With players the world around increasingly turned off by fiat sportsbook behaviour, cryptocurrency and blockchain solutions have stepped into offer a viable, more transparent alternative. Some sportsbooks have been tarnished by such fundamental issues as not paying out when a player wins. It sounds ridiculous, but the balance of power is tilted so heavily in favour of the operator, that they often get away with it. Some haven't got away with it though. Fines have ramped up from regulatory bodies and certain bookies have been hit for millions due to lack of player protection, amongst other things.
Fortunately, blockchain technology and cryptocurrency payments came at a fortunate time to attract players who had become increasingly disillusioned. Sportsbet.io, part of the Coingaming Group, has established itself as a leader not only in the crypto space, but also within the wider gambling industry. Offering an intuitive, high-spec platform with a vast array of sporting events, bonuses and first class customer service, the operator has grown exponentially in recent years, and even managed to tie down an unprecedented sponsorship with Premier League club Watford FC.
Other projects, such as the decentralised betting platforms Wagerr and BETR, and multi-cryptocurrency operators like Cloudbet and FortuneJack have also come to the fore and prioritised a quality sports betting offering in recent months and years. Wherever and however punters chose to sports bet previously in the fiat space, they can now do so with crypto. Exchanges are becoming more advanced and building liquidity, while pretty much every major cryptocurrency has a sports betting platform that accepts it.
Sporting calendar shuts down
It was all going so well…and then the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic came along and changed the world as we know it. Sports and betting is trivial compared to the wider situation, but it's worth taking a look at how the fragile and fledgling crypto sports betting vertical has handled it.
At first, things went a little quiet. This wasn't unique to decentralised sports betting. The majority of sportsbooks around the world struggled initially to find engaging content that players would take to. The support for virtual sports wasn't strong enough and the likes of niche table tennis competitions that no one had heard of failed to attract punters' attentions. From the lull though, we saw two key strategies come about. These were a major push towards esports, and the development of platforms to ensure a readiness for when the calendar picked up again.
Esports delivers valuable content
It's been reported of late that esports streaming picked up by 56% year-on-year in Q1 2020, and esports betting is growing with it, with H2 Capital forecasting that gross win for 2020 will reach almost $350m. This has, as you'd expect, led crypto sportsbooks to diversify into the market at great speed. Sportsbet.io upped their marketing game with several brand ambassador hires, Cloudbet kicked off its in-play esports markets, 1xBit looked to a unique lottery format to attract players to its video game content, and Wagerr bolstered its sportsbook with new esports competitions seemingly every week during lockdown.
It does seem as though the last few months have been the tipping point for esports betting. The vertical has been knocking at the door as a billion-dollar entertainment industry for some time, and although the tip was going to come, the coronavirus-proof nature of esports competitions has sped up its progress to become a key pillar of crypto sportsbooks.
And the second strategy of major platform updates has also paid off with players returning in their droves now the likes of football, baseball and golf have returned to action. Some crypto sportsbooks have filled holes in their existing platforms. Stake.com, for example, now offers live sports streaming, and Wagerr offered its players zero fee swaps via an exchange partnership. Others have gone for a more holistic approach. Cloudbet has gone live with its own next-gen website, and TRON-based WINk has updated its whole platform and improved its sports betting interface in recent weeks.
Coming back stronger in 2021
The cancellation of the Olympics in Tokyo and Euro 2020, amongst many other major competitions, has surely dented many crypto bookies' bottom lines. But have they come off better for it? That's hard to say at this time. Some treasuries may not be able to handle the losses, and may have to streamline their teams and cut marketing budgets to deal with them. Others may have seen it as a chance to refresh their working environments and tweak their back-office for future gains.
There's no doubting it could have been a lot worse, and it may yet become so. But the likes of the Premier League, the MLB and the PGA Tour seem to have returned just in time for crypto sportsbook operators. A glimpse at normality isn't too far away, and we've no doubt the likes of Sportsbet.io and Cloudbet will be eager to rebuild momentum in time for a monumental sporting calendar in 2021.