As you’re almost certainly aware, over the past few years, competitive gaming has exited the basement and entered the big leagues. The eSports market is currently valued at nearly one billion dollars, while competitions are being held in eSports-specific arenas and televised on ESPN. Teams of gamers are housing together to practice and the National Federation of State High School Associations has even recommended that schools institute eSports as an official athletic activity (granting every child’s dream of playing video games at school in the process).
And with every passing tournament, the prizes get richer and the audience grows larger: The 2017 League of Legends World Championship prize pool was more than $4.5 million (60 million unique viewers watched the finals, compared to 43 million the year before), and the upcoming 2018 Call of Duty World League Championship prize pool will be an impressive $1.5 million.
As such, now gamblers — as they’re wont to do — are beginning to flock toward this lucrative industry. Even though sports (and eSports) betting is illegal in most states, global wagering surrounding major eSports titles was estimated at $5.5 billion in 2016 and is projected to approach $13 billion by 2020, according to a report by software analytics company Narus and research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. For reference, global soccer wagers were estimated at between $49 billion and $70 billion — including both legal and illegal wagers — per a 2013 report by the BBC.
While there are already numerous eSports betting websites — the process of betting on esports online is exactly the same as making a bet on any other sporting event — this industry will almost certainly receive a boost as casinos begin to adopt eSports. The Downtown Grand in Las Vegas — the gambling capital of America — became the first casino to fully embrace a permanent eSports lounge in 2016 (the MGM Grand followed suit shortly after). The lounge hosts weekly competitions with cash prizes, and consists of social areas with viewing screens where players can bet against one another. The games currently featured there include Mario Kart 64, League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Smash 4, FIFA 18 and more.
Fun fact: Since launching their eSports lounge, the Downtown Grand has learned that gamers prefer “food on a stick” to traditional casino fare (because, of course they do), since it keeps their hands and fingers clean for gaming.
More casinos are expected to embrace eSports sooner rather than later: 82 percent of commercial casino stakeholders believe that regional casinos should explore hosting eSports events, according to the above-mentioned report by Narus and Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. Both the Luxor and Aria casinos in Las Vegas launched eSport studios in early 2018.
While standard eSports gambling is blossoming, fantasy eSports leagues are also preparing for their moment. Popular fantasy sports contest provider DraftKings added League of Legends to their fantasy repertoire in 2015, in which participants form leagues, draft teams of gamers and earn points based on how those gamers perform during games (similar, in other words, to the way fantasy football or baseball fantasy teams work).
Even better for the growing eSports gambling industry, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is currently under review by the Supreme Court. Depending on the ruling, this may result in the legalization of sports betting outside of Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware, which would allow for even more eSports wagering round the nation.
But until then, excuse me while I pack up my Nintendo 64 and haul ass to Vegas. I’m about to make fat stacks playing Super Smash.