The people that operate major sports betting businesses are as a group very sharp. This is particularly true of the oddsmakers. Some sports generally have sharper lines than others but overall oddsmakers do a pretty good job of hanging a number. That being said, there are some unique cases where they have a tough time getting a handle on the oddsmaking process. Esports betting is one such example and linesmakers are still trying to get up to speed on this increasingly popular new activity.
Even the best oddsmakers have a lot of help in setting the number. They have statistical databases with game information going back decades. They have subscriptions to services that provide them with even more statistical models. In some instances, they use linesmaking services which provide them with an early number with which to work from. On top of everything they have years, sometimes decades, worth of experience and the intuitive ‘feel’ for getting the number just right that comes along with it.
ESPORTS IS A UNIQUE CHALLENGE FOR ODDSMAKERS
This should help you understand why esports oddsmaking is such a unique challenge. To begin with, the sport is completely new. It didn’t really exist at all until the early 2000s and didn’t really find traction internationally until the middle part of the decade. It’s only been a couple of years since its ‘gone mainstream’. The information infrastructure that exists for ‘stick and ball’ sports has no equivalent in esports at this time.
Compounding the problem—esports is completely different than anything else in history. The most recent precedent for oddsmakers trying to assimilate a new sport came during the rise of the UFC and other mixed martial arts organizations. Linesmakers experienced some difficulty at the beginning but quickly got a handle on the new sport. There was enough similarity to boxing that they could use experience in booking the ‘sweet science’ and apply it to mixed martial arts. The sport itself is relatively simple as are the statistics that accompany it. It didn’t take long to pull it all together and within a few years UFC odds had become fairly strong.
That isn’t the case with esports. There’s nothing that is helpful from a cross disciplinary standpoint to help sportsbooks work out a viable oddsmaking process. There is some statistical information available for the major games but its not very comprehensive. A big problem is that while bookmakers might have some familiarity with video games they have none with the competitive esports scene. This is particularly true for ‘old school’ bookmakers but even the newer sportsbooks that specialize in esports have admitted that it’s been tough going and remains a work in progress.
AN INFORMATION ASYMMETRY IS WORKING AGAINST THE BOOKS
On balance, sports books operate in an asymmetrical information environment. That means in most cases they have more information on the games that they take action on than does the betting public. This is how bookmakers like it and why it’s a full time job to try and match wits with them on a professional level.
With esports it’s the other way around. The hardcore esports enthusiasts and bettors know more than the bookmakers. That’s not surprising since they’re passionate about esports while the bookmaking industry is just now getting a handle on it. What makes it all the more of a challenge for sportsbooks is that the generic term ‘esports’ is a catch all for a number of different games that have found huge popularity with players and fans. Information that a sportsbook can use to set a line on Counter-Strike, for example, is of little use when trying to hang a number on a Hearthstone tournament. With new titles entering the public consciousness and ending up on the betting board it’s inevitable that bookmakers will always be playing catchup at least to some extent.