The 2020 pandemic caused a series of hasty changes to our lifestyle, workspaces, social connections, as well as our hobbies. Every walk of life and every sector was affected in some way – and that includes sports. For some of them, 2020 was a rejuvenation. Take for example chess. It became one of the top trending games of the year suddenly, with top twitch streamers like XQC chiming in, as well as grandmasters crossing over to streaming. For other sides of the sports industry, however, 2020 spelt doom. Understandably, the major outdoors sports like cricket and football took the biggest hit. All events were cancelled inevitably, and pitches collected dust all year round. Naturally, this was also a huge blow to the sports betting industry.
As 2020 comes to a close, it is worthwhile to take a step back and assess how the sports betting scene in India and elsewhere will evolve out of this hurdle.
The Sports Betting Industry Under The Pandemic
As you can guess, outdoor sports – especially cricket tournaments – are huge in India. Cricket in India eclipses probably every other national sport and their hype in popularity. So outdoor sports like these are also a huge part of any sportbook’s ecosystem. With that pillar out of the enterprise, the sports betting industry had to come up with different ways to keep their numbers up. The suspension of live sports, naturally, only leaves out online events. That includes esports and virtual games.
One major boon is that most major sportbooks also provide e-casino services. Land casinos had to put their shutters down with no customers around, so online casinos were more trending than ever. On the other end of the spectrum, online casino and gambling sites are also keen on additional sports betting subsidiaries. All of these had to resort to special betting pools such as politics, TV shows, and weather predictions.
Esports, of course, warrants a special mention. One would think a year spent tucked away in our homes would proliferate e-sports even more. It accelerated online gaming and public streaming, to be sure. However, one has to also remember that big e-sports are also organized as live events. There were no major international events this year for this reason: no Dota TI, no CS:GO tier-1 premiere leagues, no annual events for games like Siege and Overwatch. The only other piece on the board was regional events. Even so, they had to switch to online play (i.e. no LAN-tournaments). Online play means network latency woes. That makes risk assessment much more difficult. Due to this, sportsbooks also had to remove many betting options. on said events.
Is It All Bad?
Largely speaking, no. 2020 itself was a financially stressful year, and most major sports betting sites like Betway lost money. But due to the changes and trends, 2020 brought, this year may turn out to be a huge comeback for sports betting universally.
One of the often overlooked sections of sports betting saved the day for sportsbook: simulations. Many national soccer associations, FIFA, ICC, as well as recently NASCAR has endorsed official video game simulations. Unlike fantasy sports, simulations do not depend on real-world match outcomes. So simulations were about the only safe way to have a regular betting pool running throughout the pandemic. With an upward swing in popularity for fantasy leagues and simulation betting in general, we may see more of it this year in the Indian betting scene.
The Indian government imposed a nation-wide lockdown since May-1. Many states lifted or lightened the lockdown a couple months later, but most of the average Indian’s time during this has been spent at home. As a side-effect, many non-gambling people were introduced to sports betting while seeking an alternative to their usual outdoor hobbies. Consequently, A statistic says that online activity overall increased by about 30% during the first phase of the lockdown, and some of it was definitely traffic on sportsbooks.
The youth also sought alternatives to outdoors sports, and as a result online gaming growth accelerated even more. A Business Standard study puts the number at a 10% increase in gaming from February 2020 to April. Naturally, one can also expect to see bigger coverage and traction on esports betting in India, especially in CS:GO.
In 2021, the sports betting situation is therefore not as doom and gloom as one would presume. For one, many leagues and their respective betting pools have already taken their place in major sportsbooks – the German Bundesliga, as well as the top Taiwanese baseball league, had already started at the close of 2020. In 2021 January itself we have the India v Australia test series. While the sports activities are only just starting up from their year-long slumber, it seems that 2021 will have enough sports betting traffic in India, if not jam-packed with events like usual.