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With most sports on hiatus, will betting on eSports become popular?
The Coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of the NBA, MLB, NHL, and professional soccer seasons, as well as the outright cancellation of the NCAA March Madness tournament. The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until at least 2021.
So what are sports bettors betting on now? Last week, the sports on the home page of popular online sportsbook DraftKings’s website that people could bet on were professional darts, German soccer, the Kontinental Hockey League, and New Zealand cricket. If there are limited sports to bet on, sports betting will obviously suffer. To fill the vacuum, sportsbooks are getting creative.
“We remain as committed as ever to giving our fans more ways to win,” a FanDuel spokesperson told MarketWatch. “We’re currently working to develop new, entertaining games which we hope will be a fun diversion during this uncertain time.
Sports betting site FanDuel offered its first ever political bets for the most recent Democratic candidate debate. A few of the posted debate bets were which candidate, Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, would say “coronavirus” more often, and whether or not “Iraq” would be mentioned. It is not currently legal to bet on the outcome of political elections in the United States, only prop bets such as these are allowed.
Other popular wagers according to FanDuel during this coronavirus sports stoppage were special contests for the reality TV show Survivor, and what Tom Brady’s next team will be. The former New England Patriots quarterback has now signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jason Ader, a well-known gambling industry expert and CEO of SpringOwl Asset Management, says this could also be an interesting period for a new form of sports betting known as virtual sports.
“The virtual sports industry is a real industry we are seeing growth in,” Ader told MarketWatch. “People are betting on virtual sports. It’s computer playing against the computer.”
Popular games to bet on are League of legends, World of Warcraft, and Fifa. “I suspect this could be a moment for Esports,” Ader continues. “If it isn’t, it will never be.”
No gaming companies contacted for this story would disclose specifics as to how much money has been wagered on Esports or virtual sports in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, but Ader claims that Esports betting is up 19% year over year.
Las Vegas, the sports betting capital of the U.S., has been devastated by the effects of the coronavirus shutdown. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak ordered a 30-day freeze on non-essential business, including gambling, for his state. Nevada averaged $441 million total bet per month in 2019.
The governor’s directive impacts the casino resorts, sportsbooks, and convenience store slot machines. Last week, the famous Las Vegas Strip will be shut down for the first time since the JFK assassination in 1963.
Ripple Partner Forte Teaming Up With Game Developers To Integrate Blockchain
Forte, a blockchain technology company with a strong focus on gaming, has recently partnered with a host of well-regarded game developers to try and implement blockchain and unlock new business models in the ever-evolving space.
Forte has announced that Hi-Rez Studios, Netmarble, Magmic, nWay, and DECA Games are all part of its next induction of gaming partners. They join previously announced developer partners, Disruptor Beam, Other Ocean, and Kongregate.
Part of the reason that Forte and its blockchain solution is becoming more and more popular and attractive to game developers is that the blockchain platform benefits both existing and future titles. It has the potential to unlock never-before-possible revenue streams in traditional game designs, while being versatile enough to serve as the economic and creative foundation for blockchain-native experiences.
What makes Forte and its partnerships even more interesting is that the company is backed by a $100 million War Chest from Ripple; the company behind the XRP cryptocurrency and the company that is focused primarily on integrating blockchain and cryptocurrency into traditional banking.
A growing relationship
The affinity for blockchain and the gaming space was identified early on as there are many different areas that blockchain technology, as well as the cryptocurrency side of things, can be applied in the industry. However, the partnership between these two different sides is still very much in development, with a lot of future potential.
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Denny Hamlin notches a win as NASCAR greats compete on the esports track
Denny Hamlin outlasted Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Dixie Vodka 150 on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a door-to-door finish worthy of a place alongside the likes of David Pearson and Richard Petty in the 1976 Daytona 500 and Ricky Craven versus Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003.
It was all so real. But it was also never real. “It sure felt real to me,” Hamlin said, laughing.
Sunday’s race was the NASCAR equivalent to Tron, with an entire racetrack, garage area and grandstand digitized via iRacing, the hyper-accurate racing simulation software that has long served as an escape for gamers as well as a serious training tool for professional racers. The 2020 NASCAR season was put up on blocks by the coronavirus outbreak one week ago, and competitors were told to pack up and return home from Atlanta Motor Speedway, just as the garage was opening on March 13.
When a handful of racers ran a little online simulation of the Atlanta event, and it caught the attention of race fans, that sparked a much bigger idea. Through the cooperation of NASCAR teams, drivers, iRacing, broadcast partners and the sanctioning body, the fledgling eNASCAR world suddenly made a slingshot move into the spotlight.
