ESI Gambling Report: Bookmakers are going all-in on esports partnerships

Gambling sponsorships are becoming more and more prominent in esports, how much skin will they ultimately have in the game and how will they achieve it?

The attractiveness of esports has reeled in brands from all walks of life to get in on the competitive gaming world – one industry that has grabbed esports by the horns and embraced the ‘new age sport‘ more than anyone else are bookmakers.

We’re continuously seeing bookmakers seize more and more opportunities where they can conjoin efforts that coincide with their esports division; publishers, developers, leagues, events and content creators are all apart of this budding algorithm. Here we take a look at how the two are capturing the flag together in this week’s ESI Gambling Report.

Treading lightly

Gambling can be murky territory, hoards of unregulated bookmakers and illegitimate operations such as skin betting have left a stain on the industry. Couple this with general connotations of gambling being linked to financial hardship and addiction and you’ve got a poor first impression to overcome. In short, it’s reasonable that teams, brands, and publishers are hesitant to partner with sportsbooks – with the unprecedented nature of esports though, bookmakers are looking to form a strong and sustainable relationship out the gates, but in doing so they must approach the product carefully.

Match integrity is a focal point of this conversation, and without this being on target in esports, publishers will continue to dismiss any association with gambling – especially with a handful of incidents in the past, there are groups that are rightfully sheepish to roll the dice on openly welcoming betting. 

Steven Salz, Rivalry.gg

Chief Operating Officer of Rivalry.gg, Steven Salz touched on the issue for us saying: “We believe integrity is crucial to having sustainability in the growth of esports betting as any incident of match-throwing or suspicion sets the industry back. Integrity in the matches, and thus trust from the consumer in the the integrity of the betting lines allows the industry to flourish.”

Given the typical level of involvement from publishers in pro leagues though, Steven also acknowledged how they could be a liaison for stronger integrity in esports: “Nobody has better data than the publisher, who in esports often operates or controls the league. So not unlike traditional sports leagues who provide data feeds to bookmakers, it would be great to see increasing cooperation from the publisher and developers on doing the same in esports. Strengthening the integrity and professionalization of their pro scenes benefits everybody.”

Advertising the right way in esports

Being esports are still so young in the grand scheme of things, it’s important to nurture the bond between that and betting in a delicate way as the two grow systematically; Steven expanded by saying: “Grassroots efforts are often well received by the community. So beyond Tier 1 teams and major leagues, supporting small content creators, whether that be streamers, journalists, small businesses, are great! You want the community to know you are in it for more than just a buck, and that you want to support the growth of the industry which is still very young and just finding its legs.” Advertising dollars can go a long way in esports if packaged correctly, betting sponsors aside; rather than just throwing money at the cybersport though, sportsbooks are tapping into the fun essence inclusive in gaming and interjecting themselves directly into that mix.

Content is king

Beyond slapping a logo on a stream or jersey, bookmakers are doubling down on efforts by creating exclusive content of all kinds alongside partnership deals; there’s no shortage of variety here either, just take a look at Betway’s YouTube page if you don’t believe us. Recognised as a market leader in esports betting, any report on collaboration between the two spaces would be incomplete without mentioning the outreach of Betway.

The established gambling company has added an additional layer of legitimacy to esports through its presence; inking partnership deals with Ninjas in Pyjamas and just last month adding Brazilian CS:GO troop, MIBR, to that roster.

Betway announces sponsorship with MIBR

From star players breaking down their most infamous plays to tours of the NiP gaming house, the exclusivity of material able to be harvested from deals with teams and organisations is a lofty reward for those that can execute it right. Content creators of all magnitudes can have an impact on the way bookmakers and esports intermix – journalists, tipsters, and streamers can all have a decent amount of pull when it comes to garnering interest from gambling companies. Again, it’s imperative to advance these efforts clean and honestly, as we’ve seen in the past, shady business is quickly sniffed out and continues to tarnish the industry.

Betting on teams

Esports organisations are a huge outlet for getting the brand name out there, and naturally, brands that sponsor teams aspire to see photographs of their squad lifting silverware at a major event – just like GG.bet happily swaggered following Natus Vincere’s ESL One Cologne title win. Is there a better crest for the dark horse who upset one of the biggest CS:GO stages of all time to wear across their jersey? We couldn’t think of one.

Credit: Dexerto

Historically, stitching a logo onto a team’s kit has always been a good source of air-time for a brand, betting companies have traditionally been prevalent in sports such as soccer (football) and now a handful of esports organisations as well. The better a team performs, the better the brands associated with them appear – partnering with a team can, in essence, be as much of a gamble as betting is, but when organisations strike gold so to speak (like the situation with Na’Vi in Cologne), the reward is sugary.

Sponsoring major events

Speaking of ESL One Cologne, if you happened to stream any of the action you may have observed the large Betway banner sitting in the lower-third; this is credited to a brilliant sponsorship deal with ESL – in which the company plans to sponsor more events in the upcoming year. Partnering with tournaments and leagues is another great avenue for sportsbooks to further integrate their presence. Despite being a younger sportsbook, Rivalry has made a sea of intelligent decisions in their quest in becoming a major player in the esports betting scape – one of those movements being the hosting of their Rivalry CIS Invitational CS:GO tournament. If you question the benefit of a bookmaker sponsoring an esports event, imagine a punter watching an event and catching air of gambler’s luck – where would you assume they are turning to first to place a bet?

PASPA opening doors in North America

All in all, the collaboration between esports and sportsbooks has been well-received thus far; and while Steven Salz of Rivalry was quick to correct us that the current state of this relationship is still being formed as opposed to needing to be maintained (in most cases), we’re still pleased with its course. A bright light in the form of a PASPA dismemberment paving way for the United States to legalize and regulate sports betting has additionally held a torch closer to more kinship between bookies and esports organisations in North America. Steven nodded to the conversation in North American esports attitude towards betting following the recent Supreme Court decision: “We have seen esports org’s and event operators that historically wouldn’t go near it in the US, now actively seeking sponsorship and involvement of gambling operators.” Tapping into untouched territories such as the North America League of Legends Championship Series and Overwatch League might be a possibility as legal sports betting develops in the US, but don’t hold your breath. “Although online betting in the majority of US states is still some time away, it certainly has stirred up a conversation that previously was not there, and opportunities as well.”

In the meantime, don’t be surprised to see bookmakers finding more creative ways to clutch onto esports and get more gamers involved in betting. It’s an exciting time to be both an esports enthusiast and a punter, so be on the lookout for more of your favourite teams and players playing on the same team as your local sportsbook.

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