R&D rethink needed for sportsbooks to harness esports’ power

By | May 2, 2024


Esports betting is still grappling with a perception problem amongst operators. Despite the leaps and bounds in product development made by suppliers – particularly in the last two years – esports hasn’t shaken off the image built in the late 2010s.

Our good friend, Oliver Niner, Head of Sales at PandaScore, has been kind to share the below article with us.

There’s scepticism around esports betting’s value, how well it can actually perform and what’s needed to make it appeal to bettors. A big part of that comes down to perception, which shapes the research and development (R&D) choices made by each operator.

Self-fulfilling prophecy?

Operators who have put the research and development (R&D) resources into esports are seeing excellent growth, while others are still treating it like part of a long tail. The lack of a uniform approach to esports often translates into hesitancy to be bullish and invest in esports.

Whereas in the United States, post-PASPA sports betting has exploded and operators are seeking to capture as much territory and market share as possible because in most cases, you switch the lights on and the money comes in. It’s, of course, good business sense to take opportunities like this – you can apply the same templates used elsewhere on an incredibly lucrative market.

This kind of approach has been attempted for esports and hasn’t found the same success. Granted, the legislation for betting on esports has been somewhat slower than that of sports betting and iGaming.

However, bullish operators have acknowledged the fact that esports hasn’t found the same success in regulated states and asked what can be done differently, while for others, esports has been thrown into the too-hard basket or relegated to the bargain bucket.

For the latter, the fate of the esports vertical becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – especially if an operator already using a budget esports product that throttles its very growth.

It takes two to tango

When esports is discussed in broader betting circles, you’ll often hear different versions of the same talking point: the problem with esports is no one is doing it well, it doesn’t innovate.

This argument is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Esports is a driver of innovation, and it is sportsbook R&D that is holding it back.

Multiple suppliers on the market are investing significant resources into R&D, and bullish operators are leveraging these product innovations to acquire new customers and create engagements made for the internet age.

There are understandable reasons why sports betting doesn’t innovate. It’s largely because operators focus on acquisition, entering new territories and spending money on data rights. But the actual R&D on sportsbook products is left lacking, with ever-increasing cost-per-acquisition (CPA) numbers a clear symptom of this.

It means that if an operator does decide to use or acquire an esports specialist supplier but does little to cater its product and attempts to just lay the sports betting template over the top, of course performance will be throttled.

It’s like putting a Ferrari engine in a Prius – no offence to Toyota or Prius owners.

The same problem exists on the platform supplier front. Platforms are understandably focused on compliance and getting customers live, not necessarily improving models or their products.

Even the idea that if you just acquire an innovative company the problem is solved or you have found the solution, doesn’t hold water. In many cases, the company is acquired and plenty of noise is made about it, but there’s little organisational investment in R&D afterwards.

It’s not just in esports

These problems extend to customer acquisition and marketing for most emerging markets, not just esports. There’s a rush to use the same old playbook in newer sectors because it’s easy.

The fantasy vs. house sector in the US is already experiencing an acquisition arms race. As analyst Dustin Gouker points out, deposit match bonuses for new users on fantasy vs house products have jumped from $100 to as high as $500 in some places.

This is the same race that played out in sports betting and despite the costs, there’s little effort from most operators to try something different. There’s less work when you just put the same acquisition template on an emerging sector and call it a day. This seems to be an accepted practice in the industry, for better or for worse.

Esports betting success requires ongoing dialogue

Rather than attempting to wedge esports into hegemonic sportsbook approaches, sportsbooks need to take a completely unique approach.

The fact is the betting sector has barely scratched the surface – communities of esports fans are still dormant. Canadian operator Rivalry has built a successful, esports-first business by embracing the ever-changing internet culture that esports inhabits. French esports organisation Karmine Corp recently sold out a 30,000-person stadium for an event with no prize money up for grabs.

Innovative products developed on the supplier side like microbetting and betbuilders are only half of the equation.

Maximising esports revenues requires institutional investment, ongoing R&D and collaboration between suppliers and operators to create products and experiences. This includes having staff on the operator side that can drive and push the product further, and crucially, rethinking current sportsbook strategies and practices.

Building experiences for betting’s greatest emerging market – one that caters to your future core audience – takes investment, innovation and a willingness to experiment. If the industry wants to make the most of the Millennial and Gen Z audience that will become its primary customers, investment into R&D and close collaboration between suppliers and operators is needed. Many hands makes light work.


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