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How esports is quietly spawning a whole new generation of problem gamblers

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Most large sports events came to an abrupt halt during the pandemic, but one category was not only unaffected but enjoyed accelerated growth: esports. Esports is the competitive playing of video games such as League of Legends, Fortnite and Fifa Football.

The audiences for the biggest titles are now enormous. Fortnite alone has around 78 million monthly players and professional tournaments draw in many millions of online spectators. League of Legends World Championship attracted over 100 million viewers in 2019 with a peak of 44 million. In comparison, the Wimbledon men’s final 2019 peaked at around 9 million viewers.

It’s not just the size of the audience that’s different, it’s also their age. The average tennis spectator is 61, whereas esports spectators are on average 26.

Major bookmakers such as PaddyPower, Bet365 and Betway, along with many niche operators, are now offering bets on esports tournaments. Monthly esports betting revenues for UK operators rose 30-fold between March 2019 and March 2020, and by June they had more than doubled again.

The global esports betting market is expected to be worth up to $15 billion (£12 billion) this year, compared with less than US$6 billion in 2016. This explosive growth has been fuelled by online advertising, which almost tripled during lockdown.