I met a genuine celebrity last week. In 1998 he was a World Champion in his sport, the star player of a team that made history by being the first team in his emerging sport to gain major corporate sponsorship. Can you guess who it was?
His name is Victor Martyn, 1998 World Champion in Starcraft and one of the world’s first eSports professionals. I was attending the Malta iGaming Seminar, better known as MiGS, at which he was contributing to a ‘fishbowl conversation’ on eSports and fantasy sports, and I had the good fortune to have a discussion with him.
Funnily enough, the panel discussion was subtitled ‘The New Kids on the Block’, which must have sounded odd to Victor 17 years after his first professional win. He is living proof that serious eSports have been around the block and learned the hard lessons it has to teach. The result is a growing industry with substantial traction: the company he now runs, Gosu Media, expects to serve half a billion page views to up to 25 million eSports enthusiasts across the globe in 2015. It also has advertising partners with deep pockets that many physical sports would kill for, such as Red Bull.
Rather than eSports as a phenomenon, what the MiGS session name was alluding to is the quickly growing interest in eSports as a betting category. A lot of the conversation in this regard focussed on the size and volume of the bets being placed in this category and the ongoing problem of cheating. This, again, is nothing particularly new: the first major Starcraft match fixing scandal broke as far back as 2010, when 11 professional players faced civil and criminal lawsuits in South Korea. With prize pools growing at an incredible pace and legal recognition becoming more prevalent, however, I anticipate this problem will diminish quite quickly – although traditional sports show us it may never be eliminated.
What really interested me was the discussion of the possibilities for convergence between eSports and the other big topic of the day: daily fantasy sports. Picking players across teams who earn points based on their personal performances is something that has been very popular with the NFL, Premier League, and other leading physical sports organisations for some time. With the recent growth of this sector, however, companies such as eSports Pools have started to offer the same services for eSports, to great success.
The opportunity to offer a legal game of skill offering on eSports under the fantasy sports model could become very compelling. Victor told me that the heart of the market lies in Korea and Japan – does anyone know a good lawyer over there?