The traditional casino games haven’t changed much since they were first conceptualized. You could pull out a craps table from 50 years ago and it would look eerily like the latest tables of today. Sure, there have been some fun new features added to modern slot machines. But, overall, casino floors have most of the same options today they’ve had for decades. eSports, however, is the latest and potentially the fastest-growing frontier in gambling, and it’s taking the industry by storm.

It was inevitable that technology would have a powerful impact on the gambling industry, but few people predicted an entirely new betting arena would arise.

What are eSports?

As you’ve probably guessed, the “e” in eSports stands for “electronic.” Put simply, eSports are video games being played competitively for money. The games themselves aren’t generally different – they’re the same video games that have connected players from across the world for years, giving them an outlet for their stress in the form of online multiplayer competition.

It’s considered eSports, though, when the games are played in an organized tournament setting, especially when the tournaments have cash payouts.

The Growth of eSports

eSports have really taken the world by storm in terms of a surging audience, and people who aren’t familiar with the scene often don’t realize how popular they really are.

It started decades ago, and one of the first tournaments on record (though a rather informal one) was a Space War competition at Stanford University. By 1980, Atari had hit the scene, and one commercial tournament with Atari games had as many as 10,000 competitors. In the 1990s, LAN parties emerged as both large tournaments and small gatherings of friends.

LAN stands for local area network – anywhere from a few to a few hundred gamers get together in a room or an event space and link their computers into a network so they can compete against each other and/or play a cooperative game together. Finally, as the Internet became faster and more widespread, it became the go-to tool to connect gamers.

Today, video gaming online has forged connections between gamers from opposite ends of the Earth, gamers of all ages and all income levels, forming a massive and enthusiastic community.

This has quickly grown into a monetized industry, with some tournaments giving away millions in prizes. In fact, some people who are particularly skilled can make a handsome living by playing in eSports tournaments. How do tournament organizers make enough money to support these huge payouts, you ask? eSports have an enormous following, especially because they’re broadcast on TV.

Last year, more than 320 MILLION people tuned in to watch eSports, and that number is expected to reach nearly 600 million by 2020. In recent years, certain eSports tournaments have drawn more viewership than the NBA finals. Between ticket sales, merchandise, and advertising revenue, this translates to an industry that’s expected to be worth nearly $1.5 billion by 2020, and that doesn’t include our next topic – eSports betting.

eSports as a Betting Platform

Betting on the outcome of sports games is one of the simplest and most straightforward ways to gamble.

eSports betting is just the same. Gamers can bet on the outcome of tournament rounds, with varying odds in the same manner as athletic sports.

eSports betting is already gaining quite a following, but it’s predicted to grow astronomically in the coming years, for several reasons:

• Most sports generate more money for the gaming industry than they do for their own industry, and eSports is anticipated to be the same way. While it may seem like the NFL rakes in obscene amounts of money from ticket and concession sales, merchandise sales, advertising, and other revenue streams, the business of gambling on NFL games rakes in even more.

• The demographics of eSports audiences offer an optimistic look toward the future. eSports tend to attract viewers with lucrative full-time employment – viewers who have a high amount of disposable income. This flies in the face of the old stereotypes that video game enthusiasts are people with low ambition who sit on the couch all day. In fact, video games are enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Another feather in the cap of future eSports betting is the video game audience tends to be a dedicated one.

There are more people who fit the label of “enthusiasts” than “occasional viewers,” and when people are this invested in a sport, it leaves a high likelihood they will venture into the gambling arena, too.

• The largest age group that follows eSports is the millennials. This is a generation that grew up with video games and went along for the ride when gaming started surging in popularity and become more and more of a genuine industry. This is promising for the future of eSports betting because millennials are a young generation with a long, wage-earning future ahead of them.

Even if future generations aren’t as invested in online gaming, millennials themselves can create a thriving industry for decades to come.

As bright of a future as eSports may have in the world of gambling, it’s still relatively new territory, so there are a few kinks to work out along the way, and some hurdles the industry will need to overcome.

• Regulation may be a challenge. While it’s different in various countries (and sometimes in different regions within a single country, as is the case with state-by-state gambling laws in the United States), gambling overall is a rather highly regulated field. However, because eSports betting is largely carried out online (keeping up with the techie theme, of course), it can be a challenge.

One key issue is limiting the betting to adults. With an in-person casino, verifying a gambler’s age is as simple as asking for an ID card. The online world is much easier to manipulate.

It’s rather easy for a minor to either log into the account of an adult gambler or create an account using a parent’s information. As eSports betting continues to grow and gain new huge new audiences, the industry will need to find ways to manage the crowds and regulate them appropriately.

• Cheating is a known issue in eSports. At video game tournaments, they need to take such measures as inspecting all keyboards, mice, and other equipment players use before the tournament to check for cheating technology, while also prohibiting players from wearing smartwatches and certain other types of devices.

When the tournaments are conducted online, there is artificial intelligence (as well as human supervision) in place to look for signs that competitors are using hacks, bots, or other types of cheats. As much of a problem as cheating prevention has been so far, it’s bound to be even more impactful as the gambling industry makes each game more high stakes than it’s been in the past.

The world of eSports isn’t just the next big thing in entertainment and spectatorship; it’s the next big thing in gambling, too.

The more viewers get on board with the excitement and competitiveness of eSports tournaments, the more they’ll undoubtedly start wanting to make money off it as well. The gambling industry is ready and willing to support it.