Colorado’s Sky Ute Casino Latest To Embrace Betting On ESports

With a pandemic sweeping across the world and sports wagering options limited for bettors, there has been much talk about how eSports filled the gap early in 2020 and what might “stick” going forward. Operators are finding it’s an open question with myriad answers.

But a casino announced it will launch an eSports-only mobile/online sportsbook and the creation of a new eSports league made news, perhaps providing further proof that those in the know believe eSports and eSports betting are the next big thing.

Colorado’s Sky Ute Casino is betting there’s enough interest to dedicate an entire digital sportsbook to the venture. The tribe, along with partners USBookmaking and GameCo, on Wednesday morning announced it will launch the nation’s first “dedicated eSports sportsbook.” The book will be available in Colorado only.

A day earlier, South Korea-based TechnoBlood announced the launch of the World Super League, a global eSports league. The league will feature $450,000 in prize money and a multiple-event season.

“USBookmaking has been investigating entry to the eSports wagering market for over three years. GameCo brings all the pieces necessary together to finally make an esports product the most comprehensive of any we have seen. We look forward to bringing this new product to Sky Ute and the people of Colorado,” said John Salerno, director of operations for USBookmaking, in a joint press release.

When Sky Ute launches its eSports sportsbook, it will mark the second time in a year that the tribe has made history — in June, it became the first tribe in the nation to offer a mobile sports betting platform available statewide.

States, operators adding eSports to menus

The announcement comes at a unique time. Sports wagering operators have seen a spike in interest in betting on eSports, virtual sports, and simulated sports since COVID-19 in March touched off massive business closures and restrictions on travel in the U.S. and across the world.

Since then, several states, including Iowa and New Jersey, have expanded or added eSports offerings to their daily fantasy menus. In terms of operators, DraftKings is the most mainstream, well-known operator to offer wagering on eSports, while there are also speciality companies like Unikrn, which currently or in the future will offer eSports betting — both for fans and for participants themselves.

“We kind of think that eSports betting is a lot bigger than what most operators think,” Rahul Sood, CEO and co-founder of Unikrn, said during a Betting on Sports America panel in early December. “Most operators are operating very much on the very bottom of that funnel, which is watching pro tournaments and getting odds and placing live bets on live betting markets, and we’re doing all of it. It’s a pretty cool space and there’s a lot of opportunity for any operator.”

DraftKings has been bullish on eSports betting for some time, and CEO Jason Robins has spoken publicly multiple times about how his company is embracing it. According to DraftKings, it had 20 times more customers playing daily eSports and 50 times more eSports daily fantasy entries in March 2020 as compared to a normal month. COVID-19 began sweeping the globe in March, and many countries were at the height of pandemic-related restrictions.

In response, the company added the Call of Duty, Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), and Rocket League series to its daily fantasy offerings. It has been offering League of Legends as a daily fantasy option since 2013. And like other operators, DraftKings launched betting on simulated sports, like the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and Madden NFL contests. And this year marks the first time that DraftKings added an eSports tournament to its Championship Series. The company offered a League of Legends daily fantasy competition with $400,000 in prize money in June.

Competitor FanDuel offers betting on CS:GO via its daily fantasy platform.

‘Our phone has been ringing off the hook’

DraftKings’ numbers aren’t likely news to companies like Unikrn or Spawn Point, an eSports consultancy and strategy company. Both have been working in the eSports and eSports wagering spaces for several years, and the pandemic just validated what they already believed to be true.

“We’ve been spending the last six years talking to casino operators about our technology and our platform, sort of saying, ‘this is the future’ — building a digital platform that allows you to connect to your customers in their homes, and the idea that you can bet on games that you love to play,” Sood said. “We have the technology to be able to power your eSports arenas. Right now, they are just glorified places to play your games, but there is no betting going on in those places. Then the pandemic happened and our phone has been ringing off the hook. We’ve had major operators from around the world wanting to partner with us.”

Throughout the pandemic, most of the major eSports events happened as scheduled (unlike the NBA and NHL playoffs), either virtually or at a venue with no fans. Because eSports has always been played online, the pandemic did little to stop its growth.

“When the pandemic went worldwide, the numbers just skyrocketed,” said Hai Ng, co-founding partner of Spawn Point, during the webinar. “One interesting thing that happened, is that eSports, being an event that has always grown up online, the lack of physical events didn’t stop it. … Most just went virtual , and that showed the resilience that eSports have to offer. Lot of established [digital] sportsbooks in Europe … that was their one product that kept the doors open.”

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