What happens when an unstoppable force collides with an immovable object? Over the past few years, two massive cultural phenomena have begun to answer this question. With the rapid growth of both the eSports industry and online gambling’s presence, it was never going to be long before the two began to overlap. With investment from major celebrities and angel investors, including Ashton Kutcher and Mark Cuban, you can be sure that eSports betting is only going one way, up! Although the format is relatively new, with eSports garnering a viewership of over 130 million and the gambling industry in the UK worth more than £7 billion, the fact of the matter is that eSports betting is only going to go from strength to strength.
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A Concurrent Timeline
With origins in the late fifties and early sixties, both formats are officially around the same age. As such, it’s no surprise that they have advanced and grown towards their current cross-over. We felt that a brief look back into the history of the two would be an exciting read – and we were right!
Gambling in the UK is only allowed on-course, at events such as the horse racing. Meanwhile, the very first video game is invented by a New York physicist: a pong game played on an oscilloscope
1960 – 1961
An act of parliament in the UK passes, making off-course betting legal for the very first time. This leads to the opening of high street bookmakers, such as Ladbrokes.
Betting shops in the UK begin to take a more familiar shape, however, hot drinks and seats were still not permitted by law! In the states, the earliest known video game competition is held at Stanford University – the victor received a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone
In 1980, Atari hosted over 10,000 players from across the United States for their Space Invaders Championship, establishing competitive gaming. British law changes made in 1986 allow betting shops a few creature comforts: seats, hot drinks and televised coverage are now allowed
Many popular gaming platforms are released, including 1991’s Super NES and 1995’s Sony Playstation. These bring gaming to a wider audience, paving the way to the enormous following that we have today. Meanwhile, Antigua & Barbuda pass a 1994 act of law which allows companies to apply for online gambling licenses
1995 – 1999
Online gambling has grown rapidly. From 15 websites in 1996 to over 200 in 1997. The latter half of the nineties also saw the rise of bigger and better gaming tournaments, including the Cyberathlete Professional League, QuakeCon and the Pro Gamers League
2000 – 2010
Despite eSports being in their infancy, with many competitors and teams still amateurs, Korea is the first country to create an association for the specific promotion and regulation of eSports: The Korean eSports Association. It is at this time that they also become the first country to begin licensing professional eSports players.
eSports sees a massive increase in popularity across the decade, with 10 tournaments held in 2000, to over 250 being held in 2010. Meanwhile, online gambling has been growing at a steady rate, with a survey held in 2001 claiming that 8 million customers had taken part in via the internet. In 2005, the UK government formed the Gambling Commission in order to license and regulate all gambling, in a successful effort to tighten security for online bet makers.
2010 – present day
The growth of faster internet connections, live streaming media such as twitch.tv and dedicated eSports developers video gaming has truly evolved: from single and two-player games that we had as children, we’re now seeing players from across the world clash in epic battles of wit, dexterity and skill.
In 2013, twitch.tv recorder viewers watching over 12 billion minutes of gaming video. Large viewership has lead to larger sponsorships. Massive sponsors such as Razer, Intel and Coca-Cola mean that eSports is now an economic powerhouse. Big money has seen the rise of professional gaming organisations and celebrity players earning mind-boggling salaries and prize money. With the eSports market in Asia, Europe and North America being worth over half a billion USD, it is easy to see why 2015 saw the advent of eSports betting as a prime entertainment form.
Hold on! What Are eSports?
We’ve delved a little into the history of eSports, but some of you may still be a little unclear as to what they actually are.
Another term we could use, which may actually be more accurate, is competitive multiplayer gaming. From humble beginnings, competitive gaming has grown from strength to strength.
It is now an economic powerhouse, worth more than half a billion dollars, with regulating bodies, professional organisations and celebrity players all playing their part.
As we have already alluded to: there is no single, over-encompassing genre or category to eSports. It is merely a term to describe the very best in multiplayer competitive fixtures within the virtual domain. As such, we feel that we should discuss the various genres and their games in order to give you a better understanding before you try your hand at betting on them.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena or simply MOBA
A descendant of the real-time strategy genre, MOBAs have their players controlling a single avatar fighting for one of two predetermined teams. The goal is to destroy an enemy headquarters with the assistance of computer controlled allies. The headquarters and subsequent bases are normally fixed, so the teams of players have no control over positioning or building of them, but it is the role of the teams to defend their own.
The genres first form was that of a custom map within the original Starcraft, but it was a Warcraft III adaption of that same map, Defense of the Ancients (DotA), which really fuelled the rise of the multiplayer online battle arena.
Since the first DotA tournament was held, the popularity of MOBAs has exploded, with League of Legends, DotA 2 and Heroes of the Storm now at the forefront of the genre. Multiplayer Online Battle Arena tournaments are generally held in a single arena, with players using standardized hardware and a live audience watching the drama unfold.The most common bets placed on the multiplayer online battle arena competitive scene are team win and overall tournament winner wagers, with the recent performances so readily available all over the internet to help you to pick a winner. One thing for newcomers to eSports to watch out for is the match and competition format – games are often Best of One or Best of Five, with all figures in the middle represented.
