Tomas Ericsson, Abios: FIFA and NBA2K may have had their heyday in 2020 but they are here to stay

Writing for SBC News, Tomas Ericsson, Abios VP of Odds, discusses FIFA and NBA2K as betting products and their future potential as filler products for regular sports. 

When referring to esports, many think of games such as League of Legends, CS:GO or Dota 2, typically landing in the categories of first-person shooters or MOBAs. The games are indeed the most popular among viewers and casual players in the west, amounting to ever-record-breaking prize pools and viewership counts. 

During the pandemic, regular sports events came to a halt. Many tournaments postponed their events, others cancelled or played without an audience. These unprecedented times hit many stakeholders in the industry, not the least sportsbooks. Their content vanished, almost overnight. This fueled the need for other content. The, somewhat unlikely, filler product came in the shape of FIFA and NBA 2K, as well as other sports simulations. 

It’s not all too hard to understand why sports simulations managed to get that type of traction though. Sports games are direct replicas of real-life sports, such as soccer and basketball, making them easy to understand and get into for a sports fan. In opposition to esports. 

To state an example, League of Legends is by far the most popular esports game in the West in terms of player count and peak viewership. Looking at 2021, we have seen that tournament viewership skyrocketed when compared to 2020 – with more than 664m hours racked up over the 12 months. The game also boasts more than 150 different champions to master, with over four abilities each. 

To properly understand the game, one has to have a decent understanding of the champions’ roles, what they do and the basic game mechanics. For example, there are Attack Damage Carries (ADC) in short, which need a specific item build, as well as pre-game runes to perform well. 

In addition, they have a unique play style and their role in the team is to dish out damage to the opposing team. They often have low life, which means that they are killed easily if not guarded by other teammates. 

As such, they often have “Supports”, which are characters whose sole mission in the game is to help the ADC and the rest of the team kill the opposing team. These characters have their specific builds, attributes and runes as well. Not knowing these, for League of Legends, pretty basic mechanics, makes it harder to watch and understand what’s really happening in a game. 

All of these intricacies make the viewership crossover harder from regular sports to esports, as sports fans aren’t as well-versed in the mechanics of esports games. 

This makes the crossover to sports games such as FIFA and NBA 2K all the more understandable. The games are replicas of the sports, down to the same players and teams due to EA Sports’ long relationship with the real world FIFA and other tournament organisers. This makes it possible to directly translate bet offers from regular sports to their virtual counterparts, making them ready from the get-go. 

Both FIFA and NBA2K have seen a slight decline since their heyday during the pandemic, but they still boast solid viewership numbers. From September 2021 to January 2022, FIFA had 56k average viewers on Twitch. That puts it over popular titles such as Rocket League and Hearthstone. 

FIFA, being a fast-paced game, has proven to be a popular betting product as well. In that light, we’ve seen several actors in the industry creating FIFA products designed for betting, something we might see more of in the future. 

Moreover, what makes sports simulations unique, is the way they solve the issue of seasonality in regular sports. Regular sports tournaments, such as Allsvenskan in Sweden (the Swedish tier 1 soccer tournament), are played in seasons. For Allsvenskan, this means between April and November each year. Between that, there’s a gap of five months. 

These gaps occur in every sport, as there needs to be time for player transfers, preparations for the next season and practice. This presents games such as FIFA and NBA2K, especially as a for-betting product, as a perfect complement. 

To conclude, we at Abios believe there will be a place for sports simulations in every sportsbook. There are new and exciting betting products created in the field as we speak and we believe they still pose as perfect complements to regular sports.


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