If you aren’t familiar with e-sports yet, where have you been?! I think it would be fair to say that it is one of the largest new entertainment trends to appear in the 21st century, and has amassed a following of millions of dedicated fans in a frankly unbelievably short period of time.
Playing video games against friends has long been a favorite pastime of the majority of children worldwide, but it was South Korean lads who first took it to the next level by organizing professional tournaments on games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and League of Legends (LoL). Much to the bemusement of many, these tournaments attracted huge audiences, quickly leading to large sponsorship deals, and a general explosion in popularity that saw the sport spread rapidly throughout the world.
E-Sports games are deliberately designed to use a low amount of system resources, which ensures that everybody playing the game should be able to get a very high frame rate regardless of the hardware being used. The idea is to create a level laying field, but there are limits to this of course – you can’t expect a 10-year-old laptop with integrated graphics to do too well, for example! Older graphics cards and modern laptops with the latest on-chip GPU’s from Intel and AMD should be easily capable of achieving above 60fps in most E-Sports titles, however, and those with the latest graphics hardware will be getting hundreds of frames a second. These types of players will likely have a high refresh rate monitor too, which many see as indispensable for first-person shooter titles.
Last year’s biggest E-Sports title by total prize pool was CS:GO, a modern version of the classic Counter Strike first person shooter where one team act as the terrorists, and the other as the counter-terrorist tactical forces. The terrorists must plant a bomb at one of two designated sites, but also ensure that the counter-terrorist team will not be able to defuse it within 40 seconds. The game is hugely popular and had total prize funds of $14.75 million last year alone.
Other big hitters include League of Legends ($8 million), Fortnite ($7.87 million), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare ($6.72 million) and PUBG ($4 million), but games can often switch around in popularity on a regular basis as new teams are formed with an affinity for specific titles. These huge prize funds see some young people “training” for ten or more hours per day, particularly in South Korea where the whole thing began.
The first E-Sports event to feature a prize of $1 million was the “CPL World Tour” (Cyberathlete Professional League) however no bookmakers were offering odds on e-sports events at that time – the whole thing was still considered as something of a joke back then, despite the huge prize money involved.
The creation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006 caused every tier-one gaming operator to leave the US market overnight – they could no longer accept deposits from American players legally, so what was the point of continuing to offer their service?
Players were left in an awkward position, however – the UIGEA did not prohibit online gambling, so Americans were still free to play with offshore operators if they wished – and could find a way of depositing funds into their accounts.
Bitcoin and CashApp became the payment methods of choice for a long time, but the situation seems to be changing recently with more and more offshore sites finding ways to accept card payments from players in the US. There appears to be some kind of loophole involving American Express in particular, and many offshore sportsbooks are currently able to accept payments from Americans using these cards.
Whether E-Sports betting in the USA was even actually a sport was a hot topic for many years, and it’s hard to pin down exactly when this niche discipline became an accepted sport. I think it’s fair to say that the recognition of the activity by the International Olympic Committee in 2017 might well have been the tipping point, giving E-Sports the boost it needed to be promoted from “nothing more than a competition” to quote ESPN President John Skipper in 2014, to a recognized sporting discipline.
By the time online sportsbooks became legal in the USA in 2018, all of them were listing some e-sports events on their rosters. Much like the rest of the world, the most popular games with Americans seem to be League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and Overwatch, so these were often the most popular games you would see listed.
Of course, if you were (or are) living in a state where online sports bets are still illegal, you may well have been participating before this – XLBet are recognized as the first bookmaker to offer odds on an e-sports event way back in 2007, but it was Pinnacle’s decision in 2010 to list StartCraft 2 and Dota 2 which really got the ball rolling with regards to e-sports betting. By 2012 they were taking bets on over ten different games, and had been joined by Paddy Power, but many of the biggest names still hadn’t recognized the potential of this new sport.
Finally, in 2015, William Hill and BetWay began offering e-sports betting. A year later, GGBet and Ladbrokes joined them. Unusually, Bet365 were one of the last major names to get involved in E-Sports in 2017, though none of these companies’ main websites accept bets from American players.
In the American legal states, BetMGM seems to be the clear leader in this field, with the largest number of games covered and even in-play betting for E-Sports matches. For those not lucky enough to live in a regulated state, the offshore sportsbooks BetUS, MyBookie, BetNow, Bovada and BetOnline.AG are ranked highly by many top affiliates.
Association Football is still the most watched sport in the world, but E-Sports is catching up at an unbelievable pace. Pinnacle projects that E-Sports could even become the worlds most popular sport within just a few years – it is already ahead of baseball, basketball and the NFL, although it should be noted that the Asian countries currently account for a huge portion of these numbers.
Right now, the United States is second only to the Asian markets when it comes to betting volume on E-Sports, but that’s with legal options only being offered in 14 of the 50 states – future developments in the American market can be expected to cause an explosion in betting volume on E-Sports, and it would be truly amazing if one day these computer game contests are able to overtake soccer and horse racing as the worlds most popular betting targets!