League of Legends
Drawing inspiration from DotA, Riot Games developed League of Legends. A free to play MOBA, with micro transactions which allow players to customise their playing experience. Players take control of a single character within a team of five with the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy team’s Nexus. As the game wears on, the players on each team earn ability points, gold and items to aid them in their fight.
It was released in 2009 and by the time 2012 came around, it was already the most popular PC game in North America (by hours played). In fact, as of 2014, League of Legends has seen a whopping 27 million players per day – with as many as 7 million playing at any one time!
Despite the massive player-base, the really interesting part about League of Legends is the competitive scene. Riot Games organise and officiate the annual Championship Series, with those who succeed qualifying for the World Championships at the end of the season. For the last two years, the World Championships have offered a massive prize pool: over two million dollars!
Valve Corporation released Defense of the Ancients 2 in 2013. It is the direct, stand-alone sequel to the Warcraft mod which kickstarted it all. Controlling one of 110 playable characters within teams of five, the winning condition is to destroy the enemy’s Ancient Building, with experience, gold and items helping the players along the way.
Free-to-play, DotA2 is the most actively played game in the Steam library, with over a million concurrent players recorded.
Defense of the Ancients garners a massive competitive following, with the annual tournament “The International” hosted in Seattle, offering a total prize fund of over $18 million in 2015 – the largest in eSports history! A recent addition to DotA2, annual series are held, in a similar manner to the Championship Series of League of Legends.
Hi-Rez Studios released Smite for Windows in 2014, with a subsequent Xbox One release in 2015. Two teams of three to five players take on the roles of Gods – drawing characters from Norse, Roman, Chinese, Egyptian, Hindu and Greek mythology – in order to defeat the enemy team’s Titan.
In January 2015, Hi-Rez hosted the very first Smite World Championships in Atlanta, Georgia. Competing teams from North & South America, Europe and China all vied for their piece of the $2.4 million prize pool. Later that year, Hi-Rez Studios announced that they were applying a $1 million cap on World Championship prize pools, in an attempt to pay more money to more players throughout the year.
Blizzard’s new addition to the MOBA scene, released in June 2015, once again sees teams of five players facing off against each other. Throughout the game, experience is shared amongst each team, whilst different mounts can be utilised by players to improve their chances of victory. Since Heroes of the Storm is so new to the scene, no real competitive following has garnered yet, due mostly to the fact that the competitive leagues available are in their pre-season and have yet to be announced by Blizzard.
REAL-TIME STRATEGY (RTS)
The father of MOBAs and one of the most popular and highly regarded eSports genres, RTS games are typically individual tests of strategy, preemption and skill. Most RTS games feature a top-down view of a map, with a number of players facing each other in a free-for-all competition for resources and eventually total domination of the map.
Although there are a lot of RTS games available, the competitive scene is dominated by Blizzard’s Starcraft and Warcraft series.
eSports as we know them today quite probably owe their existence to the Korean Starcraft: Brood War scene that sprung up between the late nineties and the turn of the century. Although the competitive RTS scene is not as popular in the west, the Korean RTS market is absolutely huge, with tens of thousands of fans turning up for competitions and large events being watched by millions on cable television!
Individual player bets are by far the most common when it comes to real-time strategy and although form has a lot of bearing on your picks, remember that certain playstyles and races within the game favour certain maps: do your homework and you’ll be able to pick a winner with relative ease.
Blizzard’s Starcraft was a success and featured in various tournaments in its day, but the release of Starcraft: Brood War shortly after killed the original – luckily for Blizzard, the popularity of this sequel was a financial and critical success that cemented the company’s place amongst the top game development studios in the early 2000s. The fact that there are still Brood War events taking place now, over fifteen years later, is a testament to the quality of the game. With a combined figure of over ten million copies of Starcraft and Brood War sold, it is easy to see why they’re considered a vital part of the foundation of eSports.
Focusing on three species, the Protoss, the Zerg and the Terran, Starcraft is a top down RTS with a billion intricacies that would leave an innocent bystander confused for years. Professional players, however, know exactly what they’re going to do – five minutes before they do it! If you’ve never seen an RTS played then take a quick look on Youtube at world class players and you’ll see one thing: a blurred flurry of keyboard strokes, as some professionals hit over 200 actions per minute!
Starcraft II was released in 2010 and although it began to replace Brood War in many competitive scenes, even to this day Brood War is featured in tournaments at all levels.
The second installment remains much the same in terms of gameplay, and tournaments are held by various events and organisations including MLG, Team Liquid StarLeague, Dreamhack and Intel Extreme Masters. Starcraft: Brood War and Starcraft II have paid out a combined prize total of almost $25 million and there is much more expected to be won in the coming years!
Another of Blizzard’s landmark games, Warcraft III is played competitively across the globe. Like any RTS, its largest following is in Asia, although Warcraft III does have a surprising big grasp on the western European market.
Despite a relatively small player base in comparison to the Starcraft series, Korea has seen televised Warcraft III events and celebrity Warcraft players are very much a part of Asian culture – especially in China.
