Betting on sports have been part of the wagering way of life for many years now. When it comes to sports betting it has always been horse racing that’s led the pack, closely followed by greyhounds. Over the past twenty years or so football has overtaken both horse racing and greyhounds as the number one sports betting pastime. This is largely down to the expansion of the World Wide Web – and the creation of the concept of live betting options.
However, there is a newcomer for all traditional sports to be wary of – eSports.
Wait a minute … playing video games is not a sport!
Well, there are millions of people around the globe who will disagree with you on that statement. Playing video games takes skill, physical dexterity and quick thinking. You may argue that you don’t have to be physically fit to play video games (which is not actually true, as physical health is linked to mental health and you definitely need to be mentally strong to play video games well) but do you have to be physically fit to chuck darts at a dart board, hammer snooker balls all over a green-baize table or even smack a baseball as far as you can and then run 90 feet to first base?
No matter whether you think that eSports qualify as sports or not, more and more online bookmakers are offering sports betting opportunities on all the leading competitive video game events. These are properly organised events – it’s not a case of ‘FlowerGurl95’ having a head-to-head battle with ‘Demon_Spawn_666’ on Fortnite. The leading competitive video game players are professionals who are at the top of their game, and are paid to be the very best at what they do.
There are several games in several categories that you now have the option to bet upon. Some are team-based games, so if you are betting on them it is really no different to betting on football. In other disciplines you can bet on individuals, which of course is exactly the same as betting on a tennis player or golfer.
You may have an inkling of interest in eSports betting, or you may know absolutely nothing about it. This article will (we hope) take away much of the mystery of eSports betting, how you can bet on eSports, and which are the best eSports for you to bet upon.
How did we get here?
Video games have been around – albeit in a very basic form – since the 1950s. The problem was that back then, in order to create the kind of game that everyone now carries around upon a device that fits neatly into their pockets, you would have had to have a computer that filled an entire office building. Everyone in the 1950s and 1960s thought that computers were only good for own thing – series stuff that involved the crunching of numbers.
Computer games have been around for a lot longer than you probably think. The first computer game was called Spacewar! and was developed by four early computing pioneers. In the game two tiny spaceships would do battle with each other while avoiding collisions, the torpedoes that they fired at each other and nearby stars.
The first commercially released video game was called ‘Pong’ and was a very, very, very basic rendering of a game of table tennis. It was a two-player game housed in a console that you plugged into your TV. The console only had the one game, and it was in black and white.
By the end of the 1970s more and more games were being given the computer treatment and some – such as Space Invaders, Pac Man and Galaga – became incredibly popular. These were not available for home play, but eager video gamers could play these titles via another new concept – the video arcade. In fact Space Invaders became so popular that Atari held a national Space Invaders tournament in 1980 with over 10,000 players taking part.
As home computers grew ever-more sophisticated and came down in price the popularity of arcades waned, and home video play definitely became a thing. Home computers were multi-talented beasts though – it was as easy to arrange the family finances via a spreadsheet as it was to zap hordes of invading aliens.
Pretty soon companies had the idea of creating computers that could only be used for one thing – gaming. Handheld devices like the GameBoy has been around since 1989, so why not expand the concept to larger devices too? Machines that could be plugged into a TV and controlled using a handheld device as opposed to a keyboard.
In the early 1990s Sega released the Mega Drive, or the Genesis as it was known in the USA. This was super-sized version of their GameBoy device, and worked on the basis that cartridges could be plugged into it so a limitless number of games could be played.
Sony entered the fray in 1994 with the release of the PlayStation, and very late to the party Microsoft released the XBox in 2001. Countless other companies have tried to release gaming consoles, but Sony and Microsoft have now really cornered this particular market.
Both the XBox and Playstation have come on in leaps and bounds since their introduction, particularly with the release of the Xbox 360 in 2005/6, and the Playstation 3 around the same time.
Eventually, video games evolved completely from single players games into multiplayer ones, thanks to the interconnectivity offered by the internet, and once internet speeds had ramped up enough to be able to handle millions of bytes of data from several dozen players all at the same time.
Pretty soon, multiplayer games left single-player games trailing in their wake. Some popular single-player games, such as Half Life, were hacked by users of the game in order to provide multiplayer functionality. Some software houses even ‘hacked’ their own games in order to provide massive multiplayer game opportunities, like Electronic Arts adapting their own game Titanfall to create the battle royale shooter Apex Legends.
Naturally, as with any pastime that involves multiple players, some players were better than others, which lead to competitiveness. And with competitiveness came competition, and with with competition came … money, and eSports were born.
