Trend Watch: How esports are (not so) quietly entering the betting pantheon

The following article is a paid guest post by PMML Corp. co-founder and CEO Steven Salz.


It’s impossible to think of sports in the 1920s and not think of Babe Ruth. He was as close to a God as you could get in American sports, and 100 years later he is still widely regarded as the greatest player in the history of baseball. But even in his own time, he was not the most popular professional athlete in the United States.

That honour goes to Joe Lewis and Man o’War. As inconceivable as it may seem, the most iconic player in the history of baseball was overshadowed by a boxer and a racehorse. In fact, exactly a century ago the New York Times named Ruth and Man o’War as its 1920 co-athletes of the year. That’s unfathomable to think about today.

Today, boxing and racing are barely on the radar for most Americans. Instead, sports like professional football and college basketball are at the top of the ratings mountain – not surprisingly, they are also among the most popular for sports bettors. And esports are well on their way to joining them.

That’s why Canada needs to have a legal, regulated market to allow people to safely bet on the many game titles that make up esports. The good news is that after decades of failed attempts to legalize single-event betting, it looks like it’s finally going to happen. That’s a major boon for esports enthusiasts – and the timing is perfect for an industry that is rapidly expanding and moving from the fringes to the mainstream. 

G2 Esports claiming the Rainbow Six Siege Invitational 2019 trophy in Montreal
G2 Esports claiming the Rainbow Six Siege Invitational 2019 trophy in Montreal. Source: G2 Esports

A few weeks ago, the government of Canada announced a plan to allow people to legally place bets on single events, which we believe would include esports. This is a massive change, because until now the only kind of action allowed under Canadian law were parlays, or bets on multiple contests. It’s also a key to decreasing a black market that generates $10 billion a year in betting turnover with zero regulatory oversight.

This is great news for everyone from the federal government to provincial and municipal governments, to sports leagues and teams, and to bettors themselves. It’s also great news for the esports community, which is rapidly entering the mainstream not only as a spectator sport, but as a popular gambling vertical.

15 years ago, the idea of paying money to watch someone play video games would have sounded absurd, but today it is a multi-billion-dollar industry that attracts world-class competitors. Over the last three years there have been a number of efforts to have esports recognized as an Olympic event, and they are being strongly considered for the 2024 games. In fact, five esports competitors were included in the Olympic torch relay for the 2018 winter Olympics in South Korea.

And it’s not just about the quality of play: tens of millions of people watch the League of Legends Worlds every year, this is many times higher than peak viewership of a Stanley Cup Final. Those are amazing numbers for a form of entertainment that barely existed just two decades ago.


In many ways, the legalization of single event gaming dovetails perfectly with the explosion of esports not just in Canada, but around the world. Betting on esports is a relatively new phenomenon, and the ability to legally wager on events will improve its legitimacy among a wider audience. This in turn should lead to greater investment, higher-value prize money, and increased participation and viewership.

One of the key advantages of the proposed new legislation is that it will cover in person as well as online gaming. That is huge news for esports, where bettors live all over the world and follow events in Seoul just as easily as they do contests in Toronto. In practical terms, that means that people need to be able to place safe, legal bets no matter where they are. 

There are plenty of online gambling sites out there for Canadian sports bettors, and many of them accept bets on esports events. The problem is that many of them also are either illegal or operate in a grey zone. The proposed legislation – which was tabled by federal Justice Minister David Lametti – would allow operators to offer single-game betting in a government supported (and taxed) environment.

This is amazing news for consumers, who will  have more legal protections and an overall lower friction betting experience when they bet on single events, and it’s also a boon to Canadian companies that facilitate online and in-person gambling. 

There are still a lot of details to be worked out, even if the legislation passes. As with any major legislative shift, we can expect a lot of push and pull as companies, legislatures, and judges iron out the specifics of what gaming legalization looks like. In many ways, we can expect the process to be like what has happened in the cannabis industry over the last two years as legalization has been defined and fine-tuned. But this legislation is nothing but good news for esports enthusiasts who want to bet on their favourite teams.


Steve Salz is Co-Founder and CEO of PMML Corp., the Toronto, Canada, domiciled parent company of next gen sportsbook Rivalry.

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