Esports a ‘new emphasis’ at G2E

Last year show organizers say there were two sessions dedicated to esports at the Global Gaming Expo, the annual international gaming trade show and conference presented by the American Gaming Association.

This year there are about 20 sessions on the program schedule.

Steve Doty, a spokesman for the association, said this year the AGA put “new emphasis” on the “success and viability of live esports events for casinos of all shapes and sizes.”

Competitive video gaming, or esports, is an emerging industry slated to generate $1.1 billion in 2019, according to a 2016 report by Newzoo, a provider of market intelligence covering the global games, esports and mobile markets. The market for esports betting promises big money for Las Vegas.

But there are conflicting visions for how to make it happen, and on what schedule.

Now or what?

Blaine Graboyes, co-founder and chief executive officer of skill-based video game gambling company GameCo, will be arguing Wednesday during a panel session called “Why Esports Matters to Casinos Now and in the Future” that casino operators have no time to waste in understanding the multifaceted esports market and hosting esports events.

“The opportunity and the urgency is about the lifetime value of these customers,” Graboyes said, adding that brand loyalty is competitive and time-sensitive. “Who’s going to get these people into their loyalty program, who’s going to build the community? … If a community coalesces in your competitor’s property, it’s going to be hard to move them even across the street.”

In that same session, Downtown Grand Chairman Seth Schorr will emphasize the value of being patient and learning from the past.

“In 2001, when Light opened in Bellagio, the first nightclub in a casino, and in 2002 if you didn’t have a nightclub, were you missing the boat? Fast forward to today, over 15 years later, you didn’t miss the boat even though you weren’t the first,” Schorr said.

Each gaming property has to find its own strategy to make it work for them, “and some won’t incorporate esports at all,” Schorr said.

Graboyes said there may be some similarities between the nightclub market and the esports market, but there are two major differences.

“The gamer market will continue to grow, but I don’t necessarily think this audience is as large in scope (as the nightclub audience),” he said. “And esports will be integrated with loyalty programs. … I don’t know that I would want to start over somewhere else.”

To build, or not to build?

There are also different perceptions about how to physically host esports events.

Matthew Bogan, a graduate of the UNLV master of architecture program, is slated to speak Thursday about how to incorporate the emergence of esports and skill-based gaming into casino design decisions.

Graboyes said that when he had started GameCo in 2014, operators assured him that they’d have a “dedicated area” before his machines entered their casino floor.

“Fast forward to today and there are very few of those dedicated space,” he said. “When we talk with operators, we say that we would not recommended an esports or show game-only space, but instead an area of the floor that’s dedicated to attracting and entertaining this new customer that we’re all going for.”

And when it comes to hosting esports tournaments, Hai Ng, co-founder of Spawn Point North America Inc. esports consulting and events company, said some operators are under the impression that they have to wait until they have the perfect space.

“I wouldn’t say it doesn’t help,” Ng said. “A fancy car is still a fancy car. But we’ve done events out of a room that used to be a poker room. We had a fire code restriction of 160 people, and we killed it. We didn’t have any specialized equipment, but we rolled in TVs and also set up stations for people to set up their own equipment.”

Ng is set to speak during a session Wednesday called “The Height of Gaming: A Successful Live Esports Event.”

“Last year the crossover between regulated gaming and esports was really just starting,” Ng said.

But since then, esports has gained momentum, globally, and in Las Vegas.

“At last year’s G2E the question of whether it is going to become legal to bet on esports was still in the air. However, that question is answered this year.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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