Monday, April 25, 2016 : LAS VEGAS SIGHTS SET ON E-SPORTS
Casino resort operators are increasingly eyeing the potential of a rising activity with a young demographic.
Among the many informative articles on eSports which surfaced over the weekend was one from ESPN examining the response of the traditional gambling industry to the fast rising vertical and its market-coveted young 18 to 34 years age demographic.
The piece quotes a typical eSports event at the Mandalay Bay Events Centre last week in which over 6,000 fans packed the venue to watch the North American League of Legends Championship Series spring finals amid an electrifying ambience not dissimilar to a major fight night.
Team SoloMid faced Counter Logic Gaming for the final, with "fans banging glowing thunder sticks inside the arena", live commentary, sound and light effects and giant video screens relaying the action generated by the two teams seated at computers on the massive stage.
The size and potential of the eSports market has been estimated by different research firms; in the case of this article ESPN quotes recent Newzoo figures of $463 million in revenue this year and $1.1 billion by 2019.
That, and the interest of the younger millennial demographic, has been enough to pique the interest of major gambling groups, and ESPN reported on the way in which some of the Vegas greats are responding to the relatively new genre.
A spokesman for MGM International said the organisation has been closely following and assessing eSports possibilities for the past year, and has concluded that it is the future for the younger demographics.
"We've seen it grow and we knew it was something we wanted to be a part of. When there was a big battle going on during the final game, that place erupted as if it was a fight night, a UFC event or a basketball game," the spokesman said.
Mandalay Bay is one of the MGM properties and hosted its inaugural tournament last week – the North American League of Legends Championship Series spring finals – which pulled in 6,000 fans.
Encouraged by its success, the Mandalay Bay will next host the Evolution Championship Series (Evo), the largest fighting game tournament in the world, in July.
In the future, the resort hopes to host larger events such as the League of Legends World Championship in the newly opened T-Mobile Arena.
Seth Schorr, CEO of Fifth Street Gaming and the chairman of the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas, told ESPN that he wants to create "a 365-day-per-year esports destination," explaining that facilities could include in-room televisions streaming Twitch, food and beverage menus catering for the tastes and eating styles of gamers, game consoles available for rent in the rooms, and the capacity to run major tournaments.
The company has already allocated prime on-premises space for an eSports lounge, moving high-limit blackjack games to make way for the new vertical, which can handle five-on-five team competitions, with two rows of computers facing each other, as well as tournaments and casual gaming.
Schorr revealed that he has plans to open a second lounge soon. "We have really big plans for that space, and over the next two months you're going to see it completely redesigned," he said, adding that his plans include attracting eSports gaming teams.
He said that last year a leading eSports team spent two months living and training at the hotel, which set them up with suites and a private practice room, and when the team travelled to San Jose to play in the Intel Extreme Masters, the Downtown Grand converted a restaurant on the casino floor into the "Summoner's Cafe," complete with cosplay hostesses.
Schorr said that his company is a sponsor for the Las Vegas Newons , a professional Counter-Strike team, and is considering further sponsorship possibilities.
The article reports that in the aftermath of the League of Legends Championship Series spring finals in Las Vegas last week, the Downtown Grand catered for a rooftop poolside party which attracted 1,200 eSports players and fans.
Schorr said Las Vegas will be in a strong position to secure eSports business if the city's sportsbooks set lines and accept wagers on eSports events – a topic scheduled for discussion next month by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
The Downtown Grand wants to be ahead of the game, said Schorr – revealing that his company has already started drafting possible rules and regulations for eSports gambling, and had taken one of the gaming commissioners around its eSports facilities.
ESPN interviewed a spokesman for one of the major Vegas bookies, who considered the practicalities of setting betting lines for eSports, commenting:
"Developing lines would be new to most. We don't have anyone here on staff that really follows it. In its gaming infancy, we would lean on others such as the European market, like we do for most soccer, for betting lines. If we were able to accept wagers in the near future, betting limits would be relatively low until more familiarity is gained. I would compare it to how UFC has recently evolved. It started on a small scale and has really taken off wagering wise. It has a specific following, as does esports. With more TV exposure, I think esports might follow a similar path as UFC wagering."