Are Esports Operators Prepared to Handle Skill-Based Games?

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Last month, renowned esports gambling website Unikrn announced plans to bring legal skill-based betting to the United States which will allow players to wager on themselves. Players will be able to link their games to their Unikrn accounts and the platform will in turn generated odds for the player based on their profiles within the game. This is one of the biggest milestones since the launch of such skill-based competitive video games such as Player Unknown’s Battleground and Fortnite.

As much as the esports industry is picking up in several different areas, Ian Smith, the commissioner of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) is concerned that the industry is yet to be prepared for it. To be more specific, Mr. Smith is skeptical about operators like Unikrn having the ability to ensure the skill ratings of the punters match the abilities of those that are manning the game controls.

The Loopholes

One of the most notable loopholes of this model is the fact that some players may place Fortnite bets using their personal account then handle the controller over to a more talented gamer. Similarly, there is the possibility that some players may nuke the game profile and then hustle the system by placing a series of bets. To make it worse, the ESIC commissioner is still not certain about the existence of any tools that identify players and make sure that player is actually the holder of the game account on platforms such as Unikrn’s.

Unikrn, on the other hand, is very confident about the ability of its team to handle issues to do with fraud. According to Unikrn’s chief executive officer, Rahul Sood, the platform has been studying each and every player’s game so as to thoroughly understand the competitive ecosystem of all the games hosted on its platform. This might be the case especially considering how great the platform’s customer experience is – this is only possible by knowing the gaming style of each player. This information can also be very useful for the company if it is to maintain the integrity of the betting platform.

Is This Effective Enough?

It is still quite obvious that it will be very difficult to detect cheating in battle royale such as Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds than in other types of video games. This is primarily because these battle royale games usually feature multiple players all fighting to emerge as the last man standing.

Furthermore, data from these games are not very reliable because their results are not very predictable – most anti-fraud measures are based on the predictability of certain activities or actions. For instance, talented players can sometimes be easily knocked out of the games during the early stages and a less experienced player may, in some case, get lucky enough to win the game. Since battle royale games are not like the conventional esports betting formats better solutions are definitely needed.

US Legalizes Esports Betting, Approves Unikrn’s License

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Last Tuesday, Unikrn, a gaming operator known for its blockchain-infused esports betting projects, had its esports betting license approved by the Isle of Man, a move that has officially laid the groundwork for legal and regulated sports betting in the United States. Esports fans both within the United States and some other international markets will soon be able to bet on various esports events including tournaments and championship matches.

Unikrn, which is the world’s first betting platform to be built entirely on blockchain technology has had plans to merge real-money betting on competitive video gaming with crypto and blockchain technologies. The approval of its licenses by the Isle of Man is a huge step forward for the company and which has already moved fast to deploy its crypto esports gambling services in 20 different regions – the company began rolling out its online gaming products to the 20 countries as soon as the Isle of Man approved its license.

It plans to follow through by offering esports betting to European countries, South Korean and other Asian nations as well as parts of Latin America. In the US, the company will be offering several types of esports gambling services save for spectator betting which is yet to be legalized.

With the new products, the platform’s users in the countries where sports betting is legal will have the opportunity to bet on major esports competitions like the forthcoming League of Legends World Championship. Unlike traditional sportsbooks, Unikrn will be taking a unique approach that will be based on skill-based bets – this will allow the gamers to bet on their game performance for in games such as Player Unknown: Battlegrounds and Fortnite.

High Hopes Esports Betting Market

The approval of Unikrn esports betting license is certainly going to pave way for more companies to venture into the space – in fact, a number of esports betting platforms already exist but they have yet to be officially recognized by the Isle of Man. Still, the market is expected to significantly grow further from here on out. According to Rahul Sood, Unikrn’s CEO, the esports betting market could be worth $9 billion by 2020 if it’s nurtured properly.

“There is finally a legitimate, regulated operator in the space that has a pretty comprehensive offering,” Sood commented on his company’s approved esports betting license. “It’s huge.”

For the esports betting venture, Unikrn will also be featuring technology from Bittrex, a US-based asset trading platform. Bittrex’s technology will assist Unikrn in establishing a system for seamless crypto accessibility for the users of the gaming platform. The company’s in-house cryptocurrency, UnikoinGold (UKG) will be the primary token for esports spectator wagering in the 20 regions where Unikrn his set to begin operations.

