Whether it’s with a knockout finish at an EVO fighting game championship, a crushing play in League of Legends, or a dorm-wide Super Smash Bros. tourney, eSports are taking the world by storm. Playboy’s eSports Highlights articles celebrate and chronicle their rise.
Fantasy Sports is big business, which is why you’re seeing that non-stop barrage of TV ads for DraftKings and FanDuel. Fantasy Sports is forecast to generate $3.72 billion in entry fees and $370 million in revenue this year and grow to $17.7 billion in entry fees and $1.77 billion in revenue by 2020 according to Eilers Research. That’s recently attracted the attention of the Federal Government, which is investigating Fantasy Sports, as well as the state of Nevada, which has actually banned all Fantasy Sports (and Fantasy eSports).
As of September 2015, eSports is now part of the two biggest Fantasy Sports companies. DraftKings signed deals with eSports teams Cloud9, Team SoloMid, Counter Logic Gaming, SK Gaming, CompLexity Games and Mouseesports through WME/IMG. Separately, FanDuel acquired a Fantasy eSports company AlphaDraft. And those are just two of the Fantasy eSports options out there.
Now gamers can actually make money by picking their favorite players across competitive video games like League of Legends, DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive through these sites and others, like Vulcun.com, that offer free and paid daily and weekly Fantasy eSports competition. One rival, Unikrn, has partnered with leading gambling company TabCorp (one of the largest publicly traded wagering companies in the world) to offer straight-out betting on eSports games.
Vulcun alone has paid out $6 million this year with over 60,000 players winning cash prizes daily. The company expects to award over $10 million across its three key games—League of Legends, DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
AlphaDraft has paid out $2 million and is giving away over $300,000 a week to its players across five games—League of Legends, DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, and Call of Duty. The site is expected to award over $15 million in cash prizes by the end of this year.
“Just like in traditional Fantasy Sports, stars definitely make a difference,” said Todd Peterson, CEO of AlphaDraft. “People want to draft and watch their favorite players. While the key to winning in Fantasy may be finding a player that’s a diamond in the rough, somewhat like a sleeper in traditional Fantasy Sports, the real fun is watching your favorite player (or players) crush the competition.”
Rahul Sood, CEO of Unikrn, wouldn’t reveal any winnings on the straight gambling side. Unikrn creates odds for eSports matches and wagering partner Tabcorp manages the betting process, verification, and liquidity. Sood believes that across Fantasy sSports, betting, and tournaments, tens of millions of dollars will be awarded this year.
“Fantasy is really designed for the hardcore user, while straight betting has a much lower barrier to entry and there is a much higher level of winners across the board,” said Sood. “The USA is one of the few developed markets on earth where betting on sports is illegal, yet it’s legal to bet on Fantasy since it’s considered a ‘skill.’ This is the result of a combination of lobbying, protectionism, and government. We are in a growing camp of people that believe betting on sports should be legalized; it’s better for the sport, player integrity, consumers, and even government in terms of missed revenue.”
“The betting industry around eSports is already large, particularly in Asia,” said Peter Warman, CEO of video game research firm Newzoo. “Betting volume in China around a big eSports tournament is comparable to that of a Premier League soccer game—several tens of millions of dollars. Large betting operator Pinnacle stated earlier this year that eSports was its seventh biggest sport in terms of volume—bigger than golf or rugby. Fantasy leagues are now maturing and growing across the globe.”
Ali Moiz, founder of Vulcun, believes Fantasy ESports could become a $250 million industry by 2020. That’s a nice chunk of change considering that the overall eSports market is already on pace to reach $2 billion by 2018.
Newzoo estimates that there are currently over 88 million active eSports fans and an additional 117 million casual eSports fans watching events and competitions. That number is expected to rise significantly over the next few years with over 145 million active fans and an additional 190 million casual fans by 2017. Sood said today’s eSports fan base is as large as the NHL’s and by 2017 it will rival the NFL’s global fan base.
So far, the established eSports leagues like ESL and Major League Gaming (MLG), as well as developers like Riot Games, Blizzard, and Valve, have generally accepted Fantasy ESports as a way for fans to further immerse themselves in their favorite games.
Trevor Schmidt, senior manager at ESL America, said ESL works with its partners such as Microsoft, Blizzard, Valve, and Riot to address issues that hurt eSports—and gambling is one of them.