The game considered to be the first true eSport
It’s almost impossible to determine which video game can truly be considered to be the first eSport. As mentioned previously, video game competitions began being held as early as 1972. Even arcade games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong had competitions organised for them. Between 1982 and 1984 US TV shows featured arcade game competitions.
The game that’s considered to be the first eSports game was called Netrek, which was released in 1988. It was space-based strategy and shooting game for two to four teams. Each battle could include a maximum of sixteen players. What made Netrek unique is that it was the first game that was specifically designed to be played over the internet. Each player played on a separate computer linked to a central server that fed the results back to all players in real time. Netrek was the first example of what is now known as a MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena game.
Further video games soon began to develop a competitive framework. Streetfighter offered the option of players actually battling against one another, as opposed to seeing who could get the highest score. From this developed the Evolution Championship Series, which was founded in 1996 and is now the longest established continuous eSports championship.
Why Asia is Considered to be the Home of eSports
Modern day eSports first became established in South Korea,. This is because the government in 1997 began to build the world’s first high-capacity broadband internet network. At the time, most other countries only had dial-up internet, which could not provide the speeds required to for multiple players to play video sports online.
Also at the time, many young people in South Korea were out of work and looking for things to do, so they would visit internet cafes and LAN centres as, typically, super-speed broadband was not available to home users.
The Korean government thought that eSports could become a hefty income-generator for them, so they created the Korean eSports Association in order to promote eSports to a global, video gaming audience.
By the mid 2000s eSports tournaments were already being televised in South Korea. Plenty of video games grew in popularity during this period, but three games emerged that grew to be more popular than all other titles. This established the ‘big three’ of eSports: three games that are as popular today as they were almost 20 years ago – Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Warcraft.
The ‘big three’ of eSports
Counter-Strike (and its sequels) are a series of multiplayer first-person shooter video games. Each game consists of two teams. One team are terrorists who must perform a task such as planting and detonating a bomb, taking a hostage or assassinating a target. The other teams are counter-terrorists who must defuse the bomb, rescue the hostages or prevent the assassination. Along the way players can use weapons and other items to kill members of the opposite team or to enhance their chances of winning.
The original version of Counter-Strike was released in 1999 for Windows as a modification of the company Valve’s Half-Life game. This was followed up by Counter-Strike: Condition Zero in 2004, and then Counter-Strike: Source. However, the version that changed everything was Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS:GO as it is more readily known, released in 2012.
CS:GO became immensely popular. The first pro CS:GO tournament took place in 2013, being based in Jonkoping in Sweden. The competition had a prize pool of $250,000. Six teams well-known in CS:GO circles were invited to play, while six others competed after winning a qualification tournament.
The first title was secured by Fnatic, a Sweden-based eSports team who also won in 2015 and 2016. The Astralis team from Denmark are the most successful CS:GO eSports team though, having won the Global Championships in 2017, 2018 and twice in 2019.
StarCraft is a military real-time strategy game with a science fiction theme that was first released in 1998. It deals with the battle for supremacy in a corner of the Milky Way galaxy. Three races battle for supremacy – the Terrans (humans – exiled from Earth) and three alien races – the Zerg (insectoids) and the Protoss (humanoid aliens). StarCraft is now a compelling media franchise like Star Wars or Star Trek, with countless novels all being written set in the expansive StarCraft universe.
The game that became the eSport version of StarCraft was StarCraft II, released in 2010. StarCraft II became so popular in South Korea that it became known as the nation’s national pastime. In a StarCraft game teams compete to gain complete control over a territory. Each race has its own ways of doing things – the Terrans are defensive and cunning, the Zerg prefer large-scale attacks and the Protoss work slowly and strategically. Players can choose whichever race matches their preferred playing style. Despite the name, very little of the action in StarCraft takes place in space,
The StarCraft World Championship Series first took place in 2012, with the winner being Won Lee-sak of South Korea, who was known by the GamerTag ‘PartinG’. The StarCraft World Championship season ended in 2019 to be replaced by the ESL Pro Tour StarCraft II. The leading StarCraft II tournaments are organised on a weekly basis as a series of leagues.
Warcraft (or World of Warcraft (WoW) to give the game its full title) is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) in which players compete with each other in a minutely-realised global fantasy realm. Warcraft sprang into life in 2004 and, like StarCraft, has created an entire franchise based on the elements of the game. A Warcraft film directed by Duncan Jones was released in 2016, but it was poorly received.
The world of Warcraft has many traditional fantasy elements, and players can select from any number of different kinds of characters, and can chose their own career path. Mighty warriors can become assassins for hire, mages can go around healing people for money, or humbler folk can go around simply hunting boars.
