Exclusive Q&A with Alex Shybanov, Senior Sales Manager for CEE Region/PandaScore
What is the difference between PandaScore and big suppliers?
The biggest difference is that we’re solely focused on esports whereas a lot of the bigger suppliers concentrated on traditional sports. For PandaScore esports is the only priority. We’re also fast and agile – we can implement new products and features incredibly quickly allowing our partners to leverage the fast-growing nature of the sector.
Another major difference is the data-led approach we take. We combine this with AI, our own trading models and a team of highly skilled traders which allows us to present one of the best esports betting products in the market.
Our trading models are worth highlighting as this is what really sets us apart. They’re fully automated and cover all of the sports that we have. In comparison, most of the big suppliers are still using manual or semi-manual models.
Finally, the number of markets we offer and our uptime (the percentage of time that lines are open and available for players to place bets) is unrivalled. We are also open to feedback and regularly work with our partners to implement new tools and features.
This enables us to satisfy their individual needs and continually improve performance, something that the big providers cannot offer especially if esports is not considered a priority for them.
What do you have to say about the esports market in Central & Eastern Europe?
It is fast-growing, for sure, and is really well developed when compared with other European regions and markets like the UK. In fact, across CEE esports is often among the top five bets on sports in terms of revenues and turnover.
What is driving this? Several factors but in particular there are some really strong teams that are based out of CEE countries. This includes Na’Vi (CS:GO) and Team Spirit (Dota 2) – 2021 TI champions. This has helped to elevate the popularity of esports across the region.
To bet on esports, you really have to play esports and CEE is a big market in terms of the number of players that play video games. This in turn helps to drive esports engagement and betting on esports as there is a larger pool of consumers that understand how it all works.
What is interesting is the popularity of certain games in CEE, which differs from other European markets. CS:GO is by far the most popular game to play, with Dota 2 number two across the market. But globally, League of Legends is the most popular.
Why is your trading solution specifically suited for the CEE market?
There are several key reasons why PandaScore is perfectly suited for operators targeting the CEE market. The first is our local coverage; we offer odds and markets on all local tournaments across the region including in Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia.
Next, our data-driven approach and unique models allows us to achieve the best uptime. For CS:GO uptime levels are in excess of 90% and with Dota 2 it is 75%. This is between 20-25% more than our rivals which means our partners can offer their players more betting opportunities.
This is achieved via our automated models and not having to change the lines manually. With players able to bet 25% more during the game, this is a major value driver for operators. This is only set to become more significant with the continued growth of live esports betting.
Finally, we have comprehensive margin management, and this is important for operators targeting the region because esports bettors are sophisticated. They are not recreational players and have a deep understanding of how games work and the betting options available to them.
Our partners can set different margins across a range of factors such as pre-match, live, games, markets, and more.
This allows them to maximise their margin but also run promotions around particular games and markets, lowering the odds to make them more attractive on a specific game and then setting a higher margin on second and third-tier games to balance this off.
How do you balance this approach for your partner operators, who may have different needs?
Our trading dashboard has been designed to put the power in an operator’s hands. Their traders can manage everything from booking (such as by game, tournament tier, automated) to margin management (possibility to set different margins for different games, markets, tournaments) and more.We have many different markets, especially for live betting. For CS:GO, for instance, we have 60 pre-match markets and 24 live markets.
As an example, we have recently rolled out player markets for total kills over/under. This allows operators to increase revenues by offering markets on specific players and teams that are popular in that region or market. And it’s becoming more and more popular.
What are PandaScore’s goals for 2022 and esports?
Esports will continue on its rapid growth trajectory. It is already in the top five sports in some markets and I believe this will become the case in more and more regions in 2022. Offline tournaments are also returning which will be a further catalyst for growth.
Regarding PandaScore, we will continue to increase the scale and scope of our coverage and particularly when it comes to local coverage. This will be driven in part by cooperating with local tournaments and securing additional data partnerships.
We will keep building out our market and product offerings – player markets have launched with CS:GO but we plan to extend this to other games such as Dota 2. We are also working on offering multiples for specific games with a bet builder feature also in the works.
2022 is set to be another breakthrough year for esports and esports betting, and as always PandaScore will be at the cutting edge of this incredible sector.
Team Vitality’s French Rocket League team will be back at the San Diego Major from April 6th to 9th 2023
The Team Vitality team managed to qualify for the San Diego Major scheduled for April 6-9 after reaching the quarter finals of the RLCS 2022-23 Winter Europe Regional 3. This qualification marks the club’s return to the highest competitive level in Rocket League.
