Esports already feels like a futuristic activity. Pro video gamers now compete against each other for multimillion-dollar prize pools inside of huge arenas.
The fact that you can bet on esports only sweetens the pot. Thanks to esports gambling, you don’t have to be the greatest gamer to make money — you just need a good knack for the betting aspect.
However, the industry is still relatively new. Competitive gaming has been booming since the mid-2000s and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down yet.
That said, gaming should see plenty of changes within the next decade or two. And one of the biggest changes could be the introduction of artificial intelligence.
Going further, you might be able to bet on AI-based esports matches alongside the standard player-vs-player events. How will this change the future of esports gambling?
Keep reading as I discuss the current state of the industry along with what to expect from AI and esports betting changes.
Competitive gaming is certainly nothing new. The first video-game tournament was held all the way back in 1972 at Stanford University. This event saw players compete against each other in Spacewar!
Esports have changed greatly since then. One of the biggest changes is that competitive gaming is based around teams accomplishing objectives together, rather than trying to beat each other’s high scores.
Dota 2, for example, features 5-player teams guiding their heroes to demolish opponents’ “Ancient.” Each professional must be skilled from both an individual perspective and working within a team framework.
As for Esports betting, this works much like sports gambling. You can visit an online betting site, select the esports category, and browse the available lines.
Common wagers include moneylines, outrights, prop bets, and totals. Provided you know how to read sports betting odds and understand the basic lines, you should have no problem wagering on esports.
Of course, the video-game gambling industry is entirely based on player-versus-player matches. Each team you select is full of human players.
This aspect should come as no surprise, given that artificial intelligence hasn’t fully penetrated the esports world. Furthermore, most fans don’t want to watch a bunch of AI Bots taking each other on.
They’d rather see human professionals with skills that they can only dream of having. But as I’ll cover below, AI could one day enter the fold.
Much is made in the media about robots and how they’ll impact various Industries. Everything from customer service to healthcare is featuring more artificial intelligence.
The esports industry hasn’t been immune to AI developments. In 2016, Google’s DeepMind formed a partnership with Blizzard Entertainment to create AI bots for the game.
The startup OpenAI pitted their bot against Dota 2 pro Danylo “Dendi” Ishutin last year. Dendi lost his first two matches and threw in the towel.
DeepMind AlphaStar handily defeated multiple Starcraft II pros earlier this year. It was only when AlphaStar took on Grzegorz “MaNa” Komincz — ranked 13th in the world — that the bot finally lost.
Dr. Florian Block, who’s a research fellow in Digital Creativity at the University of York, believes that AI is set to have a big impact in esports and beyond. He spoke about the matter at the ESI Forum Series.
Block doesn’t necessarily believe that AI will replace human-based elements of esports. Instead, he sees bots enhancing production aspects.
Block was asked about human-based teams in esports. He stopped short of making a prediction, but he does find it highly interesting that AI is taking on humans.
Florian doubled down on the idea that he and others are merely trying to improve the esports industry with AI, rather than change the participants.
Block’s comment about Robowars is notable, because it indicates that he does see the possibility of AI playing in esports matches. Assuming this is the case, it would be interesting to see if these bot-based contests would make it into esportsbooks.
The esports industry continues growing. Therefore, novelties like AI-vs-AI matches could become part of the betting culture.
James Dean, Managing Director of ESL UK, also spoke at the ESI event with Florian. He mentioned the Weavr deal, which saw ESL UK receive a £4 million grant to develop new “immersive [esports] audience experiences.”.
These experiences are set to feature multiple types of tech, including augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.
Of course, the UK and other nations are looking to use AI for more than just video games. The UK House of Lords Select Committee published a report on the matter in 2018.
Lord Clement-Jones, Chairman of the Committee, believes that the UK could be a leader in AI technology.
The use of bots in esports is likely just a precursor for bigger things to come. AI gaming bots could follow the way of poker bots such as Libratus, which is now contracted to work on military strategies for the US Army.
In that case, DeepMind AlphaStar and OpenAI are merely using esports as friendly competition. They’ll likely branch out into other projects in future years.
It’s difficult to tell exactly how far artificial intelligence will go in esports. These bots can clearly compete with the best players. As for whether they’ll actually be a major part of competitions remains to be seen.
But there are some more-definite changes that should happen to the esports gambling industry. Here are the biggest changes to expect in the coming years.
Sports betting is ingrained in the culture of certain countries, such as the UK and Ireland. Therefore, these nations have little work to do with regard to integrating esports betting into their gambling industries.
