older populations, people in their late 30s and older.
With or without COVID-19, in 10 years, you’d want to have been the company that looked forward and worked with esports experts such as Unikrn, not the company that failed to see this investment and growth opportunity on the horizon. COVID-19 has given operators a glimpse of that future, and hopefully will wake up some operators to the reality that esports are here to stay.
ESB – Why is it important to differentiate the betting offers for gamers & esports enthusiasts, rather than just offering traditional betting markets as it happens with most traditional sportsbooks and sports?
RS – Watching gamers and playing games are related, but different, activities. We understand the culture because we’re from that culture, and that’s why we offer heaps of specialized experiences for any type of gamer or gaming fans. We believe Unikrn’s competitors don’t do this because they frankly do not understand the culture, or are not ready to make the investments required to make these diverse offerings.
Unikrn has put lots of effort and funding into R&D because gamers have been ignored in the wagering space for too long. All this effort won Unikrn EGR’s Esportsbook of the Year 2019 award and was nominated for Wagering Innovation of the Year 2020, which we expect to win. We have fistfuls of patent-pending technologies.
ESB – On EsportsBets.com, a number of our readers are also quite interested in cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin trends. As a gaming generation, most of us grew up using in-game virtual currencies, like gold in World of Warcraft or the more recent VBucks from Fortnite; therefore we’re used to consider digital currencies as something extremely common.
RS – Unikoin Gold has given Unikrn the ability to leverage blockchain for practical, real-world applications. Unlike other cryptocurrencies, UKG was built on a platform that already had real-world usage, and was offered as a practical utility token.
To accept payments in fiat cash, we need to run those payments through a payment processor, who has to interact with multiple banks, countries, and languages, convert the value of the cash into a currency we can accept, send that value to our bank. We then need to be able to create a complex auditing system to manage all of these transactions from around the world to prevent money laundering and other abuses.
It all adds up to a lot of expenses. Partnership expenses, transaction fees, labor costs, infrastructure costs. When using UKG, anybody from anywhere Unikrn operates can deposit instantaneously, and our systems automatically create a full ledger of every interaction. The regulators who oversee our betting license love this system because it’s clean and accurate to audit.
All of this means faster deposits and withdrawals with fewer transaction costs. With the money we save from this and other advantages, Unikrn can offer better odds for UKG users as well as provide UKG rewards for frequent visitors and gamers in general.
That’s just one of the myriad benefits UKG provides our users.
ESB – What are your considerations in relation to esports betting and sports betting regulations and laws in the US? With the large presence of esports teams, organizations, and fans in North America, is this the most sought-after market for an esports operator like Unikrn?
RS – Right now, most legal-aged residents in the USA are able to legally bet on Unikrn, but only for skill games. That means you could bet on yourself to come top 10 in Fortnite, or bet on yourself to win a game of League of Legends. There are lots of options available.
I’m optimistic that more US states will begin to see betting in general and esports betting in particular as beneficial. Regulating a betting market gives inclined people a safer, responsible, and monitored way to have fun from the safety of home.
Frankly, sports betting is much safer than telling people they can bet on the stock market, which is what we are seeing now. This has trickle-on effects for the rest of the economy and is much riskier than betting on fair odds provided by regulated operators.
ESB – There’s a worldwide misconception indicating that most ‘esports enthusiasts’ are usually minors / under-aged, and this, of course, causes some tremendous drawbacks when it comes to esports gambling, loot boxes, and real-money bet games. Our data shows that in reality the largest group of our users are between 26-35, not even 18-25. We consider ourselves “too old to play”, and “too disinterested from football or horse racing” to see those as alternatives; hence we turn to esports and esports betting.
Why do you think there’s this misconception and what can operators and providers do in order to mitigate it and make sure to attract the right audience?
RS – Many operators are led by old men who, frankly, haven’t understood youth culture for decades, which means they don’t know what defined the current generation of wagering adults.
The thirty-year-olds today grew up with online multiplayer. Forty-year olds grew up with home consoles. Even fifty-year olds were defined by video games in arcades. The wide majority of people in America had some form of video games normalized from the time they were a child.
Five years ago, the video game industry was already worth more than the movie industry and the music industry combined. Wagering has doubled in size in under a decade.