LeoVegas Ventures into Esports Betting with Pixel.bet

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Mobile casino specialist LeoVegas, through its wholly-owned investment company LeoVentures Ltd., has recently made its debut into the esports betting market. This move was officiated last Thursday when the Stockholm-listed LeoVegas announced that its LeoVenture’s arm had purchased a 51 percent stake in the Malta-based esports betting platform Pixel.bet for a whopping €1.5m payable through issued shares. The acquisition deal is expected to close in in the current quarter of the year through a new share issue.

The gambling industry has been rather laid back when it comes to esports betting, only making tentative forays into the space but this is beginning to change thanks to the explosive growth of esports in terms of attendance, viewership, sponsorships, and media coverage. These developments have pushed more gambling operators or at least consider the possibility.

“Esports is an international and fast-growing area that engages millions of viewers and players every month. With this investment in Pixel.bet we as a Group will gain a unique insight into a new and fast-growing segment,” commented Gustaf Hagman, the LeoVegas’ Group CEO and co-founder of LeoVegas Mobile Gaming Group.

This is a huge step forward for esports betting and even though Pixel.bet will initially not have a significant effect on the LeoVegas Group’s revenue or financial standing, the acquisition is expected to pay off decently in the long run.

“In Pixel.bet we have found a passionate team of entrepreneurs who come from the esports community,” Robin Ramm-Ericson, Managing Director of LeoVentures and co-founder of LeoVegas Mobile Gaming Group, said. “With its strong technology and mobile-first gaming experience, Pixel.bet is a perfect match for the LeoVegas Mobile Gaming Group. Together we will drive development for the absolute premier experience in esports betting.”

The Pixel Holding Group has confirmed via its Pixel.bet entity that it is now ready to embark on a new phase of operations that will primarily be about “gearing up for a broader launch of its business”. Sweden and the Nordics are reportedly the initial focus markets for the company though it is still eying further international growth.

“We love esports. And we love betting. We want to create value for enthusiasts and add something truly extra to our community. Pixel.bet is, for example, the first to offer log-in with mobile BankID and instant withdrawals. In LeoVentures we have now found a unique partner and investor that understands and shares our passion,” stated Eirik Kristiansen, CEO of Pixel.bet.

Nippon Partners with Nintendo for Splatoon 2 Esports Leagues

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Nowadays, news of domestic sports competitions venturing into Esports is becoming more and more common. A number of famous teams, leagues, and clubs from all around the world have finally decided to warm up to the idea of acquiring or starting competitive video game teams not only because it is an assured source of some extra revenue but also because it will hopefully broaden their reach.

Japan has not been left behind. The country’ pro baseball league, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), last week announced that they had made a move into the Esports industry by partnering with Nintendo to create a new Splatoon 2 Esports league. Each of the league’s 12 clubs will be participating in the Esports league which is set to go down in Spring 2019.

To take part in the Splatoon 2 league, players will need to register for the fourth annual Splatoon Koshien event that was scheduled to kick off in July 2018. During the event, a scout from each of the 12 clubs will be around to pick team members based on their own criteria. Players who are selected will be contacted by the team for a special interview scheduled for February 2019 after which all of the 12 teams will be shown off at a special presentation in March before the Splatoon officially kicks off.

At the moment, the league’s official start date has not been announced and, on the same note, no details regarding the ruleset or the prize pool have been released. However, it is worth noting that the language on the official Splatoon Esports Series website seems to suggest that the pool will not have a prize, even though the players are likely to receive compensation for their participation. This is expected especially when considering Nintendo’s operating procedure, that is, the company does not award monetary prizes for tournaments.

Nippon’s Partnership with Konami

The Splatoon 2 Esports league is not NPB’s first Esports venture. In 2017, the baseball league partnered with Konami to host championships for its official baseball title Jikkyō Powerful Pro Yakyū which is known internationally as Power Pros. This tournament was officially recognized by the league and, furthermore, featured promotional content that involved a number of NPB stars.

Last week, NPB announced that it plans to take its relationship with Konami a notch higher with the launch of Pawapuro Pro League, a baseball Esports League that will operate in the same way as the NBA 2K league – each of the NPB clubs will be represented by three players. This one, on the other hand, will have a prize pool of 12 million yen ($12,000).

Highlights of the IOC and GAISF’s Lausanne Esports Forum

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The Olympic Esports Forum that was held on Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland kicked off with opening remarks from Patrick Baumann, the president of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). In his welcome speech, he said the main objective of the forum was to “build a joint understanding between the Esports community and the Olympic movement,” that involves structure and values that would set “the platform for joint engagement.”

