Counter-Strike is the most adaptable eSports, and betting on eSports is not the only business line through which casinos can increase their revenue. These are some of the conclusions shared with Revista CASINO. ESports, or electronic sports, are video game competitions that today evoke as much passion, if not more, than traditional sports did in the pre-digital era. This realm involves teams, leagues, professional players, sponsors, fans, live events, and streaming. Revista CASINO interviewed two industry leaders, Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes and Ari Fox, to explore the potential synergy with traditional casinos.
ESports have a parent industry: video games. There are 3 billion video game players worldwide, accounting for 40% of the global population. The Asia-Pacific region claims over half of these players, while North America and Europe each hold 20%. Newer growing markets, such as the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, are expected to experience significant growth. Of the 3 billion, only 10% engage in eSports. Further statistics to grasp the phenomenon: North America represents 37.2% of current eSports revenue, making it the leading market. Projections for 2032 estimate sector growth to reach USD 10,905.1 million in revenue in the United States alone, as per a report from Market.us. The potential is enormous, and perhaps this is why even someone like Lionel Messi decided to get involved.
Almost the entirety of Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes’ professional career is linked to the advertising industry, but in 2020, he co-founded FiReSPORTS with his son Jerónimo. Figueroa Reyes mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic to explain the growth projection of players in Latin America: “There was a high turnover of technological devices and demographic shifts. It is the region that projects having more young people compared to Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and Asia-Pacific (APAC).”
FiReSPORTS is a comprehensive eSports organization that originated in Argentina and now extends its reach to the rest of Latin America, the United States, and Europe. The company produces its own Counter-Strike league and also leagues for third parties, including the VALORANT Challengers LATAM for Riot Games. It has other business units that encompass the production of music shows, sports events, streaming services, eSports matches (showmatches), documentaries, short films, and other content formats.
While the alliance between eSports and traditional gambling is still in its early stages in its main area of influence, Figueroa Reyes did not rule out a future agreement in this regard: “We would love it because we manage the most important Counter-Strike league in Spanish and Portuguese, and Counter-Strike is the eSport most adaptable to casinos and bookmakers.” There is also a niche market that some bookmakers and virtual casinos are already exploring: they choose influencers and players to promote their websites and games on Twitch and YouTube.
Together with the Argentine University of Business (UADE), FiReSPORTS recently launched the first Bachelor’s Degree in eSports in Latin America and the fourth in the world. The program is designed for players, CEOs, sports managers, marketing directors, event producers, and journalists. Other projects of the company include the CRACK awards and the launch of Barça Games, the gaming platform of FC Barcelona, which includes a player training center.
Who are we talking about when we refer to eSports? While not long ago it was believed that they were only for young people, the logic has changed: “The audience now consists of men and women from 18 to 50 years old. Parents and children now play the same games.”
The Casino Esport Conference (CEC) is an event that will take place this year from March 19 to 21 at the Agua Caliente Casino, located in Rancho Mirage, California. Its goal is to discuss how casinos, universities, and the film industry can do business with video games and eSports. The organizers are the brothers Ari and Ben Fox.
“The Esports market is part of the larger video gaming cultural phenomenon that is the form of entertainment most preferred by audiences ages 21 to 45 years old. Understanding the Esports sector, we have to understand that similarly to older forms of conventional sports, whereas not all of the general populous enjoys sports, Esports is about 10% of the 3 billion video gamers worldwide. This is still a very large number, but I say this because wagering on Esports is not the only vertical that is available to casinos for revenue,” highlighted Ari Fox to Revista CASINO.
Both brothers have extensive experience in the video game and gambling industries. The younger of the two, Ari, is known for his entrepreneurial spirit. He is an expert in new technologies and shows a particular interest in the use of artificial intelligence to improve the customer experience and drive business growth.
He argues that there is only one possible business in the intersection between gambling and eSports at the moment, and that is betting because it is the only thing operators understand today. He insists that focusing on eSports and leaving out 90% of the total gaming universe is missing “a great opportunity to increase revenue.”
