[toc]The convergence of eSports and Las Vegas is accelerating, with two pieces of recent news suggesting a momentum that could result in a deeper integration of the world’s fastest-growing professional sport with America’s gambling capital.
League of Legends coming to Mandalay Bay
The spring season champions of the North American LCS for League of Legends will be crowned this April in Las Vegas.
As ESPN noted, the spring final has never taken place in a city other than Los Angeles.
The grand final will be held on Sunday, April 17 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center at noon local time (3 Eastern). The third-place match will take place on Saturday, April 16.
The event also allows teams to compete for circuit points that can qualify them for the 2016 World Championship. The regular season for NA LCS is going on now.
The winner of the NA LCS heads to the international Mid-Season Invitational put on by Riot Games, to meet the winners from other LCS regions around the world, including China, Korea, Europe, and Taiwan.
eSports arena coming to the Strip?
One-off events such as the LCS Spring Finals represent one dimension of how eSports and Las Vegas might intersect.
Another, arguably more intriguing, possibility was raised via a report from J.D. Morris that Chinese gaming powerhouse Ourgame – parent company of the World Poker Tour – is in the early stages of developing a permanent eSports arena that would likely be housed within a Strip casino:
Frank Ng, Ourgame’s chief executive, said in an interview that he would like to see at least a dozen esports arenas worldwide within the next three to five years. If one came to the Strip, it would probably function similar to the company’s Beijing version, a 14,000 square foot complex comprising a 200 seat arena, a broadcast studio, hundreds of gaming stations and more.
That sort of permanent presence would go a long way toward increasing engagement and broadening the range of possible events that could be hosted by a casino.
The model Ng’s comments suggest – where the casino plays host to a third-party business with specialist expertise – is quite familiar to Vegas casinos, where nightclubs, shows, and restaurants operate on-property under similar partnerships.
Proving demand for such an arena might be simpler than it sounds. One Vegas casino – the Downtown Grand – regularly hosts eSports-related events, including viewing parties and competitive matches.
The typical demographic of an eSports fan – a millennial with greater-than-average disposable income – will also no doubt prove attractive to Vegas casino operators, who have expressed deep concerns regarding the ability of Las Vegas to engage the next generation of customers.
How will betting factor in?
Despite what you might assume at first glance, there’s likely to be relatively little betting on eSports in Vegas in the near-term, at least not the sort one typically associates with sports betting in Nevada.
To the best of my knowledge, no Nevada sportsbooks offer lines on eSports, possibly because regulators have yet to weigh in on such fixtures.
Head-to-head competitions with cash prizes are a different sort of animal from a regulatory perspective, which is why you’ll see competitions like this running at the Downtown Grand:
— eSports at DTG (@eSportsDTG) January 24, 2016
Demand also factors in, as John Avello, who heads up the sportsbook at the Wynn, told LSR. “I haven’t had one customer ask me about that (eSports bets), to be honest with you,” Avello said.
“There’s not enough money in that for us to take a bet,” Avello continued. “There’s got to be something at stake for us to take it, otherwise the bet could be worth more than what the purse is worth, and that’s always a concern for me.”
Conversely, major UK online sportsbooks do offer eSports betting, although LSR understands the the UK Gambling Commission may soon weigh in on the topic – and understandably so, as eSports definitely raise unique concerns from a game integrity perspective.
With the apparently inevitable collision of eSports and Las Vegas, it likely won’t be long before Nevada regulators are wrestling with the same issues.