He also pointed out that many of the stakeholders were considering the most “mutually beneficial” steps that could be taken to forward the agenda of taking Esports to the next level.

The Esports Forum majorly focused on the areas of commonality and those that offered opportunities for collaboration. This included discussions about whether Esports could be eventually recognized as a sport as well as the form that would best suit its representation within the Olympic Movement.

As it stands, there are no official organizations representing the global Esports industry and this makes it rather difficult for Esports to align itself with the Olympic values, rules, and regulations. Therefore, the forum recognized that ensuring this would be a lengthy process and so the consideration of whether Esports could be added into the Olympic program was not an immediate goal.

More than 150 representatives from various Esports and gaming companies participated alongside a large number of players, teams, publishers, sponsors, media and sponsors as well as officials from the International Sports Federation, National Olympic Committees, the International Olympic Committee and Global Association of International Sports Federations. Also in attendance were a decent number of athletes and broadcasters. Former professional basketball player, Rick Fox acted as the forum’s host moderator.

Calls for Inclusion of More Women in Esports

Among the stakeholder that attended the forum was a panel that was specifically focused on gender equality in various sectors of the Esports industry. Panelist discussed the challenges that both traditional sports and Esports have in common with regards to gender inequality.

“Women make up about 25% of the Esports player base, so why aren’t they in the top?” asked PMS Clan founder and director at Twitch, Amber Dalton. “The fact is boys start much, much earlier. I believe if we can get girls early, playing as long as boys do, we’ll get women playing […] Women and girls simply aren’t getting that exposure. We need amateur leagues to build them up for pro events later.”

These efforts are clearly a nod to the numerous female Esports teams that exist at the moment. They include an all-female Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team known as Team Dignitas which was the first female team to win a championship for the Dignitas Organization.

“I think what’s great about esports is that we have an eco-system here where anybody can put together a tournament. There are tools and platforms available for female players to set up their own tournaments,” BITKRAFT Esports founding partner Jens Hilgers said.

The State of Crypto in the World of Soccer

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The World Cup season is gone but the tears, anticipation, and disappointment are still fresh in the minds of football enthusiasts from every part of the globe. It was an exciting time and everyone can attest to this fact regardless of how everything turned out. This time though, there were so many wins that came with the FIFA 2018 World Cup that went down in Russia.

Business was good in so many fronts but crypto turned out to be the main highlight. People were not only able to place bets using various cryptocurrencies but also pay for flights, hotels, food and even alcohol during the World Cup season. This was a huge milestone for the crypto ecosystem as it set the stage for even greater developments.

The World Cup aside, it is becoming clearer that the idea of cryptocurrency is beginning to become more acceptable in several different sectors. Even more interesting is the fact that more and more celebrities are backing cryptocurrencies – these include sports figures and athletes. Clearly, something is being done right and if things continue along the same path, then we should have another revolution in our hands pretty soon.

Didier Drogba Becomes a Crypto Ambassador

The iconic former Ivory Coast player is the latest entrant into the long list of celebrity athletes who have endorsed cryptocurrencies. Russian news outlet, RT reports that Drogba has recently signed up to the official ambassador for a new digital currency-based social networking platform known as all.me. In an interview with RT, Drogba expressed his strong faith in the project saying that he believed in it “a lot”. He even wore an all.me branded t-shirt during the interview to stress how firm his support for the project is.

Founded in 2015 by Artak Tovmasyan, an Armenian businessman, all.me reportedly raised $30 million when the website was launched and is planning to conduct an initial coin offering (ICO) in the fourth quarter of 2018. The platform is quite unique especially because it promises to share half of its advertising revenue with users based on factors that include activity, content, and popularity.

Ronaldinho Launches His Own Cryptocurrency

Brazilian football legend and 2005 Ballon d’Or award winner, Ronaldinho has also recently announced the launch of his own digital currency – Ronaldinho Soccer Coin (RSC) – which is also part of wider ambitions to venture into the global Esports industry, another emerging and rapidly growing market.

The Ronaldinho Soccer Coin project is aimed at developing, among other things, a football academy, and a betting platform and marketplace. In addition to this, the project will invest in hosting amateur and global league matches as well as in the development of virtual reality stadiums which will be used to compile blockchain database to assist in the analysis of player skill and subsequent creation of new teams.

These two are not the only athletes that have shown interest in crypto and as the year progresses we should see even more endorsements and partnerships.