Ultra-competitive format sees top teams battle it out
In San Diego, Team Vitality will meet up with the other 16 teams that qualified for the event. Before reaching the quarterfinals, they will have to face three other strong teams from their pool in the Bo5 format:
- Karmine Corp
- Team Falcons
The goal of the multiple European and World Champion team is to reach the top of the European podium. Beyond the prestige of the event, this competition also allows the best teams to gain points to qualify for the RLCS 2022-23 World Championship next August.
Composition of the team:
- Yanis “Alpha54” Champenois (Captain)
- Andrea “Radosin” Radovanovic
- Thiméo “Saizen” Corcuff
- Victor “Ferra” Francal (Coach)
- Gauthier Klauss (Team Manager)
Team Vitality fans can follow the team behind the scenes
Team Vitality will also be represented by its ambassador and content creator Shynouh. She will be responsible for connecting with the team’s fan community by following the team throughout the competition and meeting the players at the end of each match to get their feedback. This is the first time that Team Vitality has allowed an ambassador to bring her personal touch and vlog format to an official competition.
Fans will also be able to follow Team Vitality’s matches live on V.TV – the team’s official Twitch channel – streamed with Rocket Baguette. Finally, the Major will be punctuated by Rocket League quests on the V.Hive app from Team Vitality.
Conferences in Europe
Prague Gaming & TECH Summit 2023: Charting the growth of Esports in CEE
Ahead of our sold-out Prague Gaming & TECH Summit 2023 next week, we sat down with some of the brightest minds in Europe to talk all things Esports and its potential for the CEE region.
In one of our most insightful interviews this year, we brought together Peter Rippel Szabo (PRS), Associate at Bird & Bird, Amir Mirazee (AM), Managing Director and COO at Bayes Esports, as well as Dimitris Panageas (DP), Group General Counsel at Kaizen Gaming to get the latest on Esports’ growth.
Covering everything from Ukraine, localised regulation, market demographics, state licensing and taking on traditional sportsbook spend, this one’s not to be missed!
To kick things off, let’s talk about the demand for Esports in CEE – how much does the region stand out in terms of growth potential vs the likes of Scandinavia and Western Europe?
AM: It’s a unique environment and of course being Bayes, we can gauge that from a good standpoint with over 100 betting clients globally and 200 in our extended network. On the CEE side, our major partners are GG.bet, DATA.BET and BETER, and we’re seeing considerable volume. This is particularly the case for Counter Strike – and players love new titles.
The one issue we have right now is the changing political dynamics. While Ukraine and Russia used to offer great Esports teams, as well as serving an anchor for satellite nations around them (Poland, Baltics etc), this equilibrium has of course been shifted, and it now needs to settle at a new one. This is especially the case for Ukraine, which really was the epicentre in the CEE region for Esports. Added to that is Russia of course now being shut out of the market, with operations now needing to be re-established to find a new hub to anchor the vertical’s development. In my view – the Czech Republic will likely be a key component.
PRS: From my base in Hungary, I can certainly say that across CEE organised tournaments are very strong – with growth proving very organic, and indeed, spontaneous. There’s not yet big money in most of the tournaments’ prize pools, but they are certainly crammed with amateur players who are very ‘plugged-in’ online and have a real passion for Esports. This goes for both the relevant products and enjoyment of that entertainment. Also, it is worth mentioning that in Hungary more established clubs with strong foundations across various sports have engaged with Esports (e.g. through establishing dedicated esports departments and training players professionally). Universities and other non-profit organisations have also started to study thoroughly the various physical, psychological and other aspects of Esports.
From a legal perspective what is needed for growth is a clear regulatory environment (dealing with the status of esports, i.e. whether it is a ‘normal’ sport, whether it has a special status, or something in between, as well as covering issues like requirements for tournament organisation, player safeguarding and integrity). This would also help alleviate some aspects negatively perceived by the general public (like lack of exercise, addiction or abuse). Of course, talking about Scandinavia and Western Europe – the one variable in comparison with CEE is consumer spend and the resulting market size which will likely never reach the same level in the East.
DP: For myself, and indeed given our extensive experience at Kaizen, I would say the demand is there to see. It’s not a new way of betting, but rather a new type of possible future verticals, and a set of betting markets to enjoy. As it’s still in the emerging stage, I would say it’s not yet considered a fully established ‘traditional’ vertical like sportsbook, lottery, live casino and others.
Looking at demographics, they are without a doubt smaller than more established verticals, which we need to distil into sub-segments to better understand on a micro level. Factoring in how fast the CEE market is changing, especially with the likes of Hungary (which was until recently a state monopoly), I would definitely say that we have every potential for Esports to really take off in the next 5-10 years.
On a macro level, the major growth blocker that needs to be overcome is that of regulation. Esports needs to be properly and specifically regulated as both a sport and from a betting perspective – this is essential in order to enable it to become a fully established vertical in its own right. So, in summary, it’s emerging fast and gaining traction, but still a long way to go.