These are well-established cultural touchpoints. The first operators who wake up and start asking for help from experts in this space are going to be the operators best positioned for 2030. Those who don’t will become the Blockbuster Videos of the gambling world.
Unikrn is creating the playbook for the next generation of wagering. We’re also ready to partner with wagering companies who want to build the best esports offerings possible.
ESB – We read that in your free time, you sometimes tune in to Ninja Mixer. Do you have any comments regarding the recent announcement that Mixer will close down and merge with Facebook Gaming? Also, how important are streamers in the Esports ecosystem?
RS – Streamers are a middle ground between esports and gaming, and in some cases they’re a gateway to make people comfortable with the idea of competitive play. I love watching streamers, and Unikrn actually offers real-time odds for streamers because we do recognize them as a vital part of the gaming/esports ecosystem.
As far as Microsoft’s announcement to shut down Mixer, I actually introduced that company to them when they were a start-up – and Microsoft acquired them shortly after — so I’m a little saddened by the decision. Although I can’t say I’m surprised by the move, the investments required to attract top talent is insane – and Twitch is an absolute monster.
ESB – For anyone willing to get into esports betting, why should they consider Unikrn rather than other traditional sportsbooks which have a main focus on sports betting?
RS – Unikrn was the first bookmaker built first-and-foremost for esports. We were awarded Esports Bookmaker of the Year every year since we began operating with our own license. We offer award-nominated innovations which includes a 24/7 stream of the world’s largest private collection of competitive matches featuring all-star pro players such as Justin Wong.
Unikrn also cares about and directly supports the esports ecosystem, founding multiple teams and events designed to help rising players get an opportunity to improve. We’re a founding member of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC).
No other bookmaker offers the diversity that is available at Unikrn across esports, gaming, traditional sports and casino, plus we have industry-leading deposit offers so you know you’re getting the best deal to try it out.
ESB – Some bettors report Unikrn Esportsbook to be “too complex” of a service compared to more simplistic betting providers. How can Unikrn attract these individuals?
RS – They’re right, we’ve recently redesigned a lot of our website and interface to address issues. If a newer bettor wants to come in and bet on the top line for a match, he can do so from one screen in just a few clicks. The depth we offer isn’t a necessity for using Unikrn, it’s a bonus so that advanced and experienced bettors always have something new to enjoy.
However, critique is good and we’re continuing to make Unikrn as easy as possible to use for bettors of any level of experience.
ESB – If you had to summarize in one sentence the value and mission of Unikrn, in contrast with other bookmakers, what would it be?
RS – Unikrn is creating the future of wagering entertainment: We take games that people love to play or watch and make them interesting by adding a competitive wagering layer on top — we heighten the experience for those who love to play and or watch video games, and then we add sports to the mix.
This contrasts to traditional wagering operators who are still struggling to build quality skill-based wagering experiences on games that people are unfamiliar with, like skill-based slot machines – they aren’t fun at all. Trust me when I say, a Fortnite fan today isn’t all of the sudden going to play Buffalo in a casino when he or she turns 50. It just won’t happen.
ESB – What’s your personal opinion on new emerging or ‘dying’ esports titles? For example, all the current hype for Valorant, and so many speculations about ‘Overwatch is dying’?
RS – Nobody owns football. Nobody needs to pay to keep football servers online and to update football balance patches…. although the XFL may shut down because it’s a financial failure.
Esports titles will wax and wane in popularity. Sometimes support will be pulled. It’s a natural part of the life cycle of games. I don’t believe a game is dead unless its developer has pulled support entirely. Just look at Artifact: years after launch, Valve is working to revive it. Whether or not they’re successful, the team is invested in its success despite the fact that it dipped to single-digit players at some points.
What makes an esport title popular?
- The game has to be incredibly fun and ever changing
- The game builds its own community and fanbase organically
- The game is fun to watch, and the spectator experience is equally as fun as watching the game.
No amount of marketing will help a dud game. What is important is if you like playing a game, play it. If you like watching a game, watch it. If you want the best, most exciting experience possible, then bet on it with Unikrn.
Cover Photo Credits: Roman Kosolapov / Shutterstock.com