There has been a lot of esports talk in the gaming world during the past couple years.
During that time, casinos have been exploring the various opportunities esports have to offer, including:
- Accepting wagers on esports in their sportsbooks
- Hosting live events
- Dedicated on-property esports areas
- Adding esports gaming terminals on the casino floor
But unlike some other recent opportunities with which the casino industry has been presented — online gambling, daily fantasy sports and the like — a number of casinos are turning their curiosity into action and integrating esports at their properties.
This year is shaping up to be an exciting time on this front, but the question that comes to mind is whether these esports converts are visionaries or jumping the gun on a fool’s errand.
Casinos and esports are like peas and carrots
The research says esports should be a slam-dunk success for casinos.
Leet, a company heavily involved in integrating esports events at casinos, has seen its live events grow since it first started hosting esports events last year.
“Video games and esports [are] one of the many answers a casino can utilize to bring the millennial demographic to their property,” said Leet co-founder Kingsley Edwards.
“Video games aren’t going away,” Edwards added, noting that they will only get bigger, as the next generation after millennials (yes, after millennials) will have grown up with mobile devices.
Research from Narus Advisors provides further evidence. At G2E 2016, Narus partner Chris Grove said its research shows 23 million “gamers” in the United States:
- are 21+;
- visit casinos;
- are in the top income bracket.
Narus also found:
- Thirty-seven percent of esports fans would pay $99 or more for a ticket to a major esports event;
- Esports fans are twice as likely to have gambled online, and 60 percent use fantasy betting sites;
- An estimated $3 billion was wagered on esports events worldwide in 2016;
- Ninety percent of international sportsbooks offer esports wagers.
And as Edwards and his team have found, contrary to the narrative of esports’ main demographic only interested in skill-based games, a lot of esports players and fans have some gamble to them. Leet had to develop a notification system because players waiting for their next match were losing track of time while they gambled on the casino floor.
It’s hard to deny that casino can’t use esports and video games an attractant to bring in younger demographics. As Edwards put it, “It would be like saying gravity is not real at this point.”
Success will require commitment
But like most things, numbers don’t tell the entire story. The success of esports in a casino environment will have a lot to do with execution.
One of the mantras I hear most often from esports people is a casino can’t half-ass its offering. If a casino truly wants to engage with esports fans, it has to go all-in.
As Downtown Grand chairman Seth Schorr said during a panel discussion at G2E 2016, a casino can’t just host an esports event and expect the attendees to spend money at the property. If it doesn’t welcome them with open arms, they’ll attend the event and walk right past all of the dining and entertainment options and go to the McDonald’s down the road.
The goal is to not only bring them to the event, but to get them to spend money at the casino, and that’s only going to happen if the casino is serious about making its property esports-friendly.
Essentially, esports fans don’t want their events to be on a dry-erase board; they want it in permanent marker.
Downtown Grand leading the way for esports in Vegas
Schorr’s Downtown Grand isn’t messing around when it comes to esports.
The casino, located in downtown Las Vegas, has a dedicated esports lounge and hosts esports events (big and small). It also pushed really hard to be the first caino in Nevada to accept an esports wager in its sportsbook.
“It’s undeniable that the landscape of gaming is changing, along with every other industry because of advanced technology and consumer behavior,” Schorr said when esports wagering was approved by regulators. “I feel it is my duty to my company and its investors to keep Nevada relevant by changing with the times and coming up with new ways to make the gambling experience more compelling.”
Partnership with Leet
A big part of Downtown Grand’s successful integration of esports is Schorr’s willingness to go all-out, which includes fostering a relationship with the aforementioned Leet.
“Last year we were introduced to [Schorr] and what he was doing at the Downtown Grand and his initiatives to bring esports to Vegas,” Edwards said. “We ended up getting a contract with the Downtown Grand and running weekly events, smaller frequent events in their esports lounge.”
Leet began as a different kind of company, but shifted focus when it saw the opportunity to bring esports to casinos. To this end, Leet built a tournament platform “from the ground up with casinos in mind,” according to Edwards.
“The esports tournament platform has a light touch, that, unlike traditional esports platforms, doesn’t require people to sign up for accounts or log in through Facebook,” Edwards explained.
Instead, Leet’s platform is more like a casino’s poker room, where you can show up to the casino with your ID and some cash and enter the event.
Edwards is hoping that if Leet’s tournament platform continues to gain traction in Vegas, it can expand to casinos in other parts of the country. According to Leet, the company is already in talks with other casinos, both tribal and commercial.
Leet is also in the process of unveiling a slate of new products to add to the user experience at live events.
One such product (that is still being fine-tuned to meet regulatory requirements for minimum payouts and such) is an auto-generated, in-game bingo card attendees can purchase. The use in-game events — head shot, knife kill, or bomb diffuse for Counter-Strike: Golf Offensive — as the bingo squares. Edwards said these types of products will help build spectator engagement with whatever match they might be watching.
Esports Arena in Las Vegas
Not far from the Downtown Grand, in the Neonopolis building, is a 15,000-square-foot venue dedicated exclusively to esports. The recently-formed Millennial eSports, whose board includes Schorr, created the project.
The arena will not only host live events, but also cater to esports fans via viewing parties for major online tournaments and function as a broadcast facility for esport streamers. One thing it will not do, at least initially, is offer esports wagering.
“We want to host events that are wagered on, but we don’t have any intention at this point to undergo licensing,” Millennial eSports CEO Alex Igelman told Esports Betting Report. “That said, if there is an ability to work with someone like the Downtown Grand or William Hill, for example, with kiosks then by all means we would be open to it.”
Other casinos looking at esports
Not everyone wants to be as immersed in esports as Downtown Grand, but other casinos are integrating esports in their own way. How properties are incorporating esports varies by property.
Caesars and Tropicana GameCo Machines in Atlantic City
Caesars and Tropicana are taking a different approach to esports, skipping the events and engagement part that Schorr feels is critical, and instead putting esports gaming machines on the casino floor.
Three Caesars casinos in Atlantic City — Bally’s, Harrah’s and Caesars — along with the Tropicana have placed GameCo’s Danger Arena video gaming terminals on the slot floor. Danger Arena is a first-person shooter game that I’ve covered in-depth here.
The big question for casinos going this route is whether they can monetize esports before they build a relationship with the esports fan and player.
Level Up at MGM Grand
With the opening of Level Up, MGM Grand’s attempt to appeal to millennials is, once again, altogether different.
Level Up, which now occupies the area that used to house the Rainforest Café, is part night club and part arcade. The social lounge features traditional games like pool, foosball and pingpong, as well as arcade and other skill based games, including augmented reality golf.
The casino intersection at Level Up occurs in the social stadium gaming area. Visitors can play free-to-play versions of table games. It will be interesting to see if Level Up is able to:
- Attract the millennial demographic, and
- Get them to cross over into the casino.
“Level Up will be a popular, high-energy gaming lounge that will offer our guests and visitors the newest entertainment experience to see and be seen,” MGM Grand President and COO Scott Sibella told the Las Vegas Sun. “Our goal is to create a fun, social atmosphere featuring a variety of traditional games, as well as games of skill, that showcase the industry’s leading technology.”