Esports round-up

1 June 2020

In his new column, Clarion Gaming’s head of esports Will Harding rounds up the latest relevant developments in the world of competitive video gaming for iGB

By mid-March, the spread of the coronavirus forced the wholesale postponement of live sporting events and esports fixtures globally. Unsurprisingly most live esports matches were able to easily transition online, a handy pandemic failsafe not available to traditional sports.

Many news stories and articles have been quick to offer assessments of how this has shifted the online betting landscape, some providing sensationalist figures and opinions breathlessly extolling esports and virtual games as a possible saving grace during these bleak times for sportsbooks.

The first edition of this monthly esports round-up assesses this recent increase in esports betting identified from mid-March, what esports titles matter and the size of the market opportunity, looking at some fundamental KPIs that confirm the unprecedented growth and integration of esports into the gaming industry.

We start, however, with a look at the most important esports betting titles, including associated esports viewership numbers and growth in gamer numbers.

Esports betting: “The Big Three”
With the most popular esports titles difficult to understand for many of those new to the esports scene, many bettors with live elite sports to bet on are engaging with those titles based around traditional sports (NBA2K, FIFA and NHL).

That said, the bulk of activity remains with the ‘big three’ esports titles, which account for 85% of handle, according to Narus Advisors and Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

  • Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients 2)

Developer: Valve Corporation
Game Genre: MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena)
Initial release date: July 2013
Team game: 5 vs 5

Dota 2’s player base had been slowly dwindling at the start of the year (see below). However, March and April saw a big rebound, the significant factor being more people staying at home under lockdown. Last month, Dota 2 hit its highest average players count since June 2019.
 

Month Avg. players Peak players
April 2020 493,300 801,121
March 2020 437,147 743,933
February 2020 405,978 663,812
January 2020 378,925 616,415
December 2019 384,179 685,165

Source: Statista

  • LoL (League of Legends)

Developer: Riot
Game genre: MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena)
Initial release date: Oct 2007
Team game: 5 vs 5
Public access to the number of average and peak player numbers for LoL is restricted by the publisher. However North American servers for League of Legends have been reaching over 90% of server capacity since mid-March, according to a tweet by Riot’s Mel Capperino-Garcia, prompting the publisher to quickly increase player capacity.

  • CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive)

Developer Valve corporation
Game Genre: FPS (First person shooter)
Initial release date: Aug 2012
Team game: 5 vs 5
Among the ‘big three’, CS:GO has seen perhaps the largest percentage surge in player base from last month.  Concurrent player numbers peaked close to 1.3 million in April 2020, more than a 100% increase compared to April 2019.

Esports viewership numbers
An increase in the number of people playing the ‘big three’ is an important part of the story. It shows people are returning to their game of choice and many new users are entering the esports rabbit hole for the first time. An increased level of playing games enviably leads to higher numbers of streamers and increased gaming content for the audience to enjoy. Twitch, Amazon’s video game streaming service which holds roughly 70% market share of all gaming viewers, is another respectable measure to understand the size of opportunity the gaming sector has in front of them.

Game Avg concurrent viewers Apr 2019 (’000s) Avg concurrent viewers Apr 2020 (’000s) % increase
Dota 2 41.03 75.25 45.5%
LoL 128.40 188.60 32%
CS:GO 42.75 120.64 282%

How does this translate to esports wagering?
With player and viewership numbers increasing sharply around the key esport gaming titles, operators have seen an increase in new registrants. UK esports operator Luckbox reported a 54% upswing in new player registrants following the cancellation of the English Premier League.

H2 Gambling Capital, iGB’s principal data partner and data intermediary for many global operators and data service providers, has been comparing sports betting and esports betting GGR movement since mid-March.

The below table validates the coronavirus-shaped environment has undeniably elevated esports betting revenue in line with viewership growth.

YoY GGR growth:  

  March 16-31 April 1-10
Sports betting -70% -75%
Esports betting 60% 100%

Source: H2 Gambling Capital

Summary
Many, if not all, esports titles are experiencing increased estimated player numbers and viewership as a result of corona lockdown measures. Among this silver lining narrative, it is important to take a closer look at the few esports titles (LoL, CS:GO & Dota 2) that are driving the majority of wagering revenue. Assessing viewership and average concurrent player base of these titles correlates with H2’s percentage estimates of year-on-year GGR growth.

The pandemic has clearly acted as a catalyst for the esports betting market, promoting many operators to integrate and promote esports betting offerings.

Research from global consumer research agency 2CV and market researcher ProdegeMR supports this statement, suggesting esports gambling revenue is set to double from $7bn in 2019 to $14bn worldwide in 2020.

Notwithstanding the huge disparity between estimates and the hype factor clearly inflating those towards the high end, the undoubted growth of esports wagering is a positive chink of light for a gaming sector currently going through difficult times.

That said, this now raises pertinent questions such as how long this pandemic-driven esports betting wave will last. What will happen as the sports betting scene normalises? Will the momentum continue or will it fall back in line with pre-pandemic growth predictions? We will be attempting to unpack these and other questions in future editions of the round-up.