Betting in a world without sports


Q&A with Keith O’Loughlin, SVP Sportsbook at SG Digital.

While traditional sports are taking a break, virtuals and eSports are taking a leap forward. How is SG Digital positioned to meet the new trends virtual and eSports will likely bring this year?

Scientific Games has taken considerable steps in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure that partners have a suitable and attractive offering during this unprecedented period. The shutdown of live sports is of course challenging for sportsbooks, but it does give them an opportunity to push alternative products such as esports and virtuals. We’ve been monitoring the latest developments around esports for some time now and it’s a vertical that keeps growing in popularity. Earlier this year, we expanded our esports offering within OpenSports™ by partnering with Danish data provider GameScorekeeper.

SG partners have access to a wide range of data and odds around popular games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and Dota2. We’ve also ramped up our virtuals offering by introducing more sports and markets to keep bettors engaged. It’s a difficult period for most businesses right now, but our customers can be assured that we’re working hard to bring them relevant products in response to the downtime of live sports. 

How would you describe the current demand for virtual and eSports on a global scale?

There’s been a surge of interest from sports bettors all over the world for virtuals and esports, as they seek alternative forms of entertainment during these difficult times. With limited sporting events taking place, players are taking the opportunity to familiarise themselves with new content. Esports is one of the fastest growing verticals at present and has the potential to grow into a mainstream betting product in the future. However, it’s still in its infancy and important for operators to educate consumers on how it all works and the types of markets available. 

Virtual sports have consistently proven to be a viable option for sportsbooks during off-peak times or when bad weather has forced the postponement of fixtures. They’re a ready-made solution that operators can offer customers at all times of the day, regardless of the time zone. For those that have been sceptical of virtuals in the past, the technology and graphics have improved significantly in recent times and really do offer an ultra-realistic experience. We saw some large operators with the same level of betting on the Virtual Grand National as they had on the real GN in 2018! The real one was won by Tiger Roll.

Should operators focus more on virtual and eSports? What will happen to those operators that don’t give eSports and virtuals additional attention?

Absolutely, these two products will allow operators to remain engaged with their existing customer base in the short term and even when live sports make a return. We’ve already seen a number of partners shift their focus towards virtuals and esports to great effect. Of course, it’s unlikely that they’ll match the same levels of engagement that regular sports betting brings, but it makes strategic sense to offer them right now given the circumstances. 

With major sporting events on hold for the foreseeable future, now is the time to consider alternative solutions and embrace new solutions. Those that fail to move quickly in today’s climate will simply be left behind.  

Are there any markets in particular that you have identified where demand is higher than the average?

The shutdown of live sports has happened all over the world so there’s not a specific market as such where there’s more growth. Virtuals and esports are attractive propositions across the globe. Virtuals cover a wide range of sports these days and operators can pick and choose which ones will be more suitable for their specific markets. 

How much scope for growth do you think virtuals and eSports has moving forward?

Virtuals and esports are obvious short-term options right now given that the themes will resonate with existing bettors, but they’ll also be viable solutions in the long run too and when live sports make a return. The more familiar bettors become with these experiences, the more likely they’ll keep returning. Most individuals have probably been aware of virtuals and esports but have always stuck to traditional sports betting as it’s what they’re accustomed to. Now they’re taking the opportunity to learn and engage with new products, which should benefit operators in the long term.