What do you see as the key driver for demand for Esports betting in CEE? From a regulatory perspective, do you see CEE jurisdictions as being more open to Esports betting?
AM: Agreeing with Peter in his first answer, I would certainly say it’s a unique generation in CEE and that’s certainly why Esports has grown so much here. Online gaming, and indeed video gaming, has created the generation we’re seeing now, as well providing them with a connection to the rest of Europe and the wider world. Without a doubt, we can say that the ‘internet generation’ in their 20s and 30s have very much been shaped by that culture, whether that’s Call of Duty, memes, and everything else. On the regulation front, again, I agree also – it needs to be regulated as a sport. Germany, for example, does not even acknowledge Esports as a sport, which as a consequence, means it can’t even be bet on yet. That needs to change.
PRS: It’s a complex question but with plenty of potential in CEE. Gambling, betting and generally games of chance have similar basic legal concepts when it comes to regulation across Europe (national regulatory frameworks may differ of course), therefore, CEE jurisdictions can be as open to Esports betting as other countries. I think the key driver is simply how much Esports will gain in popularity in the future, for the more popular certain Esports titles will be the more will the demand be for Esports betting. Also, I think if Esports would be recognised explicitly as a sport and/or it would be a regulated activity in a CEE jurisdiction, then I believe it would likely facilitate the demand for Esports betting in that jurisdiction.
DP: Indeed. The key factor that you need to drive demand (let’s say from a sample set of the 10 major CEE countries), is that they do not yet specifically regulate Esports. Hungary, as Peter has mentioned, is becoming part of that change, so we’re seeing the opportunity for it to become a conducive environment for development. In my view, the regulatory framework for most of CEE is still vague; and as long as it’s principally viewed as a betting market rather than a sporting discipline in its own right, it will stay as that.
Taking the wider perspective, any law and/or regulation will take a minimum of 6-12 months to be adopted and following that – you’ll then need extensive marketing and commercial communication expenses to then push Esports into the mainstream. Without a doubt, however, looking at CEE demographics, the unique composition of their audiences holds plenty of potential. What makes it special is that while it is niche as a sport/product, it’s not the same as niche traditional sports, such as handball in Germany.
Rather, you have a fast-growing product that can easily enter the mainstream as it transcends borders and can offer penetration principally via social media, where it is already very popular. I am sure that with the proper marketing and investment, Esports will create a snowball effect that will allow it to become a mainstream vertical by itself soon enough.
When it comes to being a complementary product to traditional sportsbook spend, how is Esports fitting into the mix and is it cannibalising from traditional sportsbook?
PRS: I’d say that Esports and traditional sportsbook can, and do, complement each other, especially if popular traditional sports (like football or basketball) are played via video games (FIFA or NBA2K) in organised Esports competitions which traditional sports fans can easily perceive and understand.
So, even if audiences are of course very different, you’ll see crossovers when it comes to interests. Using Hungary as an example, the state-owned betting & lottery operator (Szerencsejáték Zrt.) launched betting on esports competitions in 2020 due to the lack of traditional live sports events resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. It has quickly become one of its most popular betting offerings.
An interesting point too is the ability to convert players to new verticals, and as a result, increase engagement and incremental spend. For example, you’ll have a millennial customer use football as a platform for introduction, and then while waiting for the match to play out for 90 minutes (or indeed after the final whistle), he / she will then give Efootball or another Esports activity a try – which is a great way of introducing the product.
AM: From my perspective, if we’re talking about FIFA and other Esports, these worked superbly well during COVID as a substitute product for those looking to replicate the missing sporting schedule, with nothing happening aside from (as I recall), the Belarusian Premier League. With the likes of League of Legends and Counter Strike, you have a very different demographic / audience – and you’ll find them in different places rather than traditional sportsbook.
As a result, I believe you need to look at providing something different to attract players. Take a look at Bet365’s Esports offering for example, it works surprisingly well for a UX that has evidently been derived from traditional sports. However, there’s much more room for improvement in the coming years. It’s easy to see the use-case for this, looking at all sports betting viewership right now, everything’s declining aside from Esports, so it’s an opportunity to be capitalised on.
We’re also seeing demographics change rapidly, while Esports was previously only for the 20-25 age group, it’s now becoming much older, so you’re closing that monetisation gap. If you want to capture the interest of this fast-growing demographic, you need to reformat the UX to cater to that. So yes, without a doubt, Esports is now becoming a product that can drive traffic in its own right through new audiences, without cannibalising spend from traditional sportsbook.
