Esports in a post-COVID world – can it maintain its momentum?

Esports will continue to grow beyond COVID, writes Mark Balch, VP Esports Betting Services at Bayes Esports, however we must keep an eye out for danger lurking on the horizon.

To kick off the article, we should more clearly define the broad term of esports now. For betting companies, there are basically two types of esports; hardcore video game competition (CSGO, Dota, League of Legends etc.) and sport replacement or so called crisis content (FIFA, NBA2k, Ice Hockey etc.). 

Before COVID, sport replacement almost didn’t exist by comparison to now, outside of some exceptions. Then the pandemic came along and it had a dramatic impact on both esports and esports betting in a number of ways. 

Firstly, the lockdown removed all normal forms of sports – except a handful of examples. This put esports centre stage on betting websites as we were still able to run high quality competitions with tier 1 teams and players. Sport replacement also suddenly became the most important aspect of the traditional sport product as all other content vanished.

This type of content has also evolved over 2021. The common examples being FIFA and NBA, are now considered a type of virtual sports replacement product. An always-on service for customers to give them something to bet on, rather than something of a serious competitive nature. Interest in this product has held up over time suggesting it will always be required in some way.

On the other hand, hardcore esports at the very top end relies on physical events and international competition – where the world’s best teams from each region play against each other. This is the pinnacle of competition and obviously not possible and a lot of the best competitions have not taken place, which has had a negative impact on the esports industry as a whole. Only a handful of events have managed to run a live event in front of a crowd, even as we enter the end of 2021.

The betting volume has increased significantly for esports over the past two years and there have never been so many people exposed to it before. This has accelerated the esports timeline for many betting companies to ensure they have content in all situations.

Will the big moment last?

Some would likely disagree that COVID was esports’ big moment, plenty of plans for in-venue leagues and huge events have been put on hold, many roles within the industry are in a kind of hiatus waiting for big events to return.

Let’s take The International 10 for example, originally planned to be held in Sweden, the event had to be moved to Romania due to government issues. Now the event has been plagued by issues due to a COVID surge and now all tickets have been refunded, only days before the event. Leaving many angry and stranded with bookings and flights in place.

There has also been a stagnation across many esports with the exception of League of Legends. Without the international competition, games like CSGO and Dota have suffered, and big events are very repetitive due to regional teams almost always being the same. 2021 has seen some high level competition return, however it is yet to get back to its former glory.

Esports will continue to grow beyond COVID, however, there is more danger lurking on the horizon for some. The last time there was a significant global financial crisis (2008), esports suffered and it ended many competitions and careers before it resurged in 2010/11. 2021 has seen a drop in tournament organisers running events, and a drop in overall matches offered, suggesting the funding available to run these events are tight.

Sport replacement content continues to perform strongly for bookmakers and it is obviously a welcome addition for many betting customers. Where this content goes in future is a good question, as FIFA and EA announce a revamped esports scene, will the competitive side of FIFA be revitalised due to the betting interest that now exists.

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