“ESL needs to take a leadership role with its partners to not support and even regulate companies that hurt the integrity of eSports,” he said.
ESL was quick to add random drug tests to all events after a pro gamer said illegal performance-enhancing drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall were used regularly during eSports matches. The company also partnered with NADA (Nationale Anti Doping Agentur, located in Bonn, Germany) and is meeting with the WADA (World Anti Doping Agency, with headquarters located in Montreal, Canada) to ensure that drugs remain out of eSports around the globe.
With the amount of money being invested in Fantasy ESports and betting, as well as the cash being won, there’s likely to be the same type of tug-of-war between betting and eSports as there is between betting and sports.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN FANTASY ESPORTS
The odds of being good enough in eSports to win millions of dollars in tournaments like The International DOTA 2 Championship, which awarded over $18 million in prize money, are definitely against most people. But the ability to assemble quality Fantasy ESports teams and win real cash is a completely accessible goal. And with $25 million in cash up for grabs this year from just two Fantasy ESports sites—Vulcun.com and AlphaDraft.com—there’s plenty of money to go around.
Fantasy eSports site Vulcun.com already has its first $100,000 winner. Twenty-three-year-old Ye JingTong, a college student from California, keeps piling up his winnings based on his initial $450 investment. He focuses solely on Riot Games’ popular League of Legends. JingTong said there are similarities between traditional Fantasy Sports and Fantasy ESports.
“Fantasy ESports is not only about winning or losing between the teams,” he said. “It requires knowledge and experience to predict the performance of every individual player on a team. It is way more complicated than pure guessing. The objective is to get as many points as possible. It’s not only about winning or losing the match.”
JingTong estimates that it’s 70% knowledge and 30% luck when it comes to navigating the daily and weekly Fantasy eSports field. He believes that if you reach a point where you’re good enough, you can greatly increase your chance of winning. When he’s confident about his roster, he’ll increase his bet. And when he’s not, he’ll skip a bet altogether. He spends about 10 to 15 minutes before playing to check out the main League of Legends site and keep up on roster changes at the wiki site Gamepedia.
Another player, Joshua John, has won over $65,000 on Vulcun playing Fantasy eSports daily. John has been an avid DOTA 2 gamer but now follows all eSports games. He said that at their core Fantasy Sports and Fantasy eSports are very similar because you’re trying to predict how a player will perform in a game. But instead of rostering LeBron James or Tom Brady, you’re drafting eSports players like Bjergsen (League of Legends) or Arteezy (DOTA 2).
“You’re still scoring points based on in-game events, but in Fantasy eSports those events are things like kills and assists, instead of home runs or touchdowns,” said John. “Anyone that is familiar with how to play Fantasy Sports should feel right at home with the format of Fantasy eSports.”
When it comes to starting out in Fantasy eSports, all of the sites offer free games you can play to learn the ropes. Both John and JingTong recommend starting out slowly and learning as much about the different games and rosters as possible, so you’re more likely to win in the long run.
“Something as simple as understanding what heroes are strong (and why) right now in League of Legends and DOTA 2 can help you identify who to roster each day,” said John. “Don’t just blindly pick—have an idea of what teams are in good form, who their strongest players are, etc., just like you would in traditional sports.”
John’s winning formula is “good player + good team + good hero = $$$”. There’s a lot of research involved for those just entering this space, but there’s also a lot of money to be made if you know a lot about these video games.
Thanks to the fresh cash entering the game from venture capitalists and investors, there’s more money being spent marketing Fantasy eSports, and more players are entering the daily and weekly games. JingTong believes this fresh influx of players will definitely have some impact on the level of competition, but it will not affect the players that already have knowledge about the games as much.
“At the end of the day, I’ve won a bunch of money predicting what’s going to happen in video games,” said John. “That’s pretty cool.”
That’s something anyone can do these days, thanks to the explosion of mainstream sites like DraftKings and FanDuel and more gamer-centric sites like Vulcun.com and Unikrn.com. All it takes is a whole lot of knowledge—and an equal helping of luck.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games and entertainment for over 25 years and has focused on the convergence between Hollywood and games for much of his career. Follow him on Twitter @JohnGaudiosi.
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