“We are all just looking for a connection right now,” said Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 21st on Sunday. “Today we got one.”
The Dixie Vodka 150 awarded no trophy. It paid no points. There was no purse. There were no actual race cars.
Instead, there were 35 drivers from across NASCAR’s three national touring series, strapped into 35 simulator rigs in bonus rooms and man caves, cranking steering wheels and pushing clutch pedals. Hamlin won, despite his pit crew (his daughter) handing him an in-race Coca-Cola that she had accidentally shaken too much and sprayed all over his cockpit.
When Alex Bowman left his racing seat to use the bathroom, his dog, Finn, climbed in for a couple of laps under the caution flag. Dylan Scott performed the prerace national anthem while adhering to self-quarantining in his garage, and fellow country music star Tim Dugger staged a prerace concert from his office.
They all had smiles on their faces. Everyone did.
Jimmie Johnson was embarrassed for wrecking out early. NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte, who came out of retirement, couldn’t stop talking about how much fun it was, even though he was never a factor. TV analyst Larry McReynolds couldn’t get over the tire wear he saw during the 100-lap race on the 1.5-mile oval. NASCAR’s media service provided postrace box scores, photos and a winner’s teleconference with Hamlin.
The thousands of NASCAR fans watching via the race broadcast on FS1 and the dozens of streaming feeds provided by teams, drivers and sponsors were outraged after watching Earnhardt, the 15-time Most Popular Driver, come out of retirement only to end up wrecked. NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s at-track “city hall” race director, tweeted, “Security-please report to @dennyhamlin car.”
In seven-plus decades of NASCAR racing, it’s difficult to remember a stock car event that left so many people feeling so great for two hours — so much so that #ProInvitationalSeries was pushed to the top of Twitter’s trending topics list, passing all the pandemic- and politics-related headlines like Hamlin going around Earnhardt at the finish line. With more races planned to fill the pause in the sports world, the hope is to make this a weekly occurrence, converting even the biggest esports skeptics one pixel at a time.
“I have always watched these people who watch other people playing video games like they are watching real-life sports, and I’ve thought, ‘These people are goofy!'” said Clint Bowyer, who raced so hard that he had to use both of his allowed “reset” buttons to replace his wrecked Ford. “But this was damn fun, even when I was wrecking. Wrecking a real car isn’t fun. The only problem I had was that this s— is hard for someone with big-league ADD like me. I walk around with a bunch of voices in my head all day anyway. This deal, I had those voices in my head for real.”
Bowyer was one of the go-to in-race reporters for the Fox Sports telecast, so he was listening to the play-by-play from Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon in one ear while keeping the driver-only chat channel turned up in the other. Other drivers also chose the spotter option, with their actual race-day spotters on the radio doing some version of their usual Sunday afternoon jobs.
From team PR reps to the auto manufacturers to the crew men and women who have no cars to build and no races to prepare in the foreseeable future, Hamlin was far from Sunday’s only winner. The same can be said for those who participated in a recent simulation of last weekend’s canceled 12 Hours of Sebring and will certainly apply to IndyCar when it rolls out its star-studded iRacing events on Saturday. As it is with NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA have suspended their seasons through at least early May. For a sport that is more reliant on sponsorship dollars than any other, it’s a terrifying time.
“I think that it definitely energizes the industry,” said Hamlin, who estimated that he has raced against fellow esports junkie Earnhardt for 20 years. “I follow [on social media] lots of people that are crew guys or crew chiefs or drivers in other series. They’re all talking about it right now. You know, this is a good time. It’s Sunday afternoon. You would normally be watching in and tuning in and watching us at Homestead anyway, and what are we doing — we’re talking about a race at Homestead. I think, for sure, it energizes our industry.”
As the race winner chatted with reporters on the phone, he was still barefoot, long after the race had ended. He has always gone barefoot in the wraparound-screen racing simulator that he estimates he spent $40,000 building because he says it helps him keep a better feel for his pedal footwork — even when the pedals are covered in Coca-Cola spray from an over-shaken pit stop beverage.
“If I’m being honest, I’m a little nervous about this,” Stenhouse said. “Not nervous like I don’t think I can race well. I get nervous because this e-racing might be a little too good. When we come back to do real racing, fans are going to expect every finish to be like the ones we have on iRacing!”
After pausing, Stenhouse added, “But man, what a great problem to have. Because that would mean we have turned the corner on this virus, and we’re back at the racetrack for real.”
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Esports Fill The Void As Coronavirus Wreaks Havoc On Sports Calendar
As governments around the world grapple with societal and economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, the sporting world is coming to terms with the postponement or cancellation of virtually every single major competition and event.
