Unikrn CEO Discusses the Growth of Esports Betting During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Esports betting is on a significant surge in the world of gambling despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As one of the few shows in town that went on almost without a hiccup (despite a swap to online), sportsbooks worldwide saw a surge in business as gamblers looked to bet on anything that was still ongoing.
Of course, with the surge in business came challenges of their own, especially during a pandemic. This was bolstered by introducing plenty of new products from Unikrn, including Unikrn Virtual, a 24/7, betting service that uses random, pre-recorded matches from professional players across the FGC, CSGO, and other esports. That service included some big names, like Justin Wong, Rewind, Perfect Legend, and others.
As a result of this, Unikrn was named Esports Operator of the Year by EGR and won Wagering Innovation of the Year from the same awards show.
“Unikrn is the most efficient, most innovative and most authentic operators in esports and gaming,” said Karl Flores, Unikrn co-founder. “We’re grateful EGR continues to recognize this excellence and know that our members and B2B partners will continue to be impressed by what we have in store for 2021. After Unikrn’s multi award-winning products have been recognized and the growth of esports is accelerating faster than ever before, we’re looking forward to bringing our industry-leading innovations to the best wagering partners around the world. This industry has been struggling with coming-of-age audiences for years now, and we’re proud to be offering unmatched options to bring fresh appeal to even the most established operators.”
We had the chance to talk with Unikrn’s CEO Rahul Sood for his thoughts on where the esports betting industry is heading, the hurdles left for esports to bring betting to casinos, and more.
What has been the biggest challenge in growing esports betting in 2020, especially with a pandemic raging around the world?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous hardship around the world, and the biggest challenge has been to ensure our global team has the resources and support they need to safely weather this storm. Fortunately, we already had online workplace procedures in place for our American contributors. Our largest office-based teams are in Australia and Germany, which have had strong COVID-19 track records.
From a business perspective, demand for esports betting has continued to rise even faster than projected due to the pandemic shutting down in-person casinos and most traditional sports, but a surge of business during a devastating time has offered nonstop challenges for Unikrn to overcome this year.
What are some of the innovations that Unikrn has made this year that sets you all apart from your many competitors?
Unikrn is the only place you can bet on your own online matchmaking, bet on professional gamers, bet on streamers, and bet on exclusive 24/7 matches from top tier players.
Unikrn won two highly prestigious EGR awards in 2020: our second-consecutive Esports Operator of the Year award plus the Wagering Innovation of the Year. Our award-winning innovation, Unikrn Virtual, is a 24/7 esports betting stream of never-before-seen competitive matches featuring all-star quality players like the FGC’s Justin Wong, Rewind, PerfectLegend, rising mobile gamers like Surfnboy and Juicy, and other professional players.
What challenges does the esports betting market still have to overcome?
Esports are inherently different than sports because nobody owns the concept of basketball; they just own the NBA. In gaming, there are wildly different approaches to organizing esports from the Blizzard model of geolocated teams in a publisher-operated league to the Fortnite free-for-all competition-as-marketing model. Esports bookmakers need a deep knowledge of this landscape to follow games played in radically different ways.
One way Unikrn is ahead of the curve is by finding ways to bring betting in for every type of gaming and esports fan: whether you want to play and bet on your own pubs, your favorite streamer, or on the world finals in your favorite esport, Unikrn is finding unique ways to set fair odds and give gaming that additional punch of adrenaline that keeps fans engaged.
With the coaching scandal that rocked CSGO earlier this year, what steps can betting providers take to ensure integrity in results, and what additional steps are now being taken that were not before?
Unikrn has world-leading regulatory adherence. From anti-money laundering to know your customer and problem gambling prevention procedures, we have a custom-built internal auditing system that flags warning signs early and often. We were also a founding member of the Esports Integrity Coalition, which continues to do good work helping de-incentivize any kind of cheating or match-fixing. For example, the ESIC issued sanctions against 37 coaches when the CSGO scandal broke.
We do more to keep our customers and esports as a whole safe from abuse. A prime example is this year’s Summer Shuffle scam in Dota 2, a fake tournament which Unikrn sniffed out and rejected from our book while some others ran odds and gave the scammers opportunities to take advantage of their customers.
Ultimately, these problems will continue to exist until players have more stability and esports as a whole are better organized, but we are working internally and with partners in every way we can to ensure cheaters don’t prosper in esports.
Is there anything your competitors do that you would like to emulate or improve upon?
Unikrn is always growing and taking inspiration from various places in video games, wagering and other fields. In 2021, we’re rolling out unprecedented B2B integrations to bring safe esports wagering into the mainstream for the first time, offer more skill-based betting options, and we’re in some very exciting discussions with major voices in gaming to exciting power additions to some of the biggest game titles in the world.
What esport has the biggest potential to crossover with a more mainstream sports betting audience and why?
You’d actually be surprised how much crossover there is between esports fans and traditional sports fans, especially now that COVID-19 has brought more former gamers back into the hobby. The games that have the most entry-level appeal are the ones that are easy to grasp even without playing regularly, such as CSGO, Call of Duty, or Rocket League. As games get more abstract, their esports audiences become more linked to active player count.
It seems like a lot of the big investments of the last few years have been into franchised leagues, but you’ve famously been against them. Why?
I don’t believe we’re against investments in franchised leagues at all. However, I believe what makes esports successful is the grassroots movements where the community decides what video games become an esport rather than a big gaming company trying to force a game into esports.
The problem I have is when massive franchise fees are charged for newer games, as they use aggregate viewer data to make the case that their game will become the next big esport. This is the opposite of creating legitimate interest by community engagement. It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at a league. The community will make up their mind on what they want to watch and engage in.
What’s stopping esports betting from being at casinos around the United States, where legal?
A lot of it has to do with establishment wagering, which is largely run by a generation with less exposure to video game culture, let alone esports. There has to be an appetite to invest in the future and a willingness to consider that the future may not involve typical slot machines. We’re excited to be on the front line of changing this industry, starting with educating the field about the opportunities esports and gaming present.
After COVID-19, casinos are now actively working to build digital-at-home strategies. Esports and video games are arguably the best way to reach for this goal. This is one reason Unikrn is poised to do well in the future — we have the technology, team and product to enable regulated betting in every esports arena and sportsbook overnight.
Where are the biggest areas left for innovation and improvement in the esports market, both in your opinion and from a betting perspective?
Well, first off, I think it’s important that people start to understand the difference between esports and video games. There is a gigantic market for people who play video games, and it is orders of magnitude larger than those who watch esports. The thing is, as more people play games competitively, the esports market grows. So, the biggest areas for innovation are where Unikrn is playing: we are building the most comprehensive sportsbook for esports and video games on earth, both spectator and skill. We need to make it easier for new customers, and that’s what my business partner Karl Flores and the team are working on every day, day in and day out.
Disclosure: Dustin Steiner was a former staff writer for Unikrn News from 2017 to mid-2019.