How the pandemic spiked eSports gambling

When the first Space Invaders Championship took place in 1980, it was one of the first of its kind. A competitive tournament between gamers across the globe, over 10,000 players took part.

Very few of these players would have imagined just how huge eSports competitions would become in the following decades. The launch of Major League Gaming (MLG) in 2002, led to a boom in the popularity of competitive gaming, leading to the development of a highly lucrative industry. As eSports has continued to grow in popularity and profitability, we have witnessed the emergence of a flourishing eSports gambling community. 

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 saw a monumental spike in the popularity of eSports gambling, establishing record revenues for the industry and creating a larger community of players. Let’s take a look at the reasons for this spike in eSports gambling and assess what this might tell us about the future of the industry.

Sports Shutdown

Many countries were forced into lockdowns during the pandemic. One of the key consequences of this was that competitive sports competitions came to a complete halt. Some of the most watched sports events across the globe such as the Premier League, UEFA Euro 2020 and multiple Formula 1 Grands Prix were cancelled or postponed. This had huge knock-on effects for the sports betting industry and the community of fans who regularly placed bets on their favourite sports. With around 21% of all football fans in the UK also being part of the football betting community it is clear to see the seismic impact that cancellations have had on the industry.

In contrast, due to its digital nature, eSports was able to carry on during the lockdown period. Major competitions such as the FIFA eClub World Cup and the 2020 League of Legends World Championship both went ahead with fans able to stream the competitions online on platforms such as Twitch. With regular sports competitions canceled, these eSports events provided a new market for punters to try their luck. The result of this was a surge in the popularity of eSports betting.

Acceleration of Digital Industries

The pandemic catalysed the digitalization of nearly every facet of our daily lives. Due to lockdowns and social distancing considerations, societies were forced to implement new methods in order to continue to function as before. We saw the emergence of working-from-home jobs and hybrid workplaces that used Zoom or Teams to operate businesses online. We also saw the rapid incorporation of digital wallets into our everyday lives. One sector in particular, the gambling industry, experienced a monumental shift to more online activities. A huge increase in the development of online casinos was witnessed, providing the gambling community a platform to continue their hobby. A casino would offer a promotion enticing many traditional gamblers to this new format, allowing online casinos and betting platforms to become hugely popular due to the attractiveness of many of these online casino bonuses. This emergence of a digitalized gambling platform went hand in hand with the new-found popularity of eSports. Players could now watch and place bets on sports competitions from their phones, providing an easy way to play when stuck inside their homes.

Development of eSports

The eSports industry itself has continued to evolve at a near exponential rate in recent years with several developments in the industry further boosting its popularity. All the most popular online multiplayer games such as Counter-Strike 2, EA FC 24 and League of Legends now possess established professional leagues and tournaments, backed by huge marketing campaigns and offering substantial financial prizes to those who come out on top. For example, the professional Counter-Strike 2 tournament, the ESL pro league, has a $1,000,000 prize for the winner highlighting the increased financial power of professional eSports. With the development of these leagues comes the establishment of a journalistic community surrounding the game, discussing all aspects from results and tactics to the best-rated players. From this, a snowball effect has been witnessed, seeing major companies such as Coca-Cola and Red Bull sponsoring teams and leagues, and several high-profile celebrities endorsing eSports. eSports have now become key players in the entertainment industry, rivalling traditional sports as well as film and TV. The industry is not just for gamers anymore, it is reaching a far wider audience, no one more so than members of the sports betting community.

Where is eSports gambling now?

While eSports and the eSports gambling industry both experienced a huge spike in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the key question is whether this popularity has waned following the removal of lockdown measures. The simple answer is no, in fact, they have continued to grow both in popularity and in revenue. Many of the reasons for the spike in popularity of eSports during the pandemic, such as the development of digital industries and technological innovations in the market, have continued after restrictions have eased. The pandemic was a catalyst that has enabled these industries to develop much faster. The global eSports betting market is now expected to reach a staggering value of nearly $2.5 billion by 2028.

The rapid growth of the market, however, has resulted in several issues that need to be addressed to ensure a safe and responsible environment for players in the future. The online nature of eSports gambling makes it open to the possibility of fraudulent activities and scams, while there is the ongoing threat of data breaches and attacks from cybercriminals. The development of effective cybersecurity systems will be essential to protect vulnerable players when betting online. Rapid market development has also led to regulatory issues surrounding the operations of eSports betting, with many countries lagging when it comes to suitable legal frameworks to ensure transparent operations. Open discussions between regulators, betting companies and representatives from the betting community will be essential to maintain a safe gambling environment. Looking at the figures, eSports gambling will continue to grow, let’s make sure it grows the right way.

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