2022 was a good year for esports viewership and, in turn, for esports betting. The year saw more than 10 events with over one million peak viewers, and major LAN tournaments returned in full force after the pandemic — offering lucrative in-person engagement opportunities.
To discuss the future of esports betting, Esports Insider sat down with Alex McBride, Head of Esports for betting company Pinnacle, whose company is benefitting from both of the above trends through its Pinnacle Cup CS:GO tournament series.
But before the future, let’s return to the past for a minute. 2022 did not bring any particularly interesting novelties in the field of esports betting itself, according to McBride. The ‘big three’ heavy hitters (League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2) are still, without doubt, the most popular games to bet on, though bookies are hungry for the next breakout title to offer odds on. The data is currently pointing to mobile esports, namely Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.
For Pinnacle, the near future revolves around three main goals. The first one is providing quality data to customers while games are live (in play odds), which comes with its own set of challenges. McBride explained that, while viewers are watching the broadcast in real time, the data behind it might tell a completely different story, so it is important to present that data-driven story in a way that is understandable for general users.
“It’s a bit pointless dumping thousands of data points on anyone that wants to look at it, and saying to them: best of luck figuring this out,” McBride continued. “So we are trying to find a way to communicate some of that, but also allow some of our more data savvy customers to delve a bit deeper (into the data).”
The second major goal for Pinnacle in 2023 is publisher involvement. Right now, some games like CS:GO are fully open to betting companies, with sponsorships, teams and data available directly from the source. Others, on the other hand, like League of Legends, are the opposite. McBride said he hopes more developers will open up and embrace the betting industry, and see betting companies increasingly collaborate with developers as partners.
The third narrative, McBride said, is to listen to what the community actually wants from betting operators. McBride claimed this — alongside the fact that there are a lot of esports fans in Pinnacle — is one of the reasons why the company creates its own events.
Pinnacle, founded in 1998, has etched its name into the minds of fans through its Pinnacle-branded yearly tournaments, which feature top CS:GO teams, and the recent editions saw $100,000 prize pools. As an authentic, major CS:GO tournament, it’s well-received amongst fans — and a great marketing exercise. McBride noted that the company will continue to work on the Pinnacle Cup, and that upcoming details about the event series will be announced soon.
Another big talking point for 2023 is integrity in esports betting. Pinnacle is one of the few companies, especially in esports, with an in-house integrity team. The team’s focus is to look at betting patterns, matches and tournaments to see if there are any patterns that can be spotted.
“That’s the reason that there are certain teams and tournaments that we won’t offer, because of their integrity issues,” McBride elaborated. “We will continue to do that until we see improvements in these teams/tournaments. Our traders are experts at trading esports so when we see a problem, or a potential problem in the integrity side of things, we remove the game to stop additional betting action before the investigation begins by our integrity team. Our players can trust us and that is one of the things our customers say the most. We will definitely continue with that and go down that road as much as possible.”
Perhaps the most important new movement in the esports betting space going into 2023 is the rapid rise of mobile esports. Of the top 10 most-watched esports events in 2022, five were in mobile esports, and four of the five were in Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB).
Still, the large increase in audience size has not yet translated directly into an increase in betting revenue. McBride revealed that Pinnacle does see an increase in the number of bets placed during big MLBB events, but the users then tend not to play as much on the smaller events through the season.
There are also other challenges. A key barrier to mobile esports betting, McBride added, is that most viewers tend to watch matches on their mobile phones — which makes it difficult to bet on the event. Users have to close the broadcast, open the website on their browser and bet on the event, and go back to the broadcast. That means potentially missing action in order to place a bet, and Pinnacle aims to add to the experience for esports fans, not take them away from it.
McBride said: “One of the things we are working on is improving our products for mobile use, so that you can watch the games on mobile, but also bet on them at the same time. There are things we can do about it, like if you have your broadcast on full screen, we can put the odds and who is going to win the match in the lower third, and you can then go and bet on that. We are then not just asking people to close the broadcast; we make it a little bit more seamless and not distract from the streams so they come and play with us. “
Lastly, McBride outlined one thing he’d not like to see more of in 2023: the short term approach to esports that some companies have. Many enter the industry and leave soon afterwards after they do not see quick return on investment, he said, urging potential partners and sponsors to consider this in their approach to esports in general. Short term approaches make for a lack of trust in the industry, and benefits neither the teams, the partners, or the viewers.
Finally, McBride highlighted overbooked schedules as another concern. “In certain games, there are absolutely loads of games happening on the same weekend. Everyone wants that weekend slot on a Friday or Saturday, so you sometimes have three CS:GO tournaments at the same time… Tournaments would simply be better if the operators just worked together and coordinated when the tournaments are going to be because that is only going to benefit them in the end”.
Challenges and opportunities present themselves in 2023. Finding the key to unlocking the potential of mobile esports betting could bring huge reward — but a looming recession and the resulting lower consumer confidence might make this the most challenging year in a while.
Supported by Pinnacle