Capturing eSports Betting Now 'Strategically Important' - Abios
Now is the time to open eSports betting markets, was the message to bookmakers from Oskar Fröberg, CEO of leading eSports data provider Abios, as he prepared to showcase why at Betting on Sports 2019 later this month.
Froberg is booked to chair one of the event's most future-driven panels, 'eSports - the major sport you are not carrying', on Wednesday, September 18, where a line-up of experts will discuss what eSports betting is, and what potential the market has.
With Abios having worked on and analysised eSports data for the past five years, Froberg believes eSports betting will surpass regular sports betting for predictive accuracy, and that live betting on eSports will become a far richer product than it's traditional equivalent too. But in order to benefit from that, betting operators must get on board now, while the industry is still young.
"I think it’s very important to get involved in eSports now," he said. "For bookmakers, it’s actually strategically important for the future to capture the eSports audience, because it will simply continue to grow."
In an interview presented as part of Gambling.com's media partnership with Betting on Sports 2019, which will take place at the Olympia in London from September 17-20, we spoke with Oskar Fröberg about the mechanics of betting on eSports, and what lies in the future for this rapid-growth market.
Gambling.com: When did you first know that eSports betting was the future?
Oskar Fröberg: "When Twitch came around in 2011, I started watching and following Twitch religiously, because I was a huge gamer growing up, it’s one of my big hobbies and interests.
"That’s when I realised that this was 100% going to be the next big thing, and that I wanted to get into the business right now.
"In 2012 I started discussing with a couple of my friends and we said then that betting on eSports will be huge, but that the market isn’t ready yet and we don’t have the capital or the betting licenses. What the market did need then though was good information, good data, and a place where people can go to keep track of all the matches."
Gambling.com: When and why did you launch Abios as a business-to-business data provider?
Fröberg: "Abios was founded by Anton Janer and myself roughly six years ago, while we were still studying. The original idea of Abios was to create a TV guide and a platform where people could go to keep track of their favourite teams, matches, tournaments, streams, whatever they need to know. One place to keep track of all different games.
"As we started building the platform we got another idea; the data we were collecting in order to maintain the calendar to display to our users, we quickly realised we could use to provide to other businesses in the industry instead.
"In early 2016 we decided to pivot completely from B2C to B2B, built an API on our data and started providing it to many different clients around the world. Betting clients, media clients, eSports teams, all kinds of players in the industry.
"The idea of doing that really came from customer demand, because so many people were writing to us interested in how we had so much good data, and live scores. They wanted to know where we got all the information and if they could buy it from us.
"We decided we were better off doing what we’re best at, which is gathering, collecting and enhancing the statistics, and distributing that instead of trying to build our own consumer product.
"Even when we started the company in 2013, the idea was always to do something more than just be a TV guide, but at that time we weren’t sure whether we were going to become our own sportsbook, or something else.
"When we started working with the data and collecting it, keeping track of all the matches and tournaments, we realised that is what we are good at doing. We’re not necessarily good at marketing, or good at making consumer products, or good at building consumer brands. But we are good at data."
Gambling.com: What makes eSports difficult for bookmakers to understand?
Fröberg: "It depends on how knowledgeable they are about eSports but for the bookmakers who are less knowledgeable about eSports, the first thing they need to realise is that each game is like an individual sport.
"In the same way tennis, football and ice hockey are not the same sport, each eSports game needs data to be collected differently, and different data points are of differing importance.
"When you are building models and doing statistics for eSports, even though there are similarities between some of the games, you still need to look at each of them as an individual sport.
"In some cases you also need to educate the betting operator on which data points, and what events within a game, are relevant, both for creating odds and for displaying content to users.
"It’s not always obvious, unless you are very knowledgeable and actually play the games, to know what data points are the most important for that game."
Gambling.com: The eSports data you provide to betting operators and media, where does it come from?
Fröberg: "There are several different ways we collect this data depending on the game, the tournament and the rights holders. So for some tournaments we’ll use computer vision, where we log data by using something like OCR technology (which we call computer vision because it’s more than OCR technology) off the fastest livestreams.