The eSports side of WoW revolves around one of the many side games – the Arena. In this game multiple warriors in teams compete within an enclosed arena to see which side comes out on top.
Over the past few years the popularity of WoW as an eSport has somewhat faded, as the game has decreased in popularity. It still has a regular player count of over 10 million, though.
Other Popular eSports
There are now several titles that have entered the eSports arena as this particular competitive and gambling niche continues to grow in popularity.
League of Legends
League of Legends (LoL) is the most popular MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game. Released in 2009, LoL features dozens of legendary characters and champions all with their own distinctive abilities and special powers. All play takes place is a specially crafted battle arena in which teams complete to destroy their oppositions’ ‘Nexus’ or base.
LoL is a ‘ranking up’ game as during each battle players can earn gold to buy items that will increase their strength and ability. A LoL match-up is a frantic affair that lasts around twenty minutes.
Defence of the Ancients II
Defence of the Ancients (DotA) began life as a modification of Warcraft, and has now super-ceded the base game in terms of popularity. The original DotA was a popular title, but the sequel DotA 2 catapulted the popularity of the game into the stratosphere.
There are not as many DotA players as LoL players (like LoL, DotA is a MOBA) but DotA generates more money than LoL to make it the most lucrative eSport there is. If you were to list the top 50 richest eSports players of all time, around 90 percent of them would be DotA players.
With Overwatch you get the best of all worlds. Part first person shooter, part RPG, part MOBA, Overwatch takes a little bit of everything and creates something that’s unique and both entertaining to watch and entertaining to play.
Overwatch is perhaps the eSport that comes closest to matching a real sporting competition. The ‘Overwatch League’ comprises 20 city-based teams from the US, China, Canada, South Korea, the UK and France. The league even has a regular season schedule and playoffs.
The 2019 title was won by San Francisco Shock, who defeated the Vancouver Titans 4-0.
Fornite is the most popular game in the world for 8 to 12-year-old boys, plus a fair smattering of adults. Fortnite became so popular that in 2018 it caused several national outcries, with children eschewing both sleep and schoolwork in order to play Fortnite instead.
Fortnite is a single player or team-based Battle Royale game. All players are jettisoned onto an island where they must overcover loot and weapons while building protective fortresses. The last man (or team) standing is declared the winner.
The first Fortnite World Cup was held in 2019, and was won by 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf, who took home the staggering prize pot of $3 million.
Hearthstone is somewhat unique among eSports as it is an online version of a collectible card game. Unlike real-world collective card games which can become expensive, Hearthstone is completely free and decks can be acquired online only.
No one quite expected a collective card game to become such a popular eSport as no one thought people would watch others play a card game online … although such people had obviously never heard of poker.
Hearthstone features several game modes to help prevent games become dull and boring.
When it comes to eSports, the uneducated think that the title refers to online sports games such as FIFA and Pro-Evolution Soccer. Indeed, such games are immensely popular, but neither title has reached the upper echelons of eSports greatness.
Of the pair, FIFA has been the most successful at being an eSport online. The FIFA eWorld Cup has been running since 2004, and there have now been twelve tournaments. Unlike the FIFA World Cup, players compete as individuals, not as teams.
The 2019 FIFA eWorld Cup was won by Mohammed Harkous of Germany, who beat the holder Mosaad Aldossary of Saudi Arabia.
How to Bet on eSports
Betting on eSports is practically the same as betting on real-world sports. Go to any sports betting website that offers eSports betting options and you’ll be able to find all the upcoming events in disciplines such as CS:GO, LoL and DotA2. As an added bonus, many such sites will offer you live streams of events as they take place.
Depending on the type of competition you will be able to bet on teams or individuals. You may also be able to bet upon the best performing individual in a team, or the best performing individual in a match, round or tournament.
At the moment, available markets on eSports are not very expansive, mainly because eSports betting is not as familiar to online sports books such as, say, football. Some options like the exact score in a game (most eSports events take place over a number of legs) may be available, but that’s about it.
Expect markets to expand once eSports really being to grow in popularity.
The growth of eSports continues apace and that momentum is showing no sign of stopping. Most children these days would rather spend their time playing Fortnite or FIFA than go to the park to kick a ball about. A whole new generation of eSports players and eSports fans is being bred as we speak.
Will eSports eventually eclipse real-world sports? Some people shake their heads vehemently when asked this question, but others say it’s only a matter of time. Perhaps it is time for online sports books to take eSports more seriously before they lose a whole generation of eSports betting supporters.