International Olympic Committee to Host Esports Forum

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Esports continues to make tremendous strides towards mainstream adoption and this weekend, a forum that is scheduled to take place in Lausanne, Switzerland will outline the next step for the collaboration and possible integration of traditional sports and Esports. The forum will be attended by a number of popular Esports teams, games publishers, broadcasters and event organizers.

It will be hosted jointly by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) with the main focus being on gaining a better understanding of Esports and therefore its suitability for possible inclusion in the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee first recognized Esports as a sports activity in 2017, something that was a clear indication that Esports was ready to take the next step – and what better way to do so than to link up with the Olympics. Already Esports boasts of over 250 million players from all around the world in a market that currently brings in more than a million dollars every year. GAISF too has taken notice of the incredible nature of Esports:

“We understand that sport never stands still and the phenomenal growth of eSports and gaming is part of its continuing evolution,” GAISF president Patrick Baumann said. “The eSports Forum provides an important and extremely valuable opportunity for us to gain a deeper understanding of eSports, their impact and likely future development so that we can jointly consider the ways in which we may collaborate to the mutual benefit of all of sport in the years ahead.”

The International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) revealed earlier this year that it was in talks with the organizers of the Paris 2024 Olympics about the incorporation of Esports as a demonstration sport at the Olympics. IeSF has since confirmed that the both the “the local Olympic organizing committee and the city are supporting this movement, so this will be a stronger message towards the IOC that eSports could be included as a demonstration title in 2024.”

The Forum Is Purely Exploratory

While the forum is certainly going to be a huge milestone in Esports’ journey, the IOC on Wednesday clarified that the forum will be “purely an exploratory meeting.” This is understandable particularly because not everyone agrees that Esports have the right qualities and therefore is not fit to be part of the Olympics. One such person is IOC President Thomas Bach who has expressed concerns that highlight the violent nature of some competitive video games.

Still, these concerns are what make the forum such a huge deal as it is then that the stakeholders from both sides can meet, interact and gain necessary understanding of the things that traditional sports and Esports have in common and the things that they do not.

Overwatch League Coming to ESPN, Disney and ABC

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On Wednesday, Blizzard Entertainment announced that it had struck a multi-year broadcast with ESPN, Dinsey and ABC family networks. The broadcast deal includes the Overwatch League playoffs which kicked off on the night of the announced, the Season 1 grand finals that will be played at the Barclays Center in New York later this month as well as the next year’s Overwatch League Season 2.

The coverage began on Wednesday with the playoffs on ESPN3 and Disney XD. This will be followed by 10 hours of the Grand Finals coverage which will also include a July 29 recap show on ABC.

“We are turning the corner here in terms of our interest and engagement in the Esports category,” said ESPN’s Vice President of Digital Media Programming, John Lasker. “We’ve had an interest and have been watching pretty closely how the first year of the Overwatch League has been progressing, and we’re really excited to be a part of this. Clearly, by the way, we’re going to be covering it starting with the playoffs and the finals this year certainly speaks volumes to our excitement and our enthusiasm overall for Esports moving forward.”

Even though the financial terms of the partnership are yet to be revealed, it is quite obvious that this is a huge step forward for the Overwatch League and the Esports industry as a whole. Also, existing distribution agreements such as Twitch broadcasts will remain and this combined with what the Disney and ESPN networks have to offer at both the linear and digital level, Esports are headed nowhere but up.

Is This It?

The Esports industry has been around for a very long time but is undeniable that the era of live streaming is one of its key propellants. Case in point, Twitch has grown and evolved to become the go-to streaming service for competitive video games such as Dota 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Now, other players like Facebook are carving out their own offerings with regards to the Esports streaming.

Online streaming has done a great job for Esports and it will probably remain to be a leader in that regard but the very idea of an Esports tournament championship airing live in primetime on ESPN is very exciting, to say the least. The partnership is, by all means, a well-structured strategy to bring Overwatch to a much larger audience. This brings about a crossover of sorts but the defining factor is that each distribution point is representative of different demographics with a common interest – watching the highest levels of the Overwatch League gameplay.

“It’s a cross-section that’s a hardcore sports fan, especially on ESPN channels,” Pete Vlastelica, president, and CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports leagues said. “They love watching competition, they love watching the best in the world compete at a great game. Maybe they have played video games. Maybe they know of Overwatch. Maybe they even play Overwatch or play it a lot. But they’re fundamentally looking to be entertained by the highest possible level of competition around a great game. And that’s what we’ve got.”

This could have just the right amount of momentum to propel Esports towards mainstream media and mass global adoption.