"If we can get access to the servers of the matches, that’s where you can get the most and best granular data, then you can pretty much get any data point that you want, and you can see everything that’s happening during the match. We of course complement that with manual editing, people watching the games and double checking all the data."
Gambling.com: Could Abios generate it's own eSports betting odds feeds?
Fröberg: "As of right now, we set some probabilities, like an odds feed, but the odds feed is not our primary product. The odds feed that we are developing for Dota 2, League Of Legends and CS:GO will be our third product.
"Our primary product is the API, which is a way for us to distribute data to different actors in both betting and media. Our second product is widgets. Creating the markets is just a sub-product of what we do, which is based on our API"
Gambling.com: With all this data available, is it possible eSports betting is actually fairer and more accurate than regular sports betting, particularly in live betting?
Fröberg: "There’s a lot more data to access, and you can get a lot more granular data in eSports than in any other sport, because in any regular sport you are always limited by, and subject to, data that the eye can record.
"A football match isn’t being played on a server for example, whereas every single thing that’s happening all the time on the server during eSports games can be logged.
"The future live betting products for eSports will be a lot richer than for traditional sports, because there is more granular data available to the industry. In our core product, the API, we already have live data in just about all of the big tournaments and the big games, so we have clients who are odds calculators or odds generators that are already able to create live odds on these events.
"It’s possible they will be more accurate. But as of right now, it’s still a very young industry, and it’s still challenging for most operators to create live betting. I know that when you build the statistical models around probabilities for these matches, since for some of the games and tournaments there is a lot of very granular data available, there’s always a risk of over-fitting certain models.
"As for our own live odds product, that is something that we might do along the line. Since we have the richest and broadest data on the scene, we are able to build and create predictions based on that data, but as of right now at Abios we only do probabilities and predictions, we don’t do risk management and trading, which is of course a large part of live betting."
Gambling.com: What is the next step to improving eSports betting markets?
Fröberg: "What the industry needs to learn now, and what we are working towards with ourselves and our clients, is which data points are the interesting ones. There is so much available that you can’t take everything into account at once, so you need to find which are the ones that tell you something about the future probability of an event occurring.
"But I would say for sure that, given the amount of data available, it would surprise me if the predictive ability did not surpass that of regular sports at some point in time."
Gambling.com: What about integrity? We spoke to researcher Brett Arbarbanel about this, and she highlighted several threats. Are these concerns for you?
Fröberg: "There are two ways you can cheat in eSports. One is installing some kind of cheat, something that helps you aim in CS:GO or locate other players, or something that helps you click faster or automatically in Dota 2, simply put. But those kind of cheats are easily detected. If you’re able to sit on the server and monitor the actions of what’s going on.
"Those cheats built by computers lead to reaction times that are inhuman, which you can notice on the server. The other way cheating can occur is if people intentionally win or lose games. That’s more up to the sportsbooks to monitor and track unusual betting behaviour in the exact same way they would in any other sport.
"It’s something we need to address and keep in mind, but I don’t see that being a huge problem going forward. We are going to be able to solve that quite easily."
Gambling.com: Lastly, what's next on the agenda for Abios in this ever-changing eSports landscape?
Fröberg: "Next thing for us is to continue enhancing the data available through our API and that means expanding into new games. Currently we’re looking at adding Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, and FIFA - probably the three hottest games on our radar right now.
"We also want to have faster, more reliable data from the servers of all the games and tournaments by sealing the rights contracts with the rights holders - whether that’s the tournament organiser or game developer.
"Recently, we officially launched our widgets product, which is an easily embeddable solution for anybody who wants to add eSports content to their betting or media website, without having to commit and large technology overhead. We want to continuing expanding that product to offer more widgets to more types of industries, with more customisation options - even though right now it is almost fully customisable."
Oskar Fröberg will chair the panel entitled, “eSports - the major sport you are not carrying” at Betting on Sports 2019 at 11:20am on Wednesday, September 18.
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