It's All About eSports at iGNA 2016

The premier U.S. iGaming conference draws hundreds to Las Vegas

If last month’s iGaming North America conference in Las Vegas had any message to the gaming industry, it would be, “Get ready for eSports.” The rise of the new video game competition was contrasted by the downfall of daily fantasy sports in such a way that it could only give casino executives hope for the next generation.

With the same three states offering iGaming as for the past two editions of the iGaming North America conference, and few legitimate prospects, the focus of this year’s conference became the one remaining interactive gaming opportunity left:

eSports.

Some of the statistics about eSports are astounding. Chris Grove of LegalSportsReport.com and Narus Consulting said eSports is a $5.1 billion industry. At its height, daily fantasy sports was around $2.5 billion, so is eSports the most important secret in gaming?

According to Seth Schorr, the chairman of Fifth Street Gaming, which operates the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas, it is. Schorr has been producing small eSports tournaments at the property that have been remarkably successful. “Vegas has a unique opportunity to position itself as the destination for eSports,” he said.

He points out that MGM is using it as a spectator sport, scheduling a massive eSports League of Legends tournament in late April. But the potential for eSports is as a betting vehicle, which it is not at the time. Grove says the worldwide wagering numbers for eSports are now on a par with rugby and Formula One racing, so it’s an untapped reservoir.

Grove anticipated eSports leagues—and there are more than a dozen professional leagues, with over 150 teams—getting licensed by Nevada gaming regulators. Integrity isn’t an issue, he said, for two reasons. First, the leagues have much at stake and wouldn’t risk their status. Second, the same data that prevents match-fixing in other sports would also be applied to eSports.

“It’s always possible,” said Grove, “but like with other sports, the lower you go on the professional ladder, the more problems you are likely to have.”

The eSports debate went hand-in-hand with the ongoing discussions about millennials. In a panel moderated by GGB Publisher Roger Gros, MGM Executive Director of Interactive Gaming Development Lovell Walker said the “millennial” is more of a lifestyle than a simple age definition. He cautioned, however, not to lump millennials into one basket. “I look at it like high school, where there were many different cliques,” he said. “Remember the nerds, the jocks, the popular people… That’s what we have to consider when marketing to millennials.”

Roberto Coppolla, the research director for YWS Architects, pointed out that millennials also differ between cultures. The Chinese millennials are totally different from American millennials. There is little interest in partying and drinking with young Chinese. They are more interested in community and family.

There was lots of criticism of DFS and how the industry has conducted itself during the legal challenges. The argument that DFS is not gambling has been lost, said Seth Young of Flower City Gaming. “OK, it’s gambling, so now what?” he said. “We’re seeing different states dealing with it in different ways.”

Joe Asher, the head of William Hill US, says his sports betting company has no plans to introduce any fantasy sports games. He said no one is making any money from DFS except for the networks that cleaned up with advertising. And then he questioned how to keep players coming back without advertising.

Grove said whether DFS survives will be one of the elements that determines whether sports betting will be legalized in the U.S. The legislation regulating DFS and the application of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) to DFS will be important, as will the attitude of the sports leagues toward potential sports betting legalization.