Are eSports really sports? Is eSports betting really sports gambling? With the rise of the eSports community in the public eye and with increased commercialisation of competitive gaming in recent years, these are the kinds of questions that many are asking, and that betting enthusiasts and bookmakers should be asking themselves. Is the eSports betting market an untapped resource for gamblers, or is it an environment that you should avoid in case the industry collapses?

To answer the first question, eSports’ classification as sports is something that is still contested today and without a true hard and fast legal definition. Moves have been made towards recognition, ranging from the foundation of the South Korean eSports association in 2000, legitimising it as a sport, to considerations for an eSports division in the Olympics as we speak. The main argument against eSports being considered a sport is it taking place in a virtual environment, and the lack of a requirement for physical fitness to participate and succeed. There are plenty of arguments against this, with the physical condition of professional darts players often being cited, but the road to true legitimisation is still long and as yet unpaved.

With that being said, whether you believe eSports are true sports or not, the gambling community for the field is thriving, and the money to be had in the industry is significant. Companies like Pinnacle, who jumped on the eSports betting train since its nascency, but furthermore gambling giants such as Betfair and Bet365 are incorporating eSports into their services. Enormous six-figure prize pools, lucrative sponsorships and advertising deals draw in eSports teams the world over into a highly competitive and ravenous environment. “The International 2017” tournament in Seattle for DoTA 2 eSports teams still holds the Guinness World Record for the largest prize pool in a single eSports tournament, at a whopping 24,787,916 USD. Team Liquid, the winning competitors, received around 10 million USD collectively for their win.

The question must then be asked of whether this industry is rising, falling; secure or at risk. As recognition grows, we are seeing a rise in this industry’s viability and mainstream popularity, and so not only can we say that the industry is rising but it is also secure for the near future. Meanwhile, as technology develops further, especially with the new advancements in making VR gaming more commercially viable and widely available, as well as developing its technology to be increasingly responsive and immersive, the industry shows no signs of slowing down. Seeing skill-based games of all manner being performed in a virtual environment, and this concept being realised in the near future, isn’t beyond comprehension. So, we could therefore say that perhaps now is the best time more than ever to hop onto the eSports betting game.

A vast back catalogue of tournament footage, and especially the personal channels of team members on sites such as YouTube make eSports an environment where you can make very informed decisions on the skill level and probabilities of certain players winning. All the footage you need is freely and readily available, for players all around the world. Meanwhile, even a cursory Google search reveals plenty of bookmakers and service providers putting odds on team victories. The system of every other form of sports betting has been seamlessly applied to the eSports betting market, and so it will be intuitive to any gambling veteran. Tournaments are highly televised and often fill stadiums for many different genres of game.

This leads me on to another reason why eSports can be a very diverse environment for betting, in that there is a plethora of different game styles and genres up for eSports betting. Ranging from hugely successful first-person shooter types such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive; to sports games such as FIFA; Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games like World of Warcraft; Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games like DoTA 2 and League of Legends; and fighting games such as Street Fighter V or Tekken 7. There is something for everyone in the market to bet on and watch for entertainment.

However, this then raises the question of what exactly the negatives are of eSports, why they haven’t received such instant international recognition yet, and why many companies still aren’t offering them as part of their services. We need only watch a tournament or two to understand that much of these games are not realistic, difficult to understand if you don’t play the games yourselves or are just downright boring to watch. Watching a fighting game tournament for the likes of Blazblue or Street Fighter V consists largely of watching two characters hide in corners and throw out cursory jabs until one locks the other into an inescapable 20 hit combo that destroys the enemy entirely. Some relish the anticipation but many find it mind numbingly boring.

Watching a CS:GO tournament can be thoroughly unsatisfying and look positively mundane, meanwhile watching competitive World of Warcraft looks like a wall of unintelligible icons to the unfamiliar. Watching two fighters follow pre-set combo sequences is nothing compared to the organic, natural slugfest between two heavyweights in a title fight. Watching a ball sail through the air in the World Cup is far more breath-taking than watching a seemingly random side of high stat players collocated into a random player’s Ultimate Team. The virtual environment takes all the organic wonder and awe out of watching competitive sport.

Furthermore, you could reasonably argue that the random chance element in games is a much greater issue and source of potential upset and surprise results. Virtual environments obey the game’s engine and it is all too easy for a malfunction, a rogue bit of controller latency, or a criminal piece of poor combo timing to throw a player off.

Overall, as the eSports market stands today, there is an argument for both sides. Join in now and you will potentially hop onto a market that could climb exponentially in popularity and stakes, before the bookies catch on to the finer points of the market, and you could make a great deal of money by make more informed decisions on less informed odds. The drawback is that you could potentially be joining a static and dull market which doesn’t have the flair or sheer biological wonder of real sports. Let’s face it, are you going to get all your mates down to the local for a pint to watch a DoTA 2 tournament, or are you going to put the football on? It’s a no-brainer.