“Wagering as one vertical is great but take for example attempts by slot machine manufacturers making an NFL slot game or a Willie Wonka slot machine. These are obvious attempts to expand the reach to sports fans that wager on sports and the Willie Wonka slot game to cater to movie fans. However, with video gaming enthusiast there needs to be wagering on esports of course but offering or creating a slot machine for them is like offering a meat eater a piece of lettuce. They won’t bite, plain and simple”, expanded Ari Fox.
Esports have a cross-generational audience, with a predominant presence from Generation Z and Millennials, but we must not exclude Generation X or the one following Gen Z. The important thing here is to note that each generation represents a different type of player: “Many have grown up with mobile phones and interactive screens. Games based on chance don’t capture their attention.”
What does he recommend to captivate the younger audience? “Skill-based games where they have a certain time to achieve specific objectives and earn money. With a commission-based business model, the casino could make money. The goal is to get the video gamer to want to move to the next level. That’s where the adrenaline is for them: they want to win the game.” He added, “Young people want to be part of the action and co-create their own entertainment. There’s no way for a younger person to feel part of the action in the games that casinos offer today, both online and traditional. You can’t be part of a game of chance.”
For Ari Fox, it’s evident that casinos are not doing as well as they proclaim, and to camouflage the situation, they only highlight the gross gaming revenue (GGR). Despite this, they have not fully embraced video games in general or eSports in particular, even though it would benefit them. It’s clear to him that casinos urgently need to be more innovative, as cinemas and other old forms of entertainment have done.
“The Esports audience will bring more younger people to the casino IF there is something for them to do there. Just offering wagering on esports is not enough. Land-based casinos can capitalize on bringing younger video gaming and esports audiences into the casino by offering specific tournaments for various video gaming/esports communities,” Fox pointed out.
For instance, the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage offers Super Smash Bros tournaments every Wednesday night. “They started small but they are growing as a place for younger people to come weekly and try to be the champion of the evening in playing Super Smash Brothers. The casino gets a Vig (vigorish/commission) from the participants, they sell food and beverages and offer this in a location that is their sports bar. But since it is a Wednesday night there are not many sports going on, so why not esports?”
After eight years of existence, the CEC aims to attract casinos operated by Native American tribes because “they are much more receptive to innovation and trying new opportunities.” The Fox brothers are also responsible for GameACon, a convention that offers an immersive experience in games, anime, art, comics, and cosplay. This year will have two editions: the first in June in Palm Springs, California; while the second will take place in Stamford, Connecticut, in August.
The League of Legends World Championship final, held in November, set a record in the history of eSports: more than 6 million people watched the match simultaneously. The consultancy firm Newzoo projects that eSports could surpass the viewership of the Super Bowl or the Champions League in less than ten years.
Regarding Argentina, a land where soccer is the great passion generator, the number of gamers reached 26 million in 2023, 56% of the population. And this figure will continue to grow. In 2020, former soccer player Sergio “Kun” Agüero created the eSports organization KRÜ, and last December, Lionel Messi, the captain of the Argentine National Team, joined as a partner.
“I am happy to share the club with Leo, of course now in a new stage and with other challenges. It is an honor that he is part of KRÜ. He is the best soccer player in history, and also a great friend. His presence is relevant because it projects values such as perseverance, humility, and resilience. He is a figure that inspires everyone and will be a great contribution to the scene in general,” Agüero said in a press release. The last tournament Messi and Agüero played together was the Copa America held in Brazil in 2021.
According to Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes, this announcement impacts the general public: “It allows visualizing eSports among those who have no idea about this industry, about this world that moves a lot of young people. Formally, it stays in the news because it won’t change much for the club’s daily life, but surely more brands will try to connect with the youth.”
KRÜ positions itself as a club that generates content and develops events and exclusive experiences for its community and fans of other disciplines who interact with eSports. And now, they have the best in the world.
With 3 billion video game players worldwide, it’s evident that the alliance between eSports — representing only 10% of the total market — and casino operators is still in its infancy, even in the most developed markets. The potential is enormous. The key is for traditional gambling to start speaking this new language, not the other way around.