ESI Gambling Report: Can franchising help to commercialise esports betting?

16 February 2018


In this week’s edition of the ESI Gambling Report, we take a comprehensive look into the future of franchise esports and how it can drive gambling to higher altitudes, specifically in Blizzard’s Overwatch League.

Franchising rebirths esports structure

The biggest story of 2017 in esports was undoubtedly the introduction of franchising. Although heavily debated at first, our first glimpse of franchised gaming leagues such as the NA LCS and Overwatch League exhibited its proof of concept. Franchising promises longevity and a sustainable ecosystem for esports to snowball in, providing a structure professional gaming was formerly unequipped with.

In the case of the Overwatch League (OWL), its approach to franchising came in the form of localised teams such as the Florida Mayhem, New York Excelsior, and London Spitfire to name a few. Geo-based teams began to include more people in the pro-gaming conversation by placing them in the peripherals of those teetering on the edge of esport interest, in a sense commercialising it. The OWL’s launch saw hordes of people congregating at viewing parties in homes, pubs, and public parks to view matches. And while viewership has dropped off slightly since its launch, the assembly marked a moment in esports as it began resembling a similar camaraderie we see in traditional sporting events.

Credit: @Twitter- @OutlawsOW

As esports continue to grow exponentially, betting on it is starting to flourish hand-in-hand right alongside it. Many sports enthusiasts who have experience in betting or gambling can attest that the biggest entertainment surrounding the sport are fantasy and betting on match outcomes. Not only has betting infiltrated esports in this capacity, it has evolved into a market worth around $900 million (£638,010,000), according to Business Insider. With esports constantly achieving a more mainstream status, its popularity offers a colossal joint advantage for the leagues and gambling precinct.

Welcomes novices

Localised teams in the OWL are inviting for those new to the esport, drawing a new wave of followers into the competitive gaming sphere. A main ingredient of the OWL’s success was Blizzard’s marketing brilliance (and expenditure) when rolling out the league, peaking a global interest. Adam Savinson, Head of Esports at Betway, told Esports Insider:

“The recent creation of the Overwatch League is an extremely exciting development for the esports betting industry. The marketing that the OWL has put out in the last few months has been unrivaled, and unsurprisingly we saw a significant boost in interest for Overwatch betting markets as soon as the league began.”

He concluded: “I’m very excited to see whether the interest in [the] OWL continues to grow and betting alongside it.”

A percentage of these novices will eventually turn to betting as a form of enhancing their viewing experience. Let’s be honest, a game is much more gripping and dramatic when there’s money on the line, and if done sensibly it’s also unreservedly fun. Betting on esports invests more of the spectator into the game- accentuating every play, kill and win. Wagering in this sense, imbues fans to become more involved in its leagues while generating a sea of newcomers more likely to turn into long-term followers. It’s a win-win for the fans, bookmakers and leagues.

Experienced bettors

On the other side of the betting coin, the OWL offers significant advantages for those individuals already versed in the esport betting market as well as bookmakers. The anatomy of the OWL provides a sense of legitimacy in the shape of its investors, broadcasts, distribution and regulation giving it a more consistent and stable feel. Factoring things such as the reported lofty $20 million plus (£14,164,000) buy-in for franchises, there exists a level of comfort that teams will not disappear as we’ve previously seen in other professional gaming leagues.

Credit: Overwatch League

The final product delivered to those OWL viewers at home (and even those watching live in the Blizzard Arena) is fetching, to say the least. Streams deliver on providing crucial insights of players, stats, match-ups, and post-game analysis accommodating educated wagers. The OWL goes beyond this by frequently airing interviews with players before matches that can indicate a team’s confidence or there lack of, playing a weighty role in deciding whether to risk or not.

While there are countless outlets providing information for fantasy sports news, esports betting outlooks are sprouting at a mammoth rate. The growth of the OWL and other franchised leagues will drive the demand of pre- and post-game shows, expanding viewership and engagement. Maintaining this velocity, the OWL can become conventional enough to attract avid bettors who are non-gamers looking to get in on the action. In short, the limelight offered by franchising can help pocket new bettors entering the orbit, before others.