However, other nations are just now getting around to regulating sports wagering. The US is a perfect example, because, just last year, they repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992.
PASPA banned sports betting on a federal level, outside of four grandfathered-in states. Nevada was the only state able to run full-blown sportsbooks without legal challenges.
But the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for legal sports betting when they ruled PASPA unconstitutional. Several states now offer legal sportsbooks, while over a dozen others are serious about legalizing the matter.
Unfortunately, it could be years before even half of the US features legal sports betting. It might be even longer before esports gambling becomes a viable part of the industry.
Some states will undoubtedly struggle with how to handle this form of gambling. After all, esports competitions can feature players who are younger than 18.
New Jersey was the first state to officially legalize sports betting. However, they left esports betting out of the equation on account that it sometimes features minor participants.
Luckily, the Garden State has come back around and now allows esports betting. The one condition, though, is that matches featuring minors aren’t eligible for gambling.
One can’t rule out the possibility that other states will simply ban the activity to avoid dealing with the murky issue.
But esports betting regulation should become a positive thing as time goes. The process may take up to a decade to fully get going.
However, having sports gambling out in the open and available for mainstream advertising will help the activity.
You can already wager on plenty of esports at online bookmakers. You’ll find well over a dozen different video games on tap across the industry.
Here are some of the games that are currently available for betting purposes:
Most esports enthusiasts should be able to find at least a couple games that they’re interested in wagering on from this list.
But if we compare the number of esports markets to traditional sports, like basketball and football, the variety doesn’t even come close. Competitive gaming still has a long ways to go in terms of total markets.
The industry itself should eventually feature more leagues and tournaments involving different games. Assuming this comes to fruition, esportsbooks will have more markets to offer.
The biggest deficiency in esports gambling today is the lack of live wagering opportunities. Currently, most bookmakers only offer in-play betting during major events.
You’ll find a wide range of live bets when Dota 2’s “The International” or League of Legends’ “World Championship” are taking place. But aside from the big tournaments, esports live wagering is few and far between.
This is a shame when considering that in-play betting has become a huge part of sports gambling. Many sportsbooks now include separate sections for regular bets and live wagering.
Gamblers love how they can place additional bets as a match is happening. Unfortunately, they don’t have many of these opportunities during esports matches.
You can expect this to change, though, because competitive gaming is built for in-play wagering. More and more sportsbooks are now offering live streaming through their sites.
Esports’ primary viewership comes from live streams, with over 200 million people per day watching matches through platforms like Twitch.tv. As video-game gambling becomes more popular, esportsbooks will very likely add more languages to capitalize on the live-streaming popularity.
Video-game tournaments and leagues feature fans from across the globe. However, most of these fans are concentrated in specific Asian countries, including China, Japan, and South Korea.
The latter is actually where esports betting experienced its first popularity boom. South Koreans, fueled by quality internet connections and gaming cafes, were the first to truly embrace esports in the early 2000s.
Since then, China and Japan have also gotten into the act. These three countries consist of the majority of live-streaming audiences and bettors.
But I don’t expect esports popularity to primarily be confined to Asia forever. North America and Europe are also becoming more and more interested in the activity every day.
Berlin, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, and Seattle have all become big spots for hosting Esports tournaments. These major events make news in Europe and North America, which draws new fans into the fold.
Many of these same fans will, in turn, find themselves betting on esports. That said, video-game gambling should become more of a global phenomenon in the near future.
When people think of AI infiltrating different industries, they often consider robots in manufacturing, shipping, and transportation. But few people are thinking about bots in competitive video gaming right now.
This could change in the future, though, as AI becomes more ingrained in the esports world. Google’s DeepMind and OpenAI have already pitted their bots against pro gamers — with great success by the way.
But does this mean that bots will take over the competitive gaming industry? Furthermore, will we soon be gambling on AI teams, rather than humans?
No, at least not in the foreseeable future. As Dr. Florian Block pointed out, those in the AI industry are merely trying to enhance the esports viewership experience. They’re not, however, creating an army of pro-gaming bots.
He didn’t rule out the possibility of a Robowars-type scenario, where bots could potentially face off against each other.
But Block wasn’t ready to conclude that AI is the future of esports. It looks like humans will continue to dominate gaming.
The esports industry and its gambling side should see plenty of other changes. More regulation, additional games, consistent live-betting opportunities, and a bigger international audience are all things to expect on the horizon.
All of these factors figure to have a positive impact on esports, especially more international fans, and consistent in-play wagering.
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