FIRST PERSON SHOOTERS (FPS)
First person shooters simulate firefights between individuals or teams, with the main focus being on either kills or objectives, depending on the game and the game mode. FPS eSports have a massive following due to the widespread popularity of titles such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Counter-Strike and Halo.
Both PC and console variants are played across a wide range of tournaments. From the early days of Doom LAN parties to the modern age of enormous prize funds and live audiences, FPS have evolved well with the advent of modern eSports.
More often than not, there is only one bet which you can place on competitive first person shooter matches: team win-lose-draw. One thing to keep in mind when betting on these games is that although individual skill is a factor, communication and a team’s ability to cover each other, play a massive role in the success that they can achieve.
1993’s Doom saw the rise of competitive FPS tournaments. Released at just the right time for modem to modem connections, many see Doom as the father of first person shooter eSports, and rightly so. Microsoft’s very first Doom II tournament was held at a single location, with standardized hardware for all participants, which has become the format of PC eSports ever since.
The Counter-Strike series began life as a Half-Life mod and was subsequently bought and released into beta testing by Valve at the turn of the century.
The now defunct Championship Gaming Series was one of the first in the genre to franchise professional teams, providing players with contracts, salaries and sponsorships. This has had a great effect on eSports as we know it today.
Counter-Strike is quite possibly PC gaming’s biggest FPS eSport, with the majority of professional competition being centered around the United States and Europe. Tournaments such as the World Cyber Games and the ESL house large competitions, with players shooting it out for their share of the available prize pool.
Together, the Counter-Strike series have has generated the most money for players and teams within the FPS genre: an amount well over a staggering $20 million!
CALL OF DUTY
The Call of Duty franchise is the first in our list which primarily appears on consoles. It is absolutely massive in the North American market and has been featured in MLG since Modern Warfare – going as far as dethroning Halo as the series suffered from design changes which were adverse to the eSports environment. Thanks to its enormous following and pop culture tag, Call of Duty is one eSport which often throws amateurs into prize-winning situations.
Many players and teams have worked their way through the ranks and leagues and earn through various competitive means, with some being successful enough to make a living from it.
Another of console eSports vanguard, the Halo series has been in steady decline since around 2010 for a few reasons, but it was once the powerhouse of first person shooter eSports. Fortunately for the developers and fans of the series, Halo 5 has been successful in revitalizing the franchise, although it will take a long time for Halo to return to its former glory.
One of the original competitive scenes, fighting games tend to be individual tests of skill, with players facing off in one versus one matches. From high-score and player versus player arcade competitions, fighting games have evolved into one of console gaming’s most competitive genres. Fans of fighting games generally prefer the competitive element, rather than cash prizes, often reinforcing the moniker of “competitive gaming” – snubbing the more PC-oriented title of eSports.
Major competitions are always packed, with a massive following turning out to events such as the Evolution Championship Series and the Capcom Cup.
Thanks in no small part to the “passion-over-money” attitude of the fans fighting games, the chances are good that you won’t find many opportunities to bet on such events. However, when you do, be careful as to who you back – fighting games can often have surprising outcomes. One combination of brilliant timing and impressive skill can turn an entire series on its head!
Probably the first major title in competitive fighting games, Capcom’s Street Fighter series has one of the longest running professional scenes. With an array of characters, each with their own fighting style, controlled by players who also have their own style there is one thing that is absolutely certain in professional street fighter competitions: no two matches are the same!
In the early nineties, Street Fighter made one of the earliest “celebrity gamers” in Daigo Umehara, who went on to have a couple of his games included in various “Best Moments in Pro Gaming” lists.
The objective of Street Fighter games is the same as most other fighting games: outlast your opponent, and get their hit points or health bar to zero!
The fighting game that quite possibly garners both the largest player base and following, Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series has appeared in high-profile tournaments in all of its iterations. The Super Smash Bros. Melee and For Wii U are the most commonly used in professional level competitions, although 2008’s Brawl superseded Melee within the MLG scene.
Super Smash Bros. is vastly different than most fighting games for one reason: the aim is to knock your opponent off the stage, rather than to reduce a health bar to zero. This causes the games to be played at breakneck speeds, with extremely aggressive tactics being common, which would be risky in the majority of other titles.
THE FUTURE IS HERE
The combination of sports style betting and competitive gaming is one that was clearly meant to be. With both forms of entertainment growing year after year, the future looks bright for this amalgamation. Although it is still early days, it is really exciting to think about the future of eSports betting.
With such a wide array of genres and games available, with some many different factors and outcomes, one can only imagine the number of markets that will be on offer in coming years. In fact, some bookmakers are already taking bets on the year in which eSports becomes an official Olympic sport!
So, whether you’re an eSports fan or this is your first foray into the world of competitive multiplayer gaming, there’s a lot of genres and games out there to look into. Whilst action-packed FPS tournaments and tense MOBA championships are brilliant fun on their own, the recent addition of real money wagers only stands to increase the entertainment value – and with the market for eSports betting growing at a ridiculous rate, there’s a bit of something for everybody!