As the Corona outbreak has sports betting operators scrambling for alternatives to sports, the sports associations themselves are looking for ways to maintain engagement with their audience and continuing some sort of activity. The transition to esports is one of the valid options to consider for every sport, but the prospect of success varies for every discipline. The factors that determine whether the audience accepts esports are not necessarily clear on first sight. In this article we take the casus of Formula 1 in their turn to ‘online racing’. What can we learn for future attempts and how can we anticipate as operators to fully profit?
Measuring the chances for likely success of sports transforming to esports consists of many variables. Some of which we will discuss here, while others remain hidden for the public (willingness of partners, associations, stakeholders to commit). It takes for successful bookmakers to transform together with the sport, meaning that an accurate analysis of the new esport market has to be followed up with the proper marketing efforts. We will follow up on this article with a blog on successfully executing swift redistribution of marketing assets. Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you won’t miss out!
The Formula1 for success
In contrast to many other sports, Formula 1 has one thing going for them: there are only 18 contenders. Eighteen drivers that are the face of the entire sport. If you manage to get these eighteen on board with your plans, you get yourself a full representation of the sport. Football, Basketball and Cycling are probably in envy, trying to get numerous athletes to get along with their plans.
Formula 1 is therefore finding itself in a unique position. The so called F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, features a number of current F1 drivers. Even though most popular drivers are not participating in the event, the succes in terms of views and media attention is great nevertheless. There is however still room for improvement. The series will use the official F1 2019 PC video game developed by Codemasters. But how representative is this game? Not a lot according to drivers such as Max Verstappen, who are thus neglecting to participate. Another fear for the drivers who are always driving in front is that they will play a minor role in this league. The game has been made ‘fair’ by running equal car performance with fixed setups, reduced vehicle damage, and optional anti-lock brakes and traction control for those less familiar with the game. As we all know, this ‘fairness’ does not apply to the F1 as we know it.
These are the expected hiccups when transforming a sport. There is just no way to satisfy everyone. With that all being said, the chances of the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series of becoming a success are realistic.
Setting up for a new market, generation and major revenue
What are the ingredients of transforming a sport into an esport and having it become a major success? That is what interests us from a sportsbook perspective, as it allows us to anticipate upcoming markets. It is about recognizing the signs of an esports product on the verge of ‘exploding’ to the mainstream audience, before it actually does. This gives you the window of opportunity to relocate your marketing assets in time, and grab a large share of a new (and young) market.
When looking closely at the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, we notice some key ingredients that we could apply to evaluating the chances of success with other sports initiatives:
- They have enthusiastic drivers with online followers. Lando Norris, the young McLaren driver, was streaming regularly prior to the corona virus lockdown. He is now breaking records with over 70k viewers tuning in on his stream. The potential for Vettel, Hamilton or Verstappen is exponentially higher.
- Proven streaming infrastructure partners in Twitch, YouTube & Facebook. The amount of server data needed to host these online events is enormous. A loss of connection can be devastating. Having tech giants on board is essential for success.
- The skill set needed for racing translates directly to online racing. If this is a condition for success, it would rule out any team sports such as football. Time will tell whether this is in fact indispensable.
- The game needs to be flawless. When you have Lando Norris, your biggest advocate of online racing, disconnect in the Grand Prix or not letting him connect to the race, you can lose all enthusiasm that you invested in. This actually happened and caused a major setback with Lando quitting the game.
- The younger the athletes, the better. Kimi Raikkonen announced that he had zero plans for joining the esports version of F1. Why? He just doesn’t care about virtual racing. A sport with a lot of veterans will have a harder time to adapt to any virtual transformation.
So how do these factors translate to other sports? In most cases partially. But that isn’t to say that all the boxes have to be ticked off to become a success. In tennis the skill set does not translate directly to the online variant, though the Virtual Madrid Open still gained a lot of attention and participating top players. Although it is unlikely that tennis will have a lasting success, it is definitely worth keeping an eye on any future virtual tournaments to gain momentum. Horse racing is another sport that seems to lend itself perfectly for virtual variants, there have been successful ‘horse’ racing games on carnivals for several decades.
Football is of course the sport everyone is interested in. And again, the skill set does not translate directly, but there are many young football players that play and enjoy FIFA and have a large following. While not substituting the physical game, it will be an addition to the existing football landscape. With football however, the question is which of the many initiatives gets picked up by a wider audience. Will it be a stream of a famous (ex-) player, or the official FIFA World Cup or the national esports leagues? It is currently worth monitoring any movement, as the lack of physical sports gives an indication of what has appeal and what doesn’t.
Can you afford to risk missing out on the future?
The coronavirus sets the stage for an unprecedented experiment with sports and virtual sports crossover. We are seeing many initiatives from many different angles. As a bookmaker, anticipating on the succes is taking into account the factors mentioned above as well as closely monitoring the response of the players in iGaming. At Revenue Engineers we consult operators on how to integrate esports as a product and as engaging content. The latter proves to be at least as important as the first for the younger audience it’s targeting. The forecast of esports breaking through the barrier of mainstream media has been going around for years. We might actually witness it today.