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Esports has grown from a niche pursuit to a major international industry in the last two decades. As esports continues to make the news, you may be wondering how to start betting on esports competitions.
Maybe you’ve heard about friends making money betting on CSGO gambling sites or League of Legends but don’t know what gambling sites to sign up with. Or you’ve caught The International broadcast on Twitch and wondered what makes esports betting different from traditional sports betting.
In this article, I’ll go over how esports betting works, how it came to be, and how you can get in on the action.
What is Esports Betting?
In essence, esports covers all competitive video game tournaments. Short for “electronic sports,” esports covers video games in almost every genre and other online games, like online chess.
Esports has become a multimillion-dollar international industry—including a lively betting community. Typically, people place bets on tournaments online, using gambling sites that partially or fully specialize in video game gambling.
A Brief History of Esports Betting
Video game competitions date back to the 1970s when the first recorded event occurred at Stanford University in 1972. As the video game industry developed and some of today’s most iconic titles emerged, competitions grew in size and spread worldwide.
Esports leagues began to emerge in the 1990s, just in time for esports to expand in the early 2000s. Games like Quake, Doom, and Street Fighter were some of the most prominent competitive games of the early days of contemporary esports.
As the internet exploded in the 1990s, the first online gambling sites popped up with it, paving the way for the esports betting sites of today.
In 2011, live-streaming platform Twitch changed the game by allowing millions of people to watch gaming competitions live from almost anywhere in the world. Today, we expect esports to draw in more than 600 million viewers and generate more than $1.5 billion in revenue globally by 2023.
How Is Esports Betting Different from Regular Sports Betting?
On the surface, esports betting operates similarly to regular sports betting. Depending on the game and the tournament, you may bet on established gaming leagues or individual players.
The most significant difference comes in the types of bets you can place in esports betting.
Real Money Betting
Like in regular sports betting, you can place real money bets on esports competitions. Depending on the betting site, you can bet with standard currencies like American dollars or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
Some of the most popular types of real money esports betting include:
- Outrights/Moneyline: Betting on the winner of a match, bracket, or tournament.
- Totals: Betting on the total number of points a player or team will win in a game. This includes over/under and odds/evens betting.
- Proposition Bets (Prop Bets): Prop bets wager on events unrelated to point totals or winning. This may be which team wins the first map (First Map) or which gets the first kill (First Blood). Futures bets, which concern who will win a tournament farther in the future, also fall under prop betting.
- Handicap Betting: This type of betting evens out the odds between teams by adding extra conditions to the wager. For example, betting that a team will not only win but win with a 10-point advantage. This places a “handicap” on that team since their opponents would not need to win by the same margin for you to lose the bet.
- Accumulator Bets (Parlay/Multi Bets): Accumulators bundle several bets together, like teams in two different branches of a tournament, both winning. Depending on how many you bundle, these bets can also be labeled “doubles” or “triples.”
- Fantasy Esports: Like traditional sports betting, some sites allow you to build and bet on fantasy lineups.
This isn’t an exhaustive list but covers some of the most common betting options you’ll see on esports gambling sites. Some games also come with gameplay-specific types of betting, like League of Legends betting odds of a particular team killing the first dragon in a match.
Item and Skin Betting
Item and skin betting make up the most significant difference between traditional and esports betting. These types of betting are unique to the video game form—you bet with either in-game items or cosmetic alterations to those items (skins) rather than currency.
Like real-life exclusive products, in-game cosmetics have value because of their rarity and the social status they give to the owner. While they may seem trivial at first, items and skins can cost hundreds of dollars and be a very lucrative form of gambling.
Skins can be traded via the video game sales marketplace Steam, independent skin exchanges, or on specific esports gambling sites. Once traded, skins and items can also be converted to cryptocurrency or cash.
Only some games feature skin and item betting because not all games have cosmetics or provide players the ability to trade items and skins. Skin trading occurs most frequently in the communities of First Person Shooters and Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2.
Is Esports Betting Legal?
Ultimately, esports betting in the USA exists in a legal gray area for many states. No federal laws or regulations have been passed concerning esports specifically, and esports gambling laws get determined on a state-by-state basis. Internationally, rules and regulations also vary, but not on as small a level as in the U.S.
Previously, sports betting in the U.S. got restricted by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). After PASPA’s repeal in 2018, many states began legalizing sports betting. PASPA never directly addressed esports, and many of today’s state-level laws governing sports betting don’t address it, either.
While more than 25 states have legalized sports betting in one form or another, some states, like Colorado, don’t specifically mention esports in their laws. That leaves esports betting in a legal gray area, where it isn’t explicitly legal or illegal in most states.
Currently, the following states have explicitly legalized esports betting:
On the other hand, only Indiana outright bans esports betting. The majority of states haven’t ruled one way or another on esports, which may make you nervous to start betting.
The safest choice is to check your state’s gambling regulations to see if and how they limit esports betting before you set anything up.
Is Skin Betting Legal?
While real money gambling in esports has a clear parallel to regular sports betting, skin and item betting represents a very different kind of gambling. Because they don’t involve the direct exchange or wagering of cash, item and skin betting have slipped under most U.S. regulators’ radars.
