ESI Gambling Report: Betting on battle royale

Battle royale is the latest gaming phenomena, what are the odds we'll see sportsbooks offer lines on PUBG, Fortnite or H1Z1 in the near future?

Last-man-standing or battle royale games are the latest trend in the gaming world, and the rise has been explosive, to say the least.

Another emerging sector – growing exponentially faster following the Supreme Court’s decision on PASPA – is esports betting, and the two may be on course to unify in a big way. A $100m (£74m) investment from Epic Games towards Fortnite esports specifically, might expedite this process even more rapidly; consider with us why we foresee battle royale being the next biggest facet of esports gambling in this week’s ESI Gambling Report.

How big is battle royale?

The last-man-standing concept is certainly not new, however it’s a genre that has been brought to life exceptionally in the last few years with profound releases such as H1Z1, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Fortnite being recognised as leaders of the sphere.

It’s important in this discussion to understand the scope of the battle royale genre and how large it is at the moment – while we could just tell you at face value it’s amassing an empire, we gathered some numbers that might help better illustrate its prominence. Back in March, data analysts Newzoo graphed nearly a third of PC gamers were playing a battle royale game in February – PC being the most utilised gaming platform, that’s quite a staggering number. While H1Z1 piqued the initial interest of this format, it was PUBG that hit the ground the fastest, dethroning League of Legends as the most watched game on Twitch in August 2017 – a streak that hadn’t been broken for 34 months. Although that triumph is almost a year old at this point, battle royale hasn’t slowed down a hair since it’s breakthrough into the gaming world, and is rapidly expanding.

Credit: Gamoloco

While we could elaborate with regards to the prevalence of these games today, its relevance in this discussion lies in battle royale’s extreme popularity. PUBG and Fortnite particularly are being adopted by a wider audience that is inclusive of not only serious, competitive gamers but casual players and newcomers alike. The concept of last-man-standing is incredibly easy to understand, so whether you’re playing or spectating, it’s easy to follow along the action (comparatively to more daunting games such as League of Legends or Dota). All of these elements can equate to a very attractive and viable product for bookmakers, and here’s why.

Let’s talk betting

There’s a pretty extensive list of games played professionally, some more popular than the next – bookmakers have identified pro-gaming as a lucrative sector in their line of work and its success is undeniable. Business Insider valued the esports betting market at $900 million in the beginning of 2018, although that number is likely significantly higher after weighing in a sizable unregulated skin gambling market. With such a lengthy list of esports and so much money at stake, some might wonder why bookmakers only offer odds on a select handful of them – this boils down to a few things.

Audience

The battle royale audience is meteoric, to put it simply – while there’s no hard numbers on just how many people are playing the game, Forbes wrote in January the combined number of players between Fortnite and PUBG was floating around 77 million.

Those are dimensions too big to ignore, especially with Twitch viewership of Fortnite and PUBG consistently toppling leading betting suspects such as League of Legends, Dota and CS:GO. The width in audience size is a key component for an esports’ betting prospect as it’ll be able to generate a higher number of bets; many great games are left off the roster due to mediocre viewership – something battle royale has no shortage of.

Credit: Riot Games

Structure

Consistency of tournaments and events is identified as a critical part of a game’s consideration as a feasible betting product; take a look at any of the leading wagered esports – between the collective favourites there’s rarely a gap between matches to put money on. The most recently launched NBA 2K League went straight from commencement to the bookshelves of sportsbooks – a feat we attribute to the tightly organised season, streamlining a circle of games for fans to spectate and bet on weekly.

Markets

In CS:GO, we see additional lines being offered on items such as ‘first AWP kill’ or ‘first bomb plant’ – each of PUBG, Fortnite and H1Z1 all offer distinct elements that bettors could in theory be wagered on. Kill counts, over/under in finishes, and even potential for proposition bets based on the unpredictable and quirky nature of battle royale games.

PUBG creator Brandon Greene went as far as comparing the essence of battle royale to a game of poker in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Sometimes, you’re dealt an awful hand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it to the final table.” The depth of an esports’ betting market can invoke a more complete-feeling menu to punters, providing them the ability to wager on more than just one aspect of the match.

The state of competitive battle royale

The H1Z1 Pro League was the first of the battle royale gang to make the leap into an organised competitive gaming class – despite H1Z1 being meagre in comparison to the rest of the band (losing over 90% of its fan base to PUBG and Fortnite), the league is priming the genre for its introduction into the galaxy.

ESL has been hosting periodic PUBG tournaments since last year, while the matches aren’t as routine as fixed leagues such as Blizzard’s Overwatch League or the 2K League – getting the genre’s feet wet in an authentic competitive atmosphere is a good start.

While Fortnite trails in the dash to competitive stardom, we’ve seen some telling movements that are pointing towards a fiery esports outset, when things inevitably get underway. Epic Games’ aforementioned $100m contribution towards competitive Fortnite prize pools sent a tremor across the pro-gaming community; while a competitive Fortnite stage has been on the minds of their more serious player-base for awhile now, the investment should punch the throttle on the process. Massive esports organisations such as Team SoloMid, Team Secret, FaZe Clan and Team Envy have already started signing players onto Fortnite teams in anticipation as well.

Betting on battle royale

Battle royale betting isn’t an untouched market, esports betting platform GG.bet were the first recorded bookmakers to offer lines on PUBG in 2017 – an effort that coincided with PUBG’s debut esports tournament, the Gamescon Invitational.

The sportsbook initially allowed bettors to wager on streamer’s kill counts among other markets – however, offering spreads outside of organised events isn’t a practical, or reliable option for bookmakers. Affiliate Partnership Manager at GG.bet, Damir Dedic, gave gambling news and analysis publication, The Lines, his insight on its prospective success: “If big event organizers and viewers will turn up, then PUBG can become a huge betting market”.

Fortnite hasn’t seen the limelight on sportsbooks quite yet with its current tournament deficiency – although smaller online contests have been filling the cavity in the meantime. Competitive esports facilitator UMG is just one of a handful of companies hosting online Fortnite tournaments for cash prizes – UMG’s weekly competition ‘Friday Fortnite’ has gained quite a bit of traction recently. While this is a stretch from bookmakers picking up battle royale comprehensively, it identifies a deep yearning for a competitive league.

Overall, there appears to be a myriad of similarities between battle royale games and those esports which lead in the volume of wagers. In speculating battle royale’s prospective betting outlook, one stand-out quality is how H1Z1 and PUBG have assumed a skin gambling trade of their own, mirroring the rampant virtual cosmetic currency Steam has been under fire for due to its shoddy legality.

Steam has cashed in heavily as an upshot of the skin gambling market, including tradable skins in PUBG seems like the profitable move – regardless, the parallel between a favorable betting esport and battle royale is eye-opening.

While you may be able to find select lines on any of the battle royale bunch, an unabridged betting menu likely won’t exist until a structured league is introduced. While H1Z1 Pro League is on its way to that, it still remains the most minuscule of the group in audience size, placing a dampener on its betting likelihood. There’s no telling when we’ll see battle royale start populating bookmakers pages – however, the eagerness among community and publishers for a more organised professional arena to compete in is promising in hopes of sportsbooks beginning to embrace its presence.