McLaren Signs New Partnerships for New Esports Series

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McLaren has had its sights set on the Esports industry for quite some time now. Last year, the car manufacturer hosted the World’s Fastest Gamer, an Esports racing competition which was won by Ruby van Buren. Following the success of that particular event, McLaren has recently revealed its plans for the Esports industry and the company indeed intends to seal its place in the world of Esports with the launch of a new Esports series called ‘Shadow Project’.

The ‘Shadow Project’ Esports series is an extension of 2017’s World’s Fastest Gamer (WFG) tournament. However, unlike the WFG that was purely dependent and focused on the traditional driving simulator titles, Shadow Project will branch out and include more casual racing titles. These will even include smartphone titles like Real Racing 3 which will be played alongside established competitive gaming titles like rFactor 2, iRacing and Forza Motorsport.

The winner of this Esports series will earn a spot on the company’s newly formed Esports racing team which will further create an opportunity for them to join McLaren’s Formula 1 team as a simulation driver.

“Last year’s competition proved that the skills learned as a racing gamer are transferable to the real world. This is unique to the racing genre. We believe that Esports and real-world racing have much to learn and give to each other and last year’s competition was just the start,” Ben Payne, Mclaren Director of Esports said. “McLaren Shadow Project will be the most open and inclusive racing Esports competition on the planet. We are looking for the most talented virtual racers from all countries and backgrounds. To make this possible we have partnered with the biggest racing game brands in the world – Real Racing 3 on mobile, Forza Motorsport on Xbox, PC racing sims iRacing and rFactor 2”

The Partnerships

While Shadow Project is entirely owned by McLaren but the company has welcomed various partners including Dell’s Alienware, VR brand HTC Vive, Logitech G, Sparco Gaming, Electronic Arts (EA) and Microsoft. HTC Vive’s involvement is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this development as it creates the potential for VR-enabled racing titles to be part of the line-up of the racing games the players will have to triumph at in order to claim the position of champion.

 

“Season one proved that Esports are a new talent frontier for motorsport and after pioneering the program in 2017, McLaren plans to develop the concept to generate greater global reach and engagement in season two. A strong, diverse Esports program has a direct benefit to McLaren’s innovative ambitions, bringing in new audiences, partners, and talent to motorsport,” says McLaren CEO Zak Brown. “By ramping up over multiple platforms across the online world, it will establish McLaren as an important brand in the motorsport Esports community.”

International Olympics Committee to Host an Esports Forum

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Esports is getting closer and closer to going mainstream thanks to recent efforts and developments that are being driven by a number of interested and curious parties. One of the most notable developments so far are efforts by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) both of who have joined forces and recently announced that they will be hosting an Esports forum on July 21.

The forum whose key purposes is to act as a gauge of whether or not Esports can be part of Olympics will involve professional Esports players, Esports teams, games publishers, sponsors and event organizers as well as members of the International Sports Federations and  National Olympic Committees. The forum’s primary objective will be to “explore synergies, build joint understanding, and set a platform for future engagement between Esports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement.”

“Along with the IOC, the GAISF looks forward to welcoming the Esports and gaming community to Lausanne. We understand that sport never stands still and the phenomenal growth of Esports and gaming is part of its continuing evolution. The Esports Forum provides an important and extremely valuable opportunity for us to gain a deeper understanding of Esports, their impact and likely future development, so that we can jointly consider the ways in which we may collaborate to the mutual benefit of all of sport in the years ahead,” said Patrick Baumann, the president of GAISF.

From what we could gather the terms used in the details of the forum’s objectives, the IOC and GIASF are not only trying to promote inclusivity but also trying to find ways of making sure that Esports will make some money for the stakeholders. On offer during the July 21 forum will be a series of talks and panels with regards to how the Olympics and Esports can work together.

In addition to this, the forum will include discussions on Twitch’s success and mode, the push for gender equality and inclusivity, governance structures as far as Esports is concerned and the lives of the professional Esports players.

Esports has continued to grow at an insanely fast pace and is now even considered to be the next biggest frontier in influencer marketing. While it is undeniable that the Esports environment is brimming with potential, advertisers will certainly have to reshape their sponsorship strategies so as to match the unique nature and dynamism of the Esports space.

Even if the Esports forum is successful, Esports is not going to be part of the 2020 Olympics but in 2024 we might finally get to see the first Esports Olympics. This is somewhat a blessing in disguise as it creates room for the committee to lay out suitable guidelines for Esports at the Olympics while at the same time getting acquainted with the nature of the Esports space through existing competitions such as the Overwatch League.