If you attended ICE this year and hadn’t noticed the dominance of Virtual Sports you might want to head to Specsavers. Betting Business caught up Betradar’s Neale Deeley at the show to find about more about the phenomenon sweeping the gaming globe.
Wildly new products often have to endure a drawn out adoption phase before going mainstream, as players cagily peel themselves off the comfort of what they know. Not so for virtual sports.
Despite the existential differences, sports bettors have taken to wagering on computer animated sports like ducks to water, and operators the world over have been quick to realise the advantages.
“At the most base level, they’re making an opinion, placing a stake, watching an outcome and having the tension of that outcome unfolding in front of them,” says Neale Deeley, MD of Virtuals at Betradar. “It’s treated as a real bet. Punters know there’s an RNG underneath it, they know it’s computer animated graphics, but fundamentally the betting experience is the same as it is on real. It just takes the time element of sports and shortens it. That’s what punters like.”
Since first launching the genre in late 2012, Betradar’s Virtual Sports portfolio is now live on over 400 websites and 5,000 retail outlets.
Part of this success is that virtual sports is something of a regulatory chameleon. By straddling the distinction between slots and sports it touches many jurisdictions where either sports betting or casino products can often not.
In various locations where casino games are not allowed but sports betting is, virtuals are legal, classified by the “betting method” as akin to real sports betting. While in other areas where sports betting is illegal, the state of New Jersey for example, virtuals have been classified and regulated as casino product, due the underlying RNG element.
“That is such a variable,” Deeley admits. “With the world or regulation in any industry like this it’s always hard to determine how people are going to view it. But in the main it’s allowed under one of these two major headlines”
Partly as a result, there are no shortage of territories in which virtuals finds favour. “We’ve got good coverage in Europe, Africa in Asia, and some of the other emerging markets,” he says. “CIS is particularly strong.”
The success of the product is as much down to its reach and popularity with players as it is with its appeal to operators, Deeley reminds. It’s easy to purchase, simple to stream and “as a fixed-odds product, it has a dependable margin,” he says, “It’s a growing category and generates solid dependable incomes.”
Virtuals also offers new possibilities in terms of omnichannel and its applicability to inplay betting. The sports are popular across all channels, and while the desktop, mobile and retail experience differ in the way players interact with them, the underlying experience is the same.
“With omnichannel, you need to make sure you recognise how it’s played and presented, that’s what we make sure we do,” Deeley assures. “We make sure we provide the same underlying gameplay, which is strong, but modify the user experience to the channel that you’re in.”
In retail for example, Betradar uses flexible ways of displaying based on the environment that it’s in; on mobile it’s more about what players take out while retain as much of the experience; and in online provide more statistics and capabilities. “That’s our view on the way omnichannel plays out,” he adds.
Getting this balance right has big gains for operators. Betradar’s data analysis has proven that, contrary to many operators assumptions, virtuals is not merely used by players to fill the gaps between physical sporting events.
“People think it used as a filler,” he adds. “But we don’t see a spike in the half times of major sports. Our traffic on virtuals matches when people are online, and our traffic in retail matches the traffic in retail.” “So punters are treating it as a proper sport and a proper bet, they go and have a dedicated session of virtuals.”