Sports Games’ Next Big Move Could Be In-Game Betting

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The sports genre has come to represent a pretty interesting place in modern console gaming. On the one hand, most of the high-end games (FIFA, NBA 2K, Madden, and so on) remain very popular and find success year in and year out. On the other hand, they seldom make significant new headlines, or factor into Game of the Year conversations and the like.

What seems to have happened is that these games have reached a point of tremendous quality, and are almost able to update themselves for fresh, annual editions (because the actual leagues and players involved change, and the games shit accordingly). But beyond those easy updates, the games aren’t doing a whole lot of new things that might generate more specific positive attention. At some point, they likely will, whether it be through something like VR compatibility, some significantly enhanced “lifestyle” mode, or – as we’re suggesting in this piece – the introduction of betting options within games.

This suggestion is based on a few existing developments in sports and gaming:

The Rise Of eSports

By now anyone with an interest in gaming is aware of eSports, which have arisen as a spectator phenomenon in fairly dramatic fashion. It’s a difficult phenomenon to measure exactly, but as of 2018 it was predicted that within three years of that point, some 600 million people would be active eSports viewers.

Within this expanding industry – which some like to refer to as a new form of sport unto itself – sports games don’t yet have quite as prominent a position as one might expect. In large part, it’s combat, RPG, and strategy games that dominate this arena. However, there are growing eSports leagues concerning the major sports video game franchises as well, and that alone introduces a betting incentive for the same franchises. Already, you can find opportunities here and there on the internet to wager on eSports, and from there it’s not a huge stretch to imagine a FIFA or NBA 2K game that allows you to watch and bet on player competitions within the game itself. They’d probably have to partner with an official, regulated sportsbook to make it happen, but that doesn’t sound like the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Expansion Of Betting In The U.S.

Regarding the idea of partnering with regulated sportsbooks, it’s also important to point out the role that the U.S. sports betting industry may play in all of this. For nearly two years now, individual American states have been free to legalize and regulate betting activity, whereas in the past such activity was almost entirely forbidden. And while this has not resulted in a widespread betting industry appearing instantaneously, things appear to be moving in that direction.

It was expansion beyond the state of New Jersey – which was first to take advantage of the new leniency toward betting – that signaled that the U.S. is indeed ready for more sports betting activity. Seeing New Jersey’s related businesses thriving, several nearby states began to work on adjusting their own laws, and neighboring Pennsylvania introduced a range of sportsbooks its citizens could access legally. That domino effect – New Jersey’s successful sportsbooks making it quickly into the Pennsylvania market – now appears more than likely to continue into additional parts of the country.

What this basically means is that Americans are soon to be introduced to a whole new way to interact with their favorite sports, and that one of the biggest markets for franchises like FIFA and NBA 2K is about to have an interest in sports betting. From there, the equation makes sense: If gamers are interested, and the activity is legal, it might truly be in the game developers’ best interests to build sportsbooks into their games. In theory, someone playing through FIFA 20 could then open a sportsbook tab to place real bets on real-world matches, without ever exiting the game.

Gamified Betting Through Fantasy Sports

This is a bit of an aside, but as a final point we should also acknowledge the potential for established sports games to introduce new forms of betting altogether. This idea is based on the fact that much of the world has already been exposed to a sort of gamified version of sports betting, disguised as fantasy sports. Daily fantasy sites, for instance – which are actually legal already in much of the U.S. and a significant portion of the rest of the world – allow players to wager real money on the performance of real athletes.

Because this is familiar practice to millions of gamers, it’s also possible that something similar could be introduced to major console sports franchises, either in advance of or alongside conventional sports betting. For example, a game mode that allows a gamer to draft a whole team of real athletes could be used as the basis for a fantasy component. While the primary point would be to play through the ordinary game with said roster, the game could be programmed to present the gamer with an occasional option – such as betting on whether or not that roster of players would reach a given statistical threshold in a week’s worth of real-life action.

Again, prominent console sports gaming franchises don’t work in significant updates all too often. Considering all of the above though, it’s actually quite easy to imagine some version of betting activity representing their next significant evolution.

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