Just when you thought you’d seen everything…

It’s a rapidly changing world and gambling is everywhere. In Las Vegas, you can bet on when alien life will be proven, when Julian Assange will leave the Ecuadorian embassy, if the next James Bond will be black, and what city is likely to see a white Christmas in 2017, but video games? Yep, that too. Once the realm of pimply teens and hard core computer nerds, video games are ubiquitous these days, on every smart phone and computer, in front of us and around every corner. Enjoyed by players of all ages, video games have sparked their own, global, massive, hyper-competitive, star-filled, real-money wagering universe… called esports.

So, what are esports?

All competitive video games are referred to as esports, whether it’s an actual video game version of a sport like FIFA soccer or Madden football, a first-person shooter game like Call of Duty, or a multiplayer online battle arena video game like League of Legends. Championship esports betThe latter, also known as LoL, is the world’s most-watched video game, and garnered a very impressive 43 million viewers for the last round of the 2016 World Championship. That’s right, there’s world championships in video games… and it’s serious, big-time stuff. To put it into perspective, an average of 40 million people that same year tuned into Game 7 of the World Series to watch the Chicago Cubs win the for the first time in over 100 years. Granted, the World Series is more of an American interest, while LoL and esports are a world-wide obsession, but come on – those are some serious numbers. Even more admirable was the prize money for the 2016 LoL World Championship. The total prize pool was $6.7 million, $3 million of which was contributed solely by fans. The winners walked away with 40 percent of the total, which comes to $2.68 million, and the second-place team was awarded 15 percent, or just over $1 million. Not bad winnings for having fun playing video games.

How does video game betting work?

Betting on esports functions much the same way as regular sports betting. Instead of betting on the outcome of a live sports match, you’re betting on the outcome of a video game match. You can bet either as a participant in a match or as a spectator. To bet as a participant, you buy-in to a tournament just like you would when you’re on the casino floor, and each player contributes the same amount to the pot. Players are then paired up, start their games, and find each other on the network, at which time the match begins. At the end of the match, all players must verify the outcome in order to officially end gameplay and allow the victor to collect the winnings. Matches are often played in tournaments of multiple games, like chess. Esports betting moneySome games can be tracked online, so tournament hosts can verify results to prevent cheating, while some sites also feature a ranking system for players to let you see who is consistently honest and who isn’t. Those suspected of or caught cheating can have some or all of their funds taken from their account and could be banned from using the service. But while these safeguards are in place, most of the time you just have to trust that the other guy or gal is as honest as you are, which makes some people uncomfortable. More on that in a minute…

What, exactly, can I bet on?

There are 6 main types of bets that can be placed. They are as follows:
  1. Winner – As in all sports bets, the most common bet is to pick the winner. This applies to esports as well, with gamblers putting down their cash on which team they think will prevail.
  2. Handicap – Similar to more traditional sports like golf or horseracing, handicapping offers an advantage by assigning additional points to one team to make the play more fair. Bets are placed on something akin to a points spread, in which , if one team wins the match but comes in under the points spread, those who bet on that team lose.
  3. Double Chance – A simple bet in which you wager on two of the three possible outcomes: a win, a draw or a loss. Used primarily in tournaments in which more than one match is played.
  4. Correct Score – Yep, you guessed it, betting on the end score of the match or tournament.
  5. Map Winner – A great many games require players to gain control over parts of the map that constitutes the game world. Bets can be placed on who will win the map.
  6. Win At Least One Map – With many games containing different levels and more than one map, the competition can be fierce to secure even one before the end of the match or tournament. This allows gamblers to place bets on who will secure at least one map before the game’s objectives are met and play ends.
Okay, so that’s a quick overview of the types of esports bets you can place. You’re in the mood and ready to go. So, what games can you bet on? Here’s a look at the most popular esports games and the type of bets they attract: league of Legends bettingLeague of Legends (LoL) – Set in a fantasy world that makes Heavy Metal the movie look tame, LoL is a multiplayer combat and strategy game that pits groups of champions against each other across multiple battlefields and game modes. With more than 27 million daily active players, you can imagine it’s a pretty lively place.
  • The most popular bets are on the winner of the tournament and on which player within a team will perform best.
Dota bettingDefense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) – Much like LoL, Dota 2 is a real-time, multiplayer combat and strategy game set in a fantasy world in which each team must seek out and destroy the other team’s ‘Ancients’ located at the other corner of the map. At its peak, it had more than 900,000 players playing the game daily.
  • Basically, all the above betting types can be placed when playing Dota
Csgo betting guideCounter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) – One of the oldest of the esports games, CS:GO is a multiplayer, first person shooter game. CS:GO divides competitors up into teams of ‘terrorists’ and ‘counter terrorists’, with each team having different objectives. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty ‘explosive’ place.
  • The most common form of betting on CS:GO is picking the winner of a match or tournament.
Starcraft bettingStarCraft 2 (SCII) – A real-time, single and multiplayer science fiction strategy game that involves three species, the Terrans (exiles from earth), the Zerg (a super species of assimilated life forms) and the Protoss (a technologically advanced species with special mental powers). The main objective is to destroy the opposition’s base while protecting your own.
  • The most common types of bets are on the winners of games and tournaments, with some sites also allowing bets to be placed on the nationality of the winner. Remember, this stuff’s global and, well, certain nationalities are rumored to be better at science and strategy than others, or so they say…

So, what’s the catch?

The biggest downside to betting on esports as both a participant or a spectator is the prevalence of cheating. The video game industry is sooo big that it’s hard for administrators to catch everything, especially on smaller sites – how can you be certain your opponent is of gambling age, or that online betting is even legal in his/her state or country? Sites are improving their security measures all the time, but the demand of this market is growing exponentially, and the supply of secure sites is struggling to keep up. Even worse than worrying about whether your opponent is 12 instead of 22, match-fixing in esports is a huge problem. The punishments for teams who fix matches are severe, including life-long banishment, and can end players’ careers if they’re caught, utterly destroying their young lives. But unless there’s evidence of cheating like a text or recorded conversation, or players are otherwise obvious about their intentions, it’s pretty difficult to spot. Bottom line If you’re interested in getting into video game betting, keep in mind, as with all wagers, there are risks involved. Just like sports betting, you’re relying on all players and teams to be honest. While the temptation to cheat in all types of games exists, considering the age of the major players and their lack of life experience outside their hyper-competitive virtual worlds, the chance of some foolishly succumbing to the temptations of ill-gotten gain is all too plausible. And, at the end of the day, you already know the risks and the rewards that come from playing your games of choice at your favorite online casino. If you love video games and want to broaden your gambling horizons, cool – but if not, it’s always a better bet to stick with what you already know, like the tried and true odds of hitting it big at Planet 7!
Nick Johnson is a lover of game theory and mathematics. After years as a quant on Wall Street, Nick stepped out of the fast lane to become a stay at home dad and write. After chasing the kids around all day and tucking his little ones in bed, Nick loves to relax playing in online Casinos and is a life-long poker enthusiast.