The most recent such deal came with the announcement from Sporting Solutions. It announced a deal with startup esports odds-provider RTSmunity to provide odds to Sporting Solutions customers, including William Hill.
Ed Peace, head of commercial at Sporting Solutions, said it had become obvious to the company that the skill set required to source, model and deliver reliable esports pricing differed “substantially” from traditional sports.
The Sporting Solutions/RTSmunity deal follows on from similar tie-ups in the space. Various providers of esports odds are vying for leadership in the nascent sector. Yet the challenge with esports is distinct from the rush to in-play that occurred in sports betting generally.
The key with esports is that it is hugely – and obviously – data-rich, due to the nature of the games. Truly exploiting the potential of all that data, however, is a challenge.
“Esports is quite unique,” says James Watson, head of esports at Betradar. “The data is available from the games themselves, of course. But it isn’t necessarily available in real-time.
“That’s why we have partnered with official data providers in the space,” Watson continued.” Without those partnerships, suppliers and the operators they service are relying on public data – public data that is delayed at source by the tournament organizers or game publishers.”
Watson points out that just in terms of those delays, esports encounters problems that other sports “just don’t face.”
“The delays can be anywhere between 30-40 seconds – which is bad enough when you compare that with, for instance, soccer – and even up to a few minutes.”
To attempt to solve the latency issue Sportradar has signed agreements with ESL (Esports League) and DOJO Madness, a Berlin-based esports data collection startup launched by ESL founder Jens Hilgers. The company produces training applications for recreational players. It also provides analysis tools for both the broadcasters and some of the teams.
Hilgers agrees with Watson that the data picture surrounding esports is more complex than with traditional sports.
“The strategic depths are significantly higher,” Hilgers said. “Our data science team has deep game knowledge, can understand game patches, the impact they might have, and what that means for our predictive models.”
The amount of data esports generates is vast. Building the models that can handle these data flows – and make use of them in the context of potential in-play betting opportunities – is a mammoth job. As Watson says, the model from traditional sports such as scouting either in-stadia or from live stream is “simply not fit for purpose.”
Rahul Sood, chief executive at esports-only betting operator Unikrn agrees. He suggests that traditional sports is “pretty straightforward” in comparison with the complexities of the esports landscape.
“It’s very fragmented. There are multiple tournament providers, multiple publishers, multiple games and teams tend to change very quickly in the space,” Sood said. “Players come and go. It’s fast-moving and a very early and nascent space. Our biggest challenge is to be able to gather all that information, automate the processes and build the algorithms and the technology.”
The amount of data is one issue, but another is the lack of any common standards of collection.
“It is truly a game-by-game and publisher-by-publisher approach,” Hilgers said. “We have to rely on multiple data sources for each individual game.”
In such circumstances, partnerships make a lot of sense. Esports is an ecosystem within which betting – particularly regulated betting as opposed to skin betting – is a relatively new component. As much for providers as for operators, pitching the offering in the right fashion is vital. In terms of the end consumer, it is about credibility.
For the suppliers, at present, in-play remains a battleground with competing claims regarding in-play dominating the conversation. (The rumors at ICE Totally Gaming earlier in the month regarding what each provider said about each other’s capabilities in this area prove that point.)
How the player experiences the products firsthand will settle the arguments, eventually.
Watson makes the point that the esports audience doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
“The fans can see through poorly-run events really quickly,” he said. “For instance, if someone runs an event and runs it badly, they will see through that and they won’t give you a second chance. Similar evaluations will be made of the operators that provide esports products and solutions to knowledgeable fans and punters and reputations will be cast.”
Watson points to the example of CS:GO, where the ideal would be for people to be able to bet round-by-round.
“That’s quite a simple concept, but it’s quite difficult to execute which is why no one’s really doing it,” he said. “We think there are some real gaping holes to be exploited; it’s just about doing it right.”
Watson thinks a soft approach is the best route to gain a foothold with the esports audience. He argues that “introducing 100 in-play markets all at once” would be harmful for the ecosystem as a whole. But he adds that the speed of development within the space shouldn’t be underestimated.
“The speed with which esports betting moves, I wouldn’t rule any new game or market being introduced,” Watson said.