“We were obviously affected due to sports being cancelled around the world, but there’s no doubt that the virtual sports are playing a really big part in betting markets,” says Jesper Søgaard, chief executive of betting platform developer Better Collective.
“Overall activity is down roughly 50 to 60pc but right now esports is occupying more than half of the current activity. So without esports overall betting could be down as much as 80pc.”
Søgaard says that it cannot replace betting on the likes of the Premier League or the Bundesliga but that it is helping bookmakers through the lockdown.
The importance of esports to bookies right now can be seen in its prominence on sites and apps. A look at the likes of Bet365 and Paddy Power will show odds on professional FIFA matches in prominent positions.
Similarly Betway, which has been offering markets on esports since 2015, says that its business has experienced a “change in our customer behaviours since the removal of large portions of the usual sporting calendar”.
Søgaard says that much of the new esports punters will return to their favoured markets but that some will stay avid followers.
For punters it is providing some of the enthusiasm lost from live sport.
“As sports fans and particular football in my instance, we’ll most probably have come across FIFA at some point,” says Chris, a better player that has started placing wagers on FIFA games for the first time.
“If I can say anything it’s that it has been a very welcome addition.”
Backing a winner
While much of the boon in esport betting has come during lockdown, the markets have been enjoying regular growth in recent years.
“The market is relatively small at the moment, but it has been growing year-on-year as interest levels, participation, and sponsorship of prize money increases almost exponentially,” says a spokesman for tips website Online Betting Guide.
“The biggest issue from our side is that, like any sport, you tend to show expertise in a particular variant. There are currently 443 active games or variants of games, with cash prize tournaments in 2020, each with their own active tournaments, leagues and professional or semi-professional players, so getting full coverage and providing content for even the top 10 is like learning a new sport 10 times over.”