Rivalry CEO Steven Salz on analyzing the esports betting audience

02 October 2020


It’s been a red-letter year for the esports industry as its digital nature allowed it to navigate around the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak which saw businesses, sports leagues, and entire industries falter. While crossovers with the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and Formula 1 have helped accelerate esports’ mainstream awareness, it’s betting precinct was able to reap benefits of its own.

Flurries of bettors turned to esports to satisfy their gambling appetites while operators, whose main source of sports betting and casino revenue virtually vanished, adopted the vertical out of sheer necessity. The esports betting gold rush has since simmered down with traditional sports returning to the docket, but the handle is thought to now carry on from a much more advanced place.

Photo credit: SportTechie

The latest evaluation of esports gambling revenue is said to exceed $14 billion (£10.8 billion) in 2020, according to consumer research agency 2CV and market researcher ProdegeMR. Still, the handle’s novelty leaves a lot to the imagination for major bookmakers entertaining the idea of investing in this vertical.

Isle of Man-licensed sportsbook Rivalry has built a platform tailored for the esports bettor, constantly streamlining its features to meet the needs of this audience. To better help us understand this audience and its tendencies, Esports Insider opted to speak with Rivalry CEO Steven Salz.

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Esports Insider: For those who are unaware, can you explain who Rivalry is and what the company does?

Steven Salz: We are an esports-focused sportsbook licenced out of the Isle of Man. We also have a traditional sports betting product, streamer betting, and shortly an innovative, originally developed casino game that we are extremely excited to debut.

As a company, we see ourselves more as tech entrepreneurs and gamers that got into betting, rather than sports betting industry folk that saw an opportunity in esports. From that flows the entire company philosophy from how we hire, build products, our marketing initiatives, and our overall brand, social, and content strategy. 

ESI: What are the key things to know about the esports betting audience? What is the expectation of this group when they come to a platform to bet?

Steven Salz, Rivalry

SS: They are the internet generation, born in the mid to late ’90s, and with that comes much, much higher expectations on user experience. Not just overall design, but reducing friction at every step of the user journey. Their expectation is to have a little to no friction rapid wagering experience and this is the huge challenge in servicing this audience as we must balance that with regulatory obligations.

At Rivalry, we massively overhauled the traditional approach on everything from onboarding, know your customer, customer support, the bet slip, and even nuance items like wallet visualizations to successfully deliver a product that works for this audience. 

ESI: What ways can operators better serve this group?

SS: We see a lot of operators putting a disproportionate amount of energy into marketing and top of funnel work, but the real work for this group happens lower down. Delivering an exceptional product experience for an esports fan is the most critical piece, as it’s how you retain them. As a demographic, they are more fickle, quicker to be frustrated, and need to have surprise and delight throughout, not just a mechanical betting service.

The rate of change in your product must be significantly higher than a static spreadsheet-like experience of a traditional sportsbook as a result. We feel doubling down on the core product and rebuilding for a new generation top to bottom is ultimately going to lead to better service.

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RELATED: ESI Gambling Report: New Jersey nears esports betting legislation

ESI: Can you elaborate on Rivalry’s decision to add traditional sports as a supplemental offering to esports instead of the other way around?

SS: We entered this industry to reimagine what a fun, casual, and entertaining betting experience for the next generation of gamblers could look like as a group of gamers and engineers. So for us, it just made sense to put the esports bettor first as it’s the community we come out of and also where we believe most next-generation bettors are going to be entering the funnel.

We believed we could deliver an exceptional experience to this fanbase first, and then look at traditional sports betting second. If we could take the fundamentals from esports betting and apply it to traditional sports, then we felt we could offer something special there as well, but we are still working on it. The other simple reason is that many esports fans are also sports fans, so we wanted to make sure we captured the full share of wallet and did not provide a reason for a customer to have to leave Rivalry to bet on soccer, for example. 

ESI: Can you tell me about the content initiatives Rivalry has engaged in and the benefits of using content as an engagement tool?

SS: A VC a month or so ago on Twitter noted how every B2C company now is also a media company. This is exactly the kind of thinking that we built into our DNA from day one, going back to the development and licencing phase of 2017. You cannot fully engage under 30-year-old customers in a B2C product without developing deep community resonance through socials and content in the market you serve.

We are long past the Mad Men generation of advertising; nobody believes that stuff anymore. Everyone sees through it. It also has no leverage. If you rely mostly on who has this or that particular deal in a market and live or die on that, you have no leverage. This is especially so as the upstart facing the incumbents, we can’t win on budget. We do believe though that we know this community better than anyone in the market and are still just in the first inning of our long-term content strategy to establish Rivalry as a brand with incredible torque.

RELATED: ESI Gambling Report: Esports betting spike recedes, maintains flight

ESI: Why does Rivalry put such a heavy emphasis on community?

SS: A lot of this ties to the prior question on brand building and our overall philosophy as B2C business builders. At a more holistic level, we believe in the circular benefit of good businesses supporting other good businesses to deliver a healthy ecosystem for all participants. By supporting esports communities, we help create opportunities for streamers, casters, players, broadcast companies and so on, and thus do our small part to grow esports as a whole.

For example, we just put on a $50,000 prize pool Dota event called The Great American Rivalry. This provided business to studios, casters, streamers, and teams, and is even more critical in times like this with unemployment climbing. It also gave the Dota community an incredible few weeks of competition, perhaps minting passionate new fans for some organizations, personalities, and the game. We believe everyone has a role to play at this stage of growth of the industry and it’s critical we all do our part.

Disclaimer: This piece is sponsored by Rivalry