Competitive video games, or eSports, have seen their popularity grow by leaps and bounds in the last few years.
Online streaming sites like Twitch have made the games more accessible to fans, and even ESPN has broadcast a handful of championship matches in games like Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm.
And as with any competitive endeavor with a big fan base and plenty of players and teams to follow, it didn’t take long before the idea of betting on matches started to pick up steam as well.
Gambling on eSports is quickly becoming a big business, and several companies are looking to cash in on what could be the next growth market for online betting.
Just this week, a new startup company known as Unikrn launched a sleek site that allows players from around the world (where online sports betting is legal, at least) to wager on upcoming matches in League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike and other popular competitive games.
Unikrn Targeting Europe, Asia, Australia
Unikrn was founded in Seattle, though right now, fans in the United States can’t bet on matches: online sports betting isn’t legal in most of the country, and even live sports betting is restricted to just a few states.
But for the company, that just means focusing on other markets for the time being, with Europe, Asia and Australia being targeted at the moment.
In order to bring online eSports betting to these markets, Unikrn has partnered with Tabcorp, an Australian betting firm. Unikrn’s eSports offerings will be added to Tabcorp’s mobile apps, while the same bets can also be made directly through Unikrn’s site.
For Unikrn founder Rahul Sood, the hope is that the addition of gambling to the eSports world will expand the appeal of these games for general audiences.
“It brings a higher level of adrenalin to it,” Sood said. “People who bet love that feeling. It makes it more fun, more engaging.”
Concerns Over Audience, Match Fixing Disputed by Tabcorp
Tabcorp CEO David Attenborough also expressed enthusiasm about the partnership, calling eSports a “major sport” and noting that around 200 million people watch video gaming online.
But others in Australia questioned whether the company should be moving into an arena in which children and young adults make up a large portion of the audience.
“Gambling at a young age [18 to 24], although legal, can cause serious problems later in life,” said Dr. Sally Gainsbury of Southern Cross University. “Betting on video gaming will undoubtedly appeal to young people.”
Others questioned whether or not introducing more mainstream betting would cause match fixing problems in eSports.
There have certainly been such incidents in the past: earlier this year, a match fixing scandal engulfed the world of competitive Counter-Strike, and games like League of Legends and Starcraft have also seen matches thrown.
However, Attenborough has said that 71 percent of those who watch competitive video games are adults, so children should be in no more danger of picking up a gambling habit then they are when watching traditional sports.
And as for questions of match integrity, he believes that Tabcorp’s existing technology to monitor unusual betting patterns will actually help keep an eye on any suspicious activity in gambling markets, which should be much safer for all involved than when bets take place on unregulated sites.