The esports betting sector underwent a rollercoaster of a year in 2023. The industry experienced major developments and marketing growth, whilst at the same time being a victim of the esports sector’s financial instability.
But which stories defined the esports gambling and betting sector last year? Esports Insider’s Editor and writer of the In Play newsletter, Tom Daniels, breaks down 2023’s biggest developments in esports betting.
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Despite the competitive gaming ecosystem undergoing financial difficulties, encompassed by the term ‘esports winter’, the esports gambling industry has held relatively strong this year. However, the sector wasn’t without casualties.
Entain-owned unikrn also entered 2023 with optimism. After relaunching its esports betting platform in Canada and Brazil late last year, the company secured notable partnerships with Team Liquid and BLAST. However, Entain ultimately decided to shift its focus, moving unikrn’s esports solutions into the company’s other properties. The loss of unikrn and Luckbox are big blows to the esports gambling sector, particularly given that both were endemic brands.
Still, despite these departures, there is optimism from stakeholders and investors that the esports betting market is an attractive one.
Over the last few years bookmakers, such as Pinnacle, have launched unique high-stakes esports competitions that create more opportunities for teams and bolster betting offerings. However, in 2023, this unique marketing model was emphasised even further.
Alongside Pinnacle continuing its Pinnacle Cup series, this year saw the likes of GG.Bet, Betboom and Thunderpick create esports tournaments that featured some of the world’s best teams in Counter-Strike and Dota 2.
Whilst most established competitive tournaments with good prize pools, GG.BET opted to use two of its main partners — Team Vitality and NAVI — to launch a show match. This not only promoted GG.BET’s brand in a unique way, but it provided a great fan activation for both of the organisation’s Counter-Strike rosters.
Taking inspiration from the sadly departed Beyond The Summit, Betboom and tournament organiser FISSURE launched a ‘laid back’ Dota 2 esports series, complete with a $250,000 (~£196,000) prize pool. The LAN event, which was hosted in a private house located in Armenia, provided a unique tournament experience that is rarely seen in esports.
Finally, cryptocurrency betting company Thunderpick went all out this year by launching a new $600,000 (~£468,000) Counter-Strike series. The event featured some of Counter-Strike’s biggest teams, with BLAST Premier: World Final 2023 runners-up FaZe Clan ultimately winning the event.
In the competitive esports ecosystem, G2 Esports has undergone a range of major developments. Most notably, G2 has expanded its operations in North America through two major moves in Call of Duty and VALORANT. However, the organisation’s CSGORoll partnership was undoubtedly seen as a blunder, especially when looking at the community backlash.
Alongside the site being a skin gambling and trading site, the promotional material for the partnership featured Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov, a player who had only turned 18 the day before the video was released. This raised eyebrows from various members of the community.
Ultimately it seems that G2 Esports also recognised its mistake and has quietly ended its relationship with CSGORoll. Whilst this hasn’t officially been confirmed, G2 has since secured a deal with bookmaker M88 Mansion as its ‘official betting partner’.
Pinnacle betting on Rivalry’s success
One story that perhaps went under the radar was Esports betting company Rivalry securing a private placement financing round of up to CAD $10m (~£5.8m).
Led by bookmaker Pinnacle, the financing round in April 2023 looked to enable Rivalry to accelerate its growth opportunities. Since the investment, Rivalry has gone on to bolster its personnel team with Grant Flannery as its Global Head of Marketing and launched an esports betting mobile app in Ontario, Canada.
Rivalry has also strengthened its marketing push in Brazil through an ad campaign with content creator Baiano and a partnership with content group Tribo. Going into 2024, it’ll be interesting to see how Rivalry continues to develop.
Twitch and Valve take a stand against skin gambling
Rounding off this look back is a topic that could heavily affect the industry into the new year. 2023 saw various developments and stances from prominent stakeholders in the esports and gaming sector. The biggest of which was Twitch’s ban on Counter-Strike skin gambling sponsorships.
The move, which follows the live-streaming platform’s crackdown on unregulated gambling content last year, was yet another attempt by the industry to limit the skin gambling sector. Earlier in the year, Counter-Strike developer Valve targeted the sector through updated ‘terms of services’ on Stream which prohibits gambling. Skin gambling has been a thorn in the side of legal esports betting, largely due to how unregulated the market is. So it is no surprise to see more of an emphasis being put into suppressing the sector.