There’s a habit I picked up working on a Wall Street trading desk years ago. I don’t admit this to my friends that are not active in the markets; they wouldn’t understand. But, I think Channelchek users will be able to relate to it. Perhaps you do this yourself: When global news unfolds, my initial reaction is not, “oh my God, that’s horrible,” or even “hey, that’s fantastic.” My first mental response, usually unspoken, asks, “Is this bullish or bearish? Who wins, who loses? How will it impact different business sectors?” I haven’t worked on a large trading desk for a number of years, but this habit is still ingrained in me — Hurricane. “Who sells lumber?” War in the Mideast. “Will there be an oil disruption?” Lehman goes bust? …well, you get the point.
When the initial talk of the novel coronavirus, social distancing, lockdowns, and working remotely started to become a reality, this instinct was in high alert. Back in March, when Disney decided to close their theme parks, I was speaking with the Noble Capital Markets trading desk and others in the market whom I trust. We were sure who this would be the worst for. Any company related to travel and hospitality was expected to see severe weakness. After this weakness, we saw an eventual opportunity. The conversations then led to discussions determining what public companies this would quickly benefit. We were spot-on thinking credit card companies, tech and communication services, and of course, some pharmacy and biotech names. However, what was never on my radar, yet in hindsight, makes so much sense, is esports and, more precisely, betting on esports (electronic sports).
In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on sports betting was unconstitutional. Since then, the market in the United States for sports betting has grown dramatically. Seventeen states, in addition to Nevada, have now legalized sports betting in various forms. With the growth in this offshoot of two industries (professional sports and gambling) investments in esports and have taken a steep upward trajectory.
Esports Meets Pandemic
As entertainment from more traditional professional sports became unavailable with the suspension and cancellation of regular season play earlier this year, some athletes and spectators pivoted and joined the ranks of the already growing population of esports athletes and audience members. As esports became a higher percentage of the few professional sports competitions being broadcasted with any consistency, esports competitions filled the void for those that enjoy the thrill of human competition. Making it even more inviting is that many casinos closed with concerns over COVID-19. The potential for many sportsbook operators to grab an increased share of esports gambling from these online sports grew and is still growing.
How Much Growth
Forecasts for the industry suggest that even as traditional sports return (both in-person and on our flat screens), the growth in esports and wagering on it will remain on a strong path upward. According to one report that reviewed betting data across ten bookmakers in the months of March and April of this year, esports betting was shown to have grown by 4,000%. Much of this explosion was captured by two major esports titles, FIFA and NBA2K, but others experienced even higher growth from their lower base. The study also brought to light those involved. Half of the core betting audience of esports is represented by high income, full-time professionals between ages 26 and 35. This demographic grew up playing computer and console games. Their interest isn’t unlike someone thirty-years older naturally betting on a boxing match or a bowl game.
The opportunity for long-term growth in the industry is high as gamblers become more aware of esports and its offerings. Additionally, betting opportunities are more plentiful in esports because, for example, a single FIFA match takes 8 to 15 minutes while a football game lasts hours. Additionally, esports is not seasonal — competitions occur year-round with no off-peak periods.
Who Wins in the End
Had I known in March when travel came to a screeching halt, professional sports were halted, and the Las Vegas strip hung “Closed” signs on their doors, what I know now, would I have included esports in my conversations as presumed winners in a pandemic world? That’s hindsight. The best investors look forward. I have been discussing this now with people involved in the markets. It is now on my list of growth industries. The reason is simple, despite its explosive growth from obscurity, the potential for an even greater number of people involved as both players and those wagering is a large multiple from its current state. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
Managing Editor, Channelchek