Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Russian bookies seek to harness esports market

Russia’s eSports market is tipped for strong growth, though the ability of the country’s bookmakers to tap the potential may be held back by cumbersome laws on online gambling and a failure to understand the audience.

At a recent eSports conference in Moscow, eSports expert and inventor of the Warp gaming chair, Dmitry Zorkin, cited figures from PayPal and SuperData Research which found 2.2 million people currently play in Russia, with that number likely to double to 4.3 million by 2018.

Revenues are likely to increase at a more subdued pace, rising from a total of $35.4 million in 2016 to about $43.7 million in 2018. He says Europe’s total eSports market currently stands at $343 million and is forecast to rise to $389 million.

Globally, according to SuperData, the audience has grown from 130 million in 2015 to over 213 million in 2016. Global revenue for e-sports has grown by 20 percent to $892 million in 2016 and is likely to top $1 billion by 2018.

Asia currently dominates the e-sports market with a $328 million share, followed by North America $275 million and Europe $269 million.

Competitive gaming was given a boost in Russia in June this year when it was officially recognized as a sport. The move allows official tournaments to be held and athletes to be given official prize titles. It is also expected to lead to greater sponsorship in the field and a larger television audience.

For example, Russian state-owned sports channel Match TV, has signed a cooperation agreement with esports holding ESforce and broadcasts tournaments and specialized programmes. ESforce received a $100 million investment from billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

"Football and tennis are currently much more popular with bookmakers' clients. But trends are changing right before our eyes,” said Darina Denisova, president of the Bookmakers Self-Regulatory Organization. “Taking bets on the world's most popular e-sports tournaments will very soon become a routine practice for bookmakers. The fight for customers, usually representatives of the next generation, will be very serious. Those bookmakers, who underestimate the growth in popularity of eSports in the betting context will simply lose out."

According to Alexei Tkachuk, editor-in-chief of Bookmakers Rating, the majority of gamers in Russia -- 80 to 90 percent -- are male and below 30 years old. However, he did say there is increasing popularity among the 25-34-year age group.

Bets on CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive) and Dota 2 account for about 70-80 percent of all bets on eSports in Russia. A bookmaker's margin may vary from 4 to 8 percent. While an average bet on eSports in one of the major bookmakers Liga Stavok is about 300 roubles ($4.7 dollars).

However, Tkachuk says the potential for growth is huge. He expects bets through traditional Russian bookmakers to rise 70 percent in 2017. However, there are obstacles to overcome.

Konstantin Makarov, president of major Russian bookmaker Bingo Boom has recently established a foundation to support and develop eSports. He notes the market is still in its infancy and does not yet count amongst the top ten when it comes to sports bets.

"The market is quite huge, but it has not yet been shaped, it is new audience and statistics is only being gathered," Makarov says. "It is a very prospective and interesting market, but it should be carefully analyzed and experiments are required with ways to attract this audience."

He adds that foreign bookmakers are currently outperforming Russian ones due to the law on online bets, allowing them to be processed only via an online payment processor called TSUPIS.  

Currently there is only one such TSUPIS operating in Russia, which involves four bookmakers, while the second one is still in test mode. Websites of other bookmakers operating illegally have been consistently blocked by Russian media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.

Traditional bookmakers also need to find ways to connect with the eSports audience, who prefer online services and cyber sports arenas to the old-fashioned betting shop.

Some Russian bookmakers, like 1xbet and Baltbet, are reaching out by sponsoring eSports teams and tournaments, while other give forecasts on games to try to attract the relevant audience via social networks. Social networking websites VKontake and Odnoklassniki are popular tools among eSports gamblers.

The head of BetConstruct’s bookmaking department Momik Akopyan said that 80 percent of bets on eSports taken by the company's partners are live, adding that the primary issue to be addressed in regard to eSport is match fixing.  

“Match fixing is a very hot issue in eSports, in particular live tournaments,” Akopyan said. His  company communicates with rival bookmakers and bookmaking portals to tackle the issue effectively, though he said it was difficult to prove.

In addition, he said that players and those making bet on eSports are quite different from ordinary bookmakers’ clients, because about 40 percent of those interested in eSports do in fact play such games themselves, while among ordinary bookmakers’ clients just about 2 percent have ever tried sports, such as football or tennis.

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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