It might surprise you to learn that the history of esports goes back not years, but decades. In fact, the first ever event that can be described as an esports tournament took place at Stanford University in 1971.
Contestants battled each other in a game called Space War but, instead of the huge prize funds on offer for esports winners today, all they were playing for was a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.
Like so many things, it has been the arrival of the internet that launched esports into the stratosphere with games like DOTA 2, CS.GO and League of Legends leading the way.
Gradually it has made its way into the consciousness of the wider public, for example when the Fortnite World Cup created its first teenage millionaire.
Esports are now developing so quickly that there has even been talk of them becoming an Olympic event. This may well lie some way off in the future but it would be rash to rule out the possibility entirely.
Unsurprisingly, almost as soon as esports tournaments started to take off globally, bookmakers and other gambling organizations started to take an interest.
A brief history of betting and esports
It was in 2010 that a betting company called Pinnacle first introduced wagering on esports. In the early days, the number of tournaments was limited and the revenues were relatively small.
But, as the popularity of the activity grew, so did the money being wagered. At the time it was something of a grey market, albeit one that was estimated to be worth over $7 billion a year at its very height.
Esports had also caught the attention of bigger gambling companies worldwide and, in countries where there were no restrictions, they began to incorporate them into their sports books.
In the US the big breakthrough came in 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled that sports gambling could be legalized on a state-by-state basis and the current esports gambling boom was born.
Focusing on the games already mentioned, the types of esports fans who choose to bet on their favourite teams are very different from people using online casinos.
One only has to look at the Bonus.ca full evaluation regarding real money casinos to see that this is the case. But with esports betting predicted to be worth $2.4 billion a year by 2028 this is surely a demographic that they will be seeking to attract.
What’s driving growth?
Analysts have estimated that between now and 2028 the annual growth rate of online esports betting is set to be a quite phenomenal 13.7%.
A number of factors are behind this. The first of these is the ever-increasing number of esports events taking place globally. As more and more fans start to follow them a significant proportion are going to want to back the participants.
Against a background of generally relaxing legislation in the US and beyond, this is something that they are now allowed to do 100% legally.
It’s also been increasingly the case that gambling companies are starting to sponsor esports tournaments and this kind of marketing, getting their identities up in front of fans, can only act to attract more.
A few restraints
While there are plenty of drivers for growth there are also a few elements acting to hold it back.
The first of these is that, unlike other major sporting events like Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the soccer World Cup and even World Series baseball, there is very little standardisation across esports events.
This makes it difficult for the betting companies to accurately estimate odds for the wagers that they offer, a potential disincentive for some.
There also remain quite a few grey areas of law around the whole subject of esports gaming, something that may scare a few operators off.
Finally, there are a few fears that it may be easier to “fix” the results of esports tournaments in a way that would be more difficult to achieve in physical sports. Similarly, cybercrime is rife wherever there are large sums of money involved. So the risk of hackers launching attacks is an ever-present threat.
Looking to the future
However, the momentum is very much in motion so there are certain to be solutions to all these concerns. One particular area attracting great interest at the moment is how the blockchain is affecting gaming.
Its super-secure nature undoubtedly has applications for esports betting which could allay fears of crime and other malpractice.
Similarly, the explosion of AI should add another dimension to the activity, to the benefit of esports fans and the betting companies alike.
So these are exciting times for both. But how exactly they’ll play out, we’re just going have to wait and see.