The 2016 G2E Gaming conference addressed a number of interesting gaming and casino topics and hosted an extensive exhibit venue. However, it was clear from the attendance at various events that eSports was the hot topic with eSports events well attended.
For the traditional gambling crowd eSports is an enigma because it does not involve traditional gaming content such as slots, table games, lottery, etc. It also crisscrosses the line between sportsbook wagering, skill gaming, online gaming, console gaming and on-premise gaming making it difficult to categorize from a traditional regulatory perspective. eSports also attracts a "younger" demographic relative to what land based casinos currently attract. The 20 something crowd being the dominant group engaging in the activity. This is a distinctly different demographic from traditional sportsbook punters. One noted concern is that many eSports players are under the age of 18. It is not clear how this will all play out from a land based casino perspective. This may also be reason why some eSports events in Las Vegas are not being held in the casinos.
Games such as Counterstrike, League Of Legends and Dota, to name a few, are games that are popular eSports games. These games have moved beyond the standalone console to a connected online venue that allows thousands of players to engage in heated competitions. Game competition culminates in an ultimate showdown between top players. These showdowns are well suited for on premise engagement. These are the events that Vegas wants to tap into. Gaming enthusiasts, casual spectators and sports wagers/punters want to wager on the outcome of these games and the top players. Vegas is and wants to take wagers on these competitions.
It was interesting to see how receptive Vegas regulators are to the idea of hosted eSports tournaments in Vegas. It is also interesting to note that there is not more concern over who is playing these games. Can a 15 year old play a game that has bets being placed on the outcome? The traditional sportsbook operators are also all in on this form of wagering with the likes of William Hill and others already taking bets on out comes.
Clearly, eSports is very attractive to land based gaming operators as it attracts a younger audience relative to its current customer base. eSports reverses a trend of aging gamblers in casinos . It also exposes the gen x, y and z audience to a land based gaming experience. Land based gaming operators are demonstrating that they are keen to engage with this audience to stay relevant and to grow their businesses.
eSports wagering is in the billions already. This is obviously a phenomena that has a life of its own. It has been embarrassed worldwide with Asia, North America and Europe already fully engaged with 50 million USD paid out in 2015 in association with eSports.
The ultimate questions is this a true "sport" and if so can someone wager on a juvenile's game play. Certainly eSports is a long time coming and represents a convergence, of machine computing, gaming, sport, on premise events and worldwide web competitions. Overall, it is an exciting phenomena that will be hard for regulators to fully harness. However, for now they do not seem to be concerned. The amount of wagering, the demographics, technology and an obvious desire to engage a younger audience in a traditional wagering context is just too tempting to not look the other way. Finally, land based gambling operators, and especially the Vegas and Atlantic City operators have a growth strategy and they are "all in".
Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane and FitCentrix, Inc. Kevin spent time at the Machine/Learning Lab at MIT as a technology transfer fellow engaged in model based reasoning, case based reasoning and rule based systems to enhance diagnostics systems. He created a company called AI Squared as a result of that research. Kevin has worked for and with US land based casino operators helping them evaluate social casino and iGaming platforms for the purpose of joint ventures and acquisitions in addition to launching online gambling operations in Europe. Gameinlane is also startup "friendly" understanding the unique value new gaming companies bring to the marketplace. Kevin frequently speaks at gaming conferences around the world providing him with a unique perspective on this very interesting business sector. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and or twitter at @kflow1776.