DP: For me, it depends on the definition of where cannibalisation starts from. When new products are introduced, they certainly drive interest and add to engagement, but in theory that will also bring a decline in engagement for traditional alternatives as overall sportsbook spend is going to be finite.
The positive that Esports brings however, is that it can complement well, given it has a very different schedule to traditional sportsbook. Tournaments taking place across the globe (for example in Asia) are during the evening , meaning it’s during the day in Europe – enabling Esports to boost sportsbook spend both before and the day after evening football matches such as the Champions League mid-week.
Taking the longer view, there is a greater risk of cannibalisation if we see more European Esports tournaments taking place during the evening (at the same time as major football matches), which will likely happen in the next 5-10 years. This will create a tipping point where it becomes more popular to bet on than evening football matches.
Looking at the delayed Euro 2020 held last year, can operators use the standout success of Efootball during the tournament as a reason to engage more players during the weekend’s sport fixtures?
DP: I believe Esports will always hold plenty of potential as a complementary product during major events such as the Euros, where we see heightened betting activity and greater overall spend. However, the challenge is always going to be taking this into the mainstream and having it considered as a regular fixture week in, week out. In my view, it is very possible that this could translate well into a complementary product that fills the gaps between sporting fixtures, especially for those who like to be pre-match and not in play. Given a football match lasts 90 minutes, you have plenty of space to fill over the 90 minutes after pre-match bets are placed. If you can identify and incentivise that opportunity, then I believe there is huge potential in the long term.
AM: Also, as we’ve covered already – the audience you have for Efootball- is completely different to Counter Strike, League of Legends and the like, so in effect we’re only talking about 50% of the potential Esports audience.
Let’s take Europe as a market to speak on a macro level and place Efootball in isolation. Regulation for a start is going to be key, making sure that product is available and acceptable. That’s something in particular we’d need to see in Germany with the Bundesliga, as Esports is not yet regulated to be a betting market. Looking further west towards the UK, there’s far less of an overlap, due to player preferences and composition of audience. However, if we return to the CEE, then yes, without a doubt I see plenty of potential here for operators to really test this out as it’s something the new generation of players are very receptive to.
PRS: To add to that, I would certainly say in many ways we’re looking at an area of spend (and indeed audience) that are traditionalists when it comes to football. However, if we look at the new generation and their social circles and familiarity with the online environment, they are shaped by a very different world than what older generations had for football growing up as a primary source of entertainment.
So, without a doubt, we’ll see a very different trend towards the Esports landscape over the next decade. Whether that’s for Esports as a complementary product or one in its own right, I believe it will be inevitable that it becomes an area of engagement with traditional sports fixture in the decade to come. This is especially the case if Esports will be regulated clearly, as well as Esports tournaments being organised regularly, enabling online gaming operators to follow that lead and invest in technology and commercial communication dedicated to Esports.
Last but not least, looking at the big picture – what’s your take on how Esports is going to develop in CEE over the next five years, how much more do you see it gaining popularity?
DP: I believe it is going to develop, and it will no doubt gain traction. But in my view, it won’t take off immediately. The next few years will likely see Esports continue as a complementary product that will enable operators to diversify and upgrade their offerings. The new generation coming online will power this, and with an extensive spectrum of events around the globe, and the 24-7 betting that it brings, it can scale fast.
However, for that to happen, we also need to see more investment in the vertical for it to become more established. For a start, we need more advanced trading models that can enable operators to offer a much broader spectrum of Esports betting markets to attract more players. We’re already seeing that happen in real-time, and even in the last three years, there’s been a real surge in terms of managed trading services for Esports and the provision of data. As we’re seeing truly specialised companies for this provision begin to corner the market, growth will inevitably become even more exponential, with a ‘hockey stick’ style adoption curve.
AM: I agree. There’s plenty of potential. We can certainly say that outside of the present conflict taking place between Russia and Ukraine, there’s a stable trend towards growth, aside from the recent Parimatch / Ukraine news this week. I’m confident it’s only going to keep growing for all the reasons we’ve covered above.
All of this is fuelled by the unique audiences of the region, and indeed their demand for entertainment. If we compare the potential of Western vs. Eastern Europe, then without a doubt, I believe that CEE is the most likely to emerge as the continent’s major player. Given our position on the market as one of the world’s leading Esports providers, I believe that Esports is exactly what you make of it – and if you take a proactive view and approach, the market share is there for the taking.
PRS: I concur with Amir and Dimitris, I believe it’s only going to grow – all the foundations are there in CEE to make that happen; demographics, interest, increasing awareness of relevant brand values and an established understanding of the mechanics. In the short-term, I don’t believe we’ll see major displacement of the most popular traditional sports or radical shifts in market trends. Longer term, we’ll to see much greater adoption that will no doubt scale over as exponential growth really begins to emerge.
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