UK Study Scrutinises Esports Gambling Sponsorships

April 13, 2023
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A new UK academic study has found that half the esports teams in two of the sector’s top video games are sponsored by gambling operators, leading researchers to suggest that gambling companies could be “targeting the next generation of gamblers”.

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A new UK academic study has found that half the esports teams in two of the sector’s top video games are sponsored by gambling operators, leading researchers to suggest that gambling companies could be “targeting the next generation of gamblers”.

The study recommends that regulators and the government consider gambling sponsorships of esports along with its upcoming review of gambling sponsorships of football.

The researchers found that half of the top 20 esports teams in 2021’s world championships in Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) had gambling sponsorships.

In contrast, League of Legends championship teams had no gambling sponsors.

Its championship is controlled by Riot Games, which forbids sponsorships by gambling, cryptocurrency and pornography companies, the academics said.

The Dota 2 championship that year had an estimated audience of 2.7m, while League of Legends had about 4m, according to the report.

Gambling sponsors of Dota 2 teams included Betway, Parimatch, Bitcasino.io, VBET, FUN88 and China’s Jing Ji Bao, the report said.

CS:GO gambling sponsors included GG:Bet; Liga Stavok, a Russian gambling company; Betway; FUN88; Parimatch and PokerStars, according to the academics.

With football sponsorships under pressure and restricted in some companies, esports is considered a place to look for “gamblers of the future”, with their audience heavily male and younger, the researchers argue.

Young men are considered more likely to develop problem gambling habits than many other demographic groups, they wrote.

In the UK, betting on esports has so far not become a mainstream pastime compared with betting on football, tennis and racing.

Gross gambling yield from esports dropped nearly 30 percent between the fourth quarter of 2021 and the same period of 2022, according to Gambling Commission data, as an apparent COVID-lockdown surge faded.

The December 2022 esports gross gambling yield estimate was £520,000, or a little over 0.5 percent of total sports betting.

But some companies are expanding in the category and, in the US, Nevada is looking to expand esports betting permissions.

In March, Entain, parent of Ladbrokes and Coral, agreed to pay £10.9m to buy SportsFlare, an esports data provider, to complement its October 2021 purchase of the UNIKRN esports betting company.

The study by Blair Biggar and Heather Wardle of the University of Glasgow, and David Zendle of the University of York, was published on March 31 in the Journal of Public Health. It was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

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