For now, these types of gambling remain ambiguously legal in all states that have legalized esports betting. Internationally, however, skin gambling has faced increasing regulation in the last few years, especially when it comes to underage gambling.
If you are interested in skin gambling, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for new regulations emerging in the next few years.
What Do Esports Bettors Bet On?
When it comes to choosing an esport to bet on, you have a wide array of choices. Esports can be broadly categorized based on the type of game played. The most common categories are:
- First Person Shooters
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas
- Fighting Games
- Real-Time Strategy Games
- Sports Simulators
Each of these categories has its own unique aspects of play, making them exciting to watch and bet on.
First Person Shooters (FPS)
Several features define first Person Shooters (FPS): their first-person point of view and the gameplay goal of eliminating all other players, typically with guns and other projectile weapons.
Competitive FPS games range from the gritty and historical to the fantastic and cartoonish, but all incorporate team-based strategy and competence with the game’s various weapon styles.
Popular FPS titles to bet on include:
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO)
- Call of Duty
- Rainbow Six
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) pit players against each other in an open field, fighting over resources and trying to take each other down. MOBAs draw large-scale attention in the esports betting world with team coordination and real-time strategy drama.
Some of the most prominent esports competitions in the world involve MOBAs, including:
- DOTA 2
- League of Legends
One of the oldest genres of esport, fighting games feature rosters of colorful characters with unique fighting styles and abilities. They may be 2-dimensional arcade-style games or make use of three dimensions.
The appeal of fighting game competitions is players’ hair-trigger timing to dodge and land attacks and their ability to execute complicated button combos.
Popular competitive fighting games include:
- Street Fighter
- Mortal Kombat
- Super Smash Bros.
- Guilty Gear
Real-Time Strategy (RTS) Games
Real-time strategy games focus more on tactics and resource management than fast-paced combat. The dominant RTS in esports in Starcraft 2, whose players show off their abilities to form and alter complex plans on the fly, constantly reacting to their opponents’ moves.
The most straightforward of esports, sports simulators imitate their real-life parallels, making up their appeal.
Some of the most popular sports simulators include:
- Madden NFL
- Rocket League
- NBA 2K
With the sheer quantity of video games out there, it’s no surprise that you can bet on almost anything. From card games like Hearthstone to good old-fashioned online chess tournaments, if you have a passion for a certain kind of game, you can find someone out there organizing a competition—and someone else organizing a betting market.
How to Start?
While it may seem daunting at first, getting into esports betting can be simplified into a three-step process:
- Picking a game to bet on
- Picking video game betting sites
- Creating a betting model
For more detailed esports betting tips and guides for both beginners and experts, check out my other articles.
Picking a Video Game to Bet On
Since esports continues expanding year by year, including more and more games, you have a lot of choices. First, you can think about what kind of game interests you the most since you’ll need to research its tournaments, leagues, and players when you form your betting model.
One thing to consider is how sharp or soft the betting market is—in other words, how difficult or easy the market is to bet in, given how many people are betting against you.
If you pick a game like DOTA 2, which brings in more than a million viewers with its annual competition, The International, you’ll have quite a bit of competition. You can still profit in sharp markets by setting up a solid betting strategy, but first-time esports bettors may think twice before jumping into the deep end.
Even the betting markets for the most popular esports titles may not be as sharp as they seem. For example, I regularly make esports predictions for CS: GO and find that market to be softer than you would expect for a game that brought in more than 2.5 million views during a single tournament in 2021.
Picking an Esports Betting Site
Once you know what game you want to bet on, you need a platform for placing your bets. Which betting platform will be best for you depends on what country and state you’re betting in, what currency you want to bet with, and what kinds of perks the platform offers.
Since betting platforms must be certified individually by each state, not all gambling sites will be available where you live.
For betting on esports in the US, I recommend Bovada esports, especially if you want to bet on CS: GO or DOTA 2.
Making an Esports Betting Model
With your game and betting site chosen, the real work can begin. You need to gather and organize esports betting statistics, including different teams’ ranks and kill/death ratios, so that you can make a predictive model.
This involves compiling your statistics into a spreadsheet and calculating your esports betting odds, bookie odds for comparison, and other metrics, then testing your model against real betting markets. Check out my article on developing a CS: GO betting model for a closer look at how I set up my own system.
Learn to Bet on Esports
If you want an in-depth guide to betting on esports, check out my free betting course. You’ll learn all the skills you need to research a game and set up your own betting model, including templates for tracking your bets, as well as how to master handicapping.
With a projected $1.8 billion to be made in esports by 2023, the esports industry poses an exciting new frontier for bettors. You have a wide array of video games to choose from, each with its own specific types of bets, variations in market sharpness and softness, and a vast number of established teams and players.
Getting into esports betting can be a hurdle for the unfamiliar—but taking the leap now can earn you severe returns in the future. Join my betting masterclass and learn all you need to know to make money off esports gambling for an introduction that will give you a leg up on the competition.