At the eSports and Casino Resorts conference in Las Vegas in October, one word was repeated over and over again by panelists and experts at the show: authenticity. Said one expert, “Millennials can smell a fake from 10 miles away, so unless the event you’re promoting is authentic, they’ll never show up.”
Others said millennials and eSports enthusiasts don’t trust casinos to start with, so anything a casino does in that field is going to have to be extra-authentic to be successful.
But wait, aren’t the millennials already coming to the casinos to frequent the high-priced nightclubs and lounges? Yes, explained the experts, but when you bring in the DJs and personalities that they recognize, those nightclubs survive and thrive.
It turns out that eSports has its own coterie of superstars. You and I probably have never heard of them, but according to the experts, the way to attract the eSports enthusiast is to bring those superstar players to the casino environment via special events, tournaments or meet-and-greets.
But who are these stars that are so recognizable? Like “Cher” or “Celine” or “Elton,” they all seem to go by single names, making it easy to ID them in the complicated world of eSports— FORG1VEN, Bjergsen, Darshan, Froggen, Wolf.
But the biggest star in the League of Legends tournaments, where all the aforementioned single names play, is Faker, real name Lee Sang-hyeok, a skinny 20-year-old Korean, who is a “marketable star,” according to a public relations staffer for the league. Faker, who doesn’t even speak English, has a Beatle haircut (finally, something I can relate to!) and recently held 15,000 eSports fans in Madison Square Garden spellbound as he vanquished his opponents. In a post-tournament press conference, the main topic was a new mouse he was using to vault to victory.
OK, this sounds authentic to me, but at the same time, it is gibberish to someone who hasn’t touched a video game since I became somewhat proficient in Pac Man in my misspent hours at the bar following my 10-hour shift dealing $5 blackjack.
So forgive me for asking, but how do you create something authentic that will appeal to the eSports players that you so dearly want to bring into the casino when you don’t even understand the jargon? Then it occurred to me that every event and promotion that you create has to be authentic, or the audience you are trying to attract will sniff it out early and either they’ll just show up for the free food, or they’ll stay home altogether.
During the last soccer (or football, for the true aficionado) World Cup event in Brazil, I remember a couple of casino promotions that confused it with American football, thinking it’s just another Super Bowl. Those casinos saw their promotions flop.
And when you’re booking entertainment, authenticity is crucial. A few years ago, a Las Vegas casino booked a big superstar from the ’70s for a short residency. The first night on stage the “star” pretty much told the audience he was just there for the money and hated Las Vegas. Clearly, there was no effective communication between the casino and the star on how valued the star was and how the audience was looking forward to the performance.
Even in the casino itself, the rules of the games are important to demonstrate authenticity. When a casino decides to switch to 6-5 blackjack from 3-2, it sends a signal to the serious blackjack player that you’re not important to me. Go find another game if you don’t like it. (Yes, this is a little pet peeve for me; changing the rules midstream is a terrible message to send to your customers.)
There was lots of speculation at the eSports conference on the possibility of betting on eSports. The most interesting concept, in my opinion, is head-to-head matchups. Like the best poker players, the top eSports gamers can challenge all comers. A casino may have resident eSports superstars who, like the gunslingers of the Wild West, stare down their opponents, who may be quaking in the their boots. And like poker, the casino will take a rake.
But the prospect of betting on eSports teams is a bit more problematic. You might think that it’s just an extension of sports betting, but it’s going to take some time to convince me (and regulators, as well, I assume) about the integrity of eSports. Who can tell if you fail to kill a dragon or shoot the villain if it was a mistake or match-fixing? Not to mention, like Faker, many members of the eSports teams are under 21.
Whatever the decision, authenticity and integrity go hand in hand. Doesn’t matter if it’s eSports, entertainment or promotions, casino executives need to pay attention to understand that the players respond to their campaigns with enthusiasm, interest and the belief that they are valued. Let’s be authentic, please.