The fastest-growing sport in the world doesn’t involve a field or a ball, and the only stick needed is a hand-held controller.
Globally, esports, or online gaming, is valued at more than a billion dollars, and it’s expected to continue growing at a 50% annual rate. While, for old-time sports fans, the idea of watching other people play video games may seem as far from a sport as you can get, it is immensely popular with young people, who flock to various streaming platforms to watch their favorite e-athletes.
There is good money to be made on the esports circuit. The highest-paid eAthletes earn eight figures a year –up to $40,000,000 last year and tournament prize pots can be as much as six or seven million.
Naturally, as interest in the sport and the cash involved continues to skyrocket, opportunities to bet on esports are also growing quickly. Here’s what you need to know about this rapidly emerging market.
Where and How to Bet
Most online sportsbooks have at least dipped their toes into the esports markets, with betting available for major tournaments. And it’s not all that different from betting on any other sport.
You choose who you think will win, put down your wager and wait anxiously for the result. You could bet on an individual matchup, try to pick a tournament winner or bet on someone to place in a top tier (top 5, top 10) of a tournament. Odds and money lines work the same as they do in any other market.
Skin in the Game
The unique world of esports also offers some new twists for bettors willing to stray away from their familiar turf. One interesting angle is what’s called skin betting.
The term “skin” will lead some old-timers astray. We’re not talking about a golf skins match. In online gaming, a skin is the downloaded graphic that a player uses for their online character.
Some people may have heard it referred to as an “avatar”. Are you a giant, musclebound, shirtless man or a woman dressed like a ninja? Those are your skins.
Anything that alters your character’s appearance can be considered a skin, and many games offer the opportunity to buy premium skins to bling out your character. Skins betting simply uses these downloaded virtual assets as currency instead of actual money.
Where and What to Watch
Assuming you’re willing to venture into this new world, you’ll probably want to know what games to bet on and how to watch the event where you’ve just placed your wager.
Most online gaming action takes place on streaming platforms, with YouTube, Twitch and even Facebook used to air the action. You can usually see the video game action, as well as a shot of the person or people playing them (with picture-in-picture type inserts).
Often the players will keep up a running commentary of the action and talk trash to opponents, just as someone sitting in their living room playing video games will do.
The broadcasts also offer viewers the opportunity to interact with the player through online comments, which the eAthletes will sometimes respond to.
The Main Games
The two most popular esports currently are DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
DOTA stands for Defense of the Ancients and –for beginners (experts and fanatics may take issue)– it’s essentially a fantasy battle game set in a world similar to something from Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. Armor, bows and arrows, axes, and magic all play roles in gameplay.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: is a modern war game. It involves machine guns and creeping around city scenes.
There are a number of other esports arenas beyond the big two. For people looking for something a little more connected to their sports betting, FIFA tournaments (online soccer) are also popular.
It’s possible that the interest in online gaming, which spiked when people were quarantined inside during COVID, will wane as the real world again lures people outside, but all indications are that the esports train isn’t slowing down anytime soon.