'Esports Have Taken the Place of Traditional Sports During the Pandemic', Says Academic

Unlike other sports, the esports industry has enjoyed accelerated growth during the pandemic, with the average spectator age being 26. Concerning reports have revealed that esports are drawing younger people into gambling.

Agnes Nairn, Professor of Marketing at the University of Bristol spoke to us about some of the concerns regarding esports and gambling.

Sputnik: How has the pandemic accelerated the growth of esports?

Professor Agnes Nairn: Well, first of all, there haven't been the usual traditional sports that betting takes place on such as football or tennis or racing. So those sports simply haven't been available either to watch or to bet on. And so esports has taken the place of a lot of those during the pandemic. So that's been a major growth of esports. Betting has increased by 3,000% in the UK, on esports, which is pretty phenomenal, and you know, a huge amount of that is down to the pandemic without a doubt.

Sputnik: How can esports lead to gambling?

Prof Nairn: There are two things. First of all, sports, any sport, and gambling are now inextricably linked. Ever since advertising of gambling was made legal in 2005, the betting industry has been pouring a huge amount of money into advertising the link between sports and gambling, basically. And since the internet has come along, it's been very easy to advertise online, and then for people to go straight from seeing a bet to making the bet. Whereas in the old days, you'd have to go down to the bookies or go to the racecourse or whatever. It's, it's become very easy.

Now, when esports arrived on the back of this sort of change in the landscape of ordinary betting, if you like, it's just become normal. It's now normal that if a young person watches a football match on telly, they’ll want to make a bet. So a young person and esports is very, very heavily biassed towards young people. When they're watching an esports content contest, it just seems normal to bet on it. So esports has come along at a time in the betting sports industry where gambling is normalised. 

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So that's one important part of how esports can lead to gambling. The other is that within games that even very young children play, there is this growing trend in what are called loot boxes. So you can earn new weapons or you can earn fantastic players like Messi to play in your FIFA game by being very skillful. But you can also buy weapons or players or, you know, exciting outfits, etc. But what companies have done is rather than allowing people to pay to get a particular weapon or an outfit or a player, they pay to get the chance to get a player or an outfit. And these are called loot boxes.

So within electronic sporting games that particularly young children play, there is this element of gambling is being built into the very DNA of this type of activity. So you're no longer paying for something you're paying for the chance to get something which is in effect, gambling. And there is debate across a number of countries and governments as to whether loot boxes should be classified as gambling or not.

In some countries, they are in some countries and they aren't. In the UK, loot boxes are not yet classified as gambling, but I suspect that they will be in the near future. So those are two in quite different ways in which current trends have meant that esports is inextricably linked to gambling

Sputnik: So what are the main concerns in relation to gambling and young people?

Prof Nairn: Well, if you pick particularly teenagers, so that the teenage brain, from the age of about 13, even to by the age of 24, is going through a thing called synaptic pruning, which means that the brain sort of gets rid of the stuff it doesn't need, it starts to develop the ability to make, you know, logical, sensible, rational decisions. And it's part of becoming an adult.

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So we all know that teenagers, you know, go a bit bonkers, life's hard for them, they've got hormones, they've got this synaptic pruning going on, they tend to be more liable to impulsive behaviour. So, a teenager is going to be more likely to want to gamble, particularly impulsive gambling, which is going to happen on the internet and very quickly, then other parts of society. So just the makeup of the brain of the teenager is particularly worrying because they're more likely to become impulsive gamblers.

And the other thing is, is to go back to this idea of normalisation if you start to gamble at the age of ten. Even if you think of loot boxes as gambling, then that can just become part of what you do. And if you are the kind of person that is likely to be a sort of a compulsive person, then you know, being a compulsive gambler is really not funny at all.

When you lose your livelihood, you lose your finance, you lose your relationship, just like being addicted to alcohol or being addicted to drugs. It's the same, it's the same mechanism and gambling obviously can lead to impulsive addictive behaviour.

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