While sports might seem trivial amid such fear and uncertainty, the absence of live-action in stadiums and on television is evidence of the seriousness of the situation. And for many people, sports are a distraction, a major form of entertainment, and part of everyday routines.
When live sport returns, it will be a signifier that a sense of normality has been restored to the world.
No live sports
Until then, fans have looked to fill the void with sports documentaries and archive content, while sports teams have engaged in ‘tic-tac-toe’ and ‘connect four’ contests via social media. On BBC Radio 1 in the U.K., supporters have played ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to decide fixtures between their clubs.
However, it is eSports and video games that made the biggest steps in filling this content vacuum. In England, the Football Association (FA) has simulated the FA Cup quarter-finals in FIFA 20 and broadcast them over social media.
Meanwhile, a 128-team FIFA tournament organized by Leyton Orient’s social media manager hopes to raise funds for English Football League (EFL) clubs affected by the pandemic, as well as other charities. It also gives clubs a chance to field the professional eSports players they have on their books.
Rugby union and rugby league teams have also created eSports content for their social channels, while U.S. sports organizations are also in on the act. But perhaps the most sophisticated operation has been Formula 1.
F1 Virtual Grand Prix
Since the takeover by Liberty Media in 2016, F1 has placed significant emphasis on digital technologies as a way of reaching new audiences. It has launched its own streaming service in the form of F1 TV and has partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide data-driven insights to television viewers.
eSports has been another area of expansion because of the potential to attract youthful demographics and recent versions of the officially licensed video game have emphasized online competition.
And now with several F1 races postponed because of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, Formula 1 will stage a ‘Virtual Grand Prix’ series powered by the PC version of F1 2019. The series will see real-world drivers, including Max Verstappen and Lando Norris, celebrities and professional gamers compete.
The Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix was won by Formula 2 racer Guanyu Zhou, who started from third on the grid, and the race was streamed on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook. But in a sign of eSports’ growing maturity – and the desperation of traditional broadcasters for live content – the race was also shown live on Sky Sports F1, exposing an entirely new audience to the world of competitive gaming.
While the Virtual Grand Prix series will have no bearing on the current season and is more of a fun distraction that a serious competitive endeavor, it highlights the potential for eSports to come of age at a time when traditional sports are suspended.
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Esports: F1 to hold virtual races in place of postponed grands prix
LONDON: Formula One drivers will join video gamers in a series of virtual grands prix to replace races postponed by the coronavirus outbreak, the sport announced on March 20.
The first, run on the official F1 2019 PC video game, will be held from 2000GMT on Sunday when fans should have been tuning in on television to the Bahrain Grand Prix. The virtual race will be over 28 laps, half the usual distance of the real one under the Sakhir floodlights.
“Every subsequent race weekend will see the postponed real-world Formula One race replaced with a Virtual Grand Prix,” Formula One said in a statement.
The Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series will run until May. The season-opening Australian and showcase Monaco grands prix have been cancelled along with the races in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands and Spain. The season is not due to start until the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on June 7, at the earliest.
“The first race of the series will see current F1 drivers line up on the grid alongside a host of stars to be announced in due course,” said Formula One, whose existing esports world championship starts later in the year.
“In order to guarantee the participants safety at this time, each driver will join the race remotely, with a host broadcast live from (London’s) Gfinity Esports Arena.”
The broadcast will be available on the official Formula One YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels and is expected to run for 90 minutes with qualifying to set the grid positions.
“Due to the wide variety of gaming skill levels amongst the drivers, game settings will be configured in such a way to encourage competitive and entertaining racing,” Formula One added.
“This includes running equal car performance with fixed setups, reduced vehicle damage, and optional anti-lock brakes and traction control for those less familiar with the game.”
Formula One said it will also host online exhibition races, allowing fans to go head-to-head with real F1 drivers, on non-race weekends.
“We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action,” said Julian Tan, Formula One’s head of Esports.
“With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of esports and the incredible skill that’s on show.” Formula One will be one of several offerings aiming to fill the gap this weekend, with some Formula One drivers also involved in those.
“Super Sim Saturday” will see three virtual races in quick succession — the Nuerburgring Endurance Series, IMSA Super Sebring and THE RACE All-Stars Esports Battle.
The All-Stars event, first organised at short notice by Torque Esports and www.the-race.com last Sunday when Australia was cancelled and featuring Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, has moved from Sunday to Saturday to avoid a clash with F1.
Veloce Esports are also running a ‘Not the Bah GP’ at 1800GMT on Sunday after an initial ‘Not the Aus GP’ with McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris last weekend. — Reuters