The eSports Dilemma

The evolution of eSports and its place in the casino industry

The eSports Dilemma

For me, video games were the things that I told my kids to stop playing and go outside to get some fresh air. For many in the casino industry, it’s the next big thing.

Yes, I will probably be called an old curmudgeon, after you read this. But what is a curmudgeon anyway?

Six or seven years ago, I was invited by a casino executive to visit the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to witness an eSports tournament. She was excited about it, so I thought I’d check it out. And she was right. I was impressed.

It was a Friday afternoon and literally thousands of young people—lots of them looked too young to be in a casino—were packing the hotel’s meeting and convention space. The ballroom that hosted the actual tournament had a stage where several players were competing against each other in League of Legends (I had never heard of that game, but apparently it was pretty big). There were announcers—play-by-play and color commentators—explaining what was going on. It was all gibberish to me. But the kids seemed to be having fun and I’m guessing the casino sold some food and drink.

But today, the eSports industry is massive. The involvement with the casino industry progressed from those Cosmopolitan days and now many casinos host such tournaments. I’m assuming they do well with non-gaming revenues, but I understand the impact on gaming revenues is negligible.

Some casinos are installing semi-permanent facilities. It started with the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas, where an eSports lounge was placed on the casino floor and was soon moved to the adjacent hotel because the eSports players were disturbed by the sounds of the slot machines!

MGM Resorts recently opened an eSports Arena in Luxor at the site of a former nightclub. The layout is well done, plenty of bars and play stations, but the food misses the mark, I expect. Lots of sushi, which I’m doubtful that the video game players care much about.

This arena complements MGM Grand’s Level Up gaming area, which includes video games, skill games and electronic table games, a mish-mash of supposedly millennial-friendly attractions.

Caesars built a studio on the back parking lot of Bally’s Las Vegas, and hosted a tournament there produced by Gears of War (don’t ask). Again, lots of people, lots of action, but I’m still not sure where they made any money. The food and drink was supplied by food trucks and vendors outside the building.

Caesars is also the home in the same facility to H1Z1 Pro League, that will host a full season of video game competition with teams like Gankstars, SetToDestroyX and Tempo Storm.

Lots of locals and regional casinos are also getting in on the game, hosting weekend tournaments or superstar appearances from the top video gamers.

I guess this makes some sense. After all, these are the gamers (casino gamers) of the future. We’ll get them into the casino environment early, develop skill games that mimic video games, and eventually they’ll give us their disposable income.

But wait. There are billions of dollars already being spent by dweebs playing in their bedrooms. Why should they come out to a casino to play the games they love? Casinos have to present something really different if they want to capture this audience at the time they actually have that disposable income—or any income at all, for that matter.

Admittedly, I never played video games. I remember sitting at a bar in the late ’70s playing Pac Man occasionally, but that’s as far as it went. So maybe I’m missing something. I certainly hope so.

OK, this is a casino, so can we bet on it. Sure, I think. But the best eSports players are teenagers. Can you bet on them? You can in the Olympics, so why not? But can they throw a game without anyone noticing? No, says my sports analytics geeks. And we’ve already seen wagering on eSports approved in specific situations by Nevada gaming regulators. Not much action, I’m afraid. So what’s the answer?

Thankfully, the UNLV International Gaming Institute is hard at work on this issue. They’ve established an eSports Lab under the direction of former casino exec Robert Rippee. We should know more come October 24 when the UNLV Gaming & Hospitality Education Series presents an episode on eSports and sports betting. Check out the details on UNLVGHES.com.

Until then, we’ll keep our antennae up about eSports, but I’m getting outside for some fresh air this summer.

Roger Gros
Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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