Editor’s Note: This is part 1 in a three-part series focused on changing trends in the casino gaming industry. Part 2 focuses on socialization inside the casino, skill-based gaming, and selling experiences as opposed to offering traditional gambling. Part 3 focuses on new technologies and changing business models.
eSports is the hottest new trend in video games and casinos are acutely aware of that fact. Many in the gambling industry are looking to it as a potential lure for the highly desired millennial demographic – but ideas on how to make use of it or implement it in casinos are varied.
GiGse 2016, one of the premier educational and networking events for the casino industry, dove deeply into esports at their recent conference in San Francisco. With multiple lectures devoted to the topic, attendees walked away with a new understanding on the esports environment, players and spectators.
A True Sport
Being such a new area of gaming, and one that typically appeals to younger generations than the casino industry deals with, it’s no surprise that there isn’t much familiarity with esports in the business. Some have even gone as far as to question whether esports deserves the title of “sport.” Throughout GiGse, multiple speakers detailed not only why esports deserves its name – but also the significant change in consumer culture that the rise of esports signifies.
Chris Kluwe, a former NFL player who has played for teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and Minnasota Vikings, explained the similar time investment and training regimens that both traditional sports players and esports players commit to. Rahul Sood, CEO of esports wagering service Unikrn, noted that esports sell out stadiums and cities have even renamed streets in honor of esports players. Additionally, Rahul said, the NBA itself is investing heavily in esports – going so far as to predict that within three years every NBA franchise would have an esports team and hold esports events.
Rahul also shot down the idea that gamers are antisocial nerds living in their parents’ basement – and therefore a demographic casinos can’t cash in on. “These people are very social. They love going to events – the larger events are taking up stadiums. They recently sold out Madison Square Garden. In 10 years, most people in the developed world will be a gamer. Whether you like it or not, or understand it or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s happening.”
Merging Casino and eSports
Even if esports players and viewers are an increasingly profitable demographic, how can casinos get in on the action? Ideas on this front were varied. Some suggested getting into the esports business itself by sponsoring or owning teams. Others suggested getting a piece of the action by going into esports betting. Casino floors were also mentioned as a potential stage for esports tournaments.
Senior Vice President of Spectrum Gaming Adam Steinberg noted that, in terms of reach alone, partnering with esports teams could be beneficial. Explaining that millennials get the bulk of their information from social media, Adam said “the smallest amount of Twitter followers (for esports teams) is Evil Geniuses at 255,000. Optic Gaming has 1.3 million followers. For the leading casino companies, Penn National has 118 Twitter followers and MGM has 36,000.”
There was a word of caution about mixing the different ideas though, with speakers pointing out that it would be unseemly to be both a team sponsor or tournament host while also taking part in esports betting. Transparency in general was stressed when the topic of esports betting was discussed.
While many speakers noted the importance of esports to the casino industry, they also admitted there are problems still to be resolved in esports. Rahul noted that esports can be a sexist and brutal environment – even though women make up a chunk of esports players and spectators.
There is also the question of how esports teams, competitions and seasons should be structured – something those in the industry are still trying to figure out. Chris suggested setting up different seasons focused on specific game genres with different teams, under the same banner, tackling each season. This, he said, would help both players and viewers avoid fatigue from prolonged seasons – as well as draw in a wider variety of spectators.
Another looming problem for esports is the fact that games go obsolete. “The rules of football, the rules of soccer are pretty much the same as they were 100 years ago,” Chris noted. “No one knows what the gaming scene is going to look like as technology keeps advancing. In order to protect against that, we need to ensure that the (esports) structure we build has room not just for the games of today but for what those games are going to evolve into tomorrow – because they are going to change and peoples’ interests are going to change.”
Despite the problems though, Rahul suggested casinos get familiar with the esports space and prepare to implement it into their business – or risk becoming obsolete. “There are industries that are sort of dying and they try to protect themselves by sticking with the traditional view of what things are versus where things are going. In 10 years, many traditional sports will be displaced by esports, so either embrace it or you go the way of The Walking Dead.”