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6 May 24

The Head of Trading of DATA.BET on AI, Licensed Content and the Future of Esports Betting

In the world of betting, traders compile betting options so that bettors can get the best offers and odds. DATA.BET offers a suite of products to operators, including odds feeds, live score, and risk management, helping creating a dynamic esports betting landscape for its clients’ customers. DATA.BET’s trading team comprises over 150 experts who ensure a seamless supply of odds.

We spoke to Thomas Donson, head of trading at DATA.BET, as part of an exclusive interview. In it, we delved into the pivotal role of the traders for bookmakers, and the interplay between human expertise and AI advances in shaping the betting landscape.

Could you tell us a little about your background and how you got into esports betting?

Close to two decades ago, I started my career in the iGaming industry, working in customer service for a leading UK-based bookmaker. As I grew within the company, I transitioned into roles in IT and live trading, witnessing firsthand the rising popularity of In-Play betting.

Throughout my career, I’ve managed various aspects of sportsbook operations for some of the largest bookmakers in Western Europe. Then, I collaborated with innovative start-ups striving to reshape industry standards. In recent years, my focus has been on developing sportsbook platforms, where I’ve dedicated myself to enhancing trading operations, driving product development, and fostering strong client relationships.

Now, I’m excited to bring my experience to DATA.BET, where I aim to contribute to its ascent as the leading esports odds provider and Managed Trading Services (MTS) platform.

What are the fundamental differences between trading in esports and traditional sports?

The pace of esports gameplay is significantly faster, demanding traders’ attention to multiple data points simultaneously, and an expert understanding of how the actions of 5 or 6 players at any given time can impact the event’s results. Equally, factors such as diverse maps, varying equipment, and intricate strategies introduce unpredictability rarely seen in traditional sports. This plethora of variables contributes to a wider range of potential outcomes, representing another challenge for traders to navigate.

It is also essential to recognize the unique expectations of esports enthusiasts. Unlike traditional sports fans, they seek diverse bets tailored to their specific interests. Meeting these expectations is integral to DATA.BET’s offerings, ensuring customers effortlessly find the markets they seek.

DATA.BET has an experienced team of traders who, in synergy with AI tools, deliver premium data for esports betting. Could you elaborate on the process of creating odds and explain the role that licensed data plays in this chain?

Delivering premium service, often leading the market with pricing, relies on several essential factors. Our traders require the most accurate data to conduct thorough statistical analysis and compile precise odds after we receive the raw official data, processed by AI models.

Licensed content plays a vital role in creating feeds, ensuring access to reliable sources, thereby enabling faster decision-making and increasing the number of data points available for our models.

The abundance of data points allows us to expand our range of derivative markets and provide unique offerings, such as Player Props, which offers bettors highly personalized content, and our upcoming Bet Builder product, setting us apart from competitors. Utilizing licensed data also ensures we remain at the right price at any given moment, helping us increase our competitiveness and maintain strong margins across all our products.

How are those AI models trained? What factors does your trading team consider when setting odds for esports matches?

Statistical data forms the basis for our initial odds in any game. We integrate statistics with algorithms developed from analyzing extensive datasets of thousands of games, ensuring the creation of reliable models. However, esports games evolve rapidly, introducing new characters, weapons, spells, and options. So, we continuously refine and enhance our models to maintain accuracy. Once we have enough data, we can begin to predict the outcomes of various scenarios depending on all the parameters that occur at the time.

Despite AI’s advanced capabilities, our trading team remains indispensable, as it helps the models account for momentum and the gameplay certain players begin to demonstrate throughout the match. Their expertise ensures dynamic adaptability to discipline nuances, enhancing the precision of our odds feed.

Do you envision a future where AI tools could entirely replace the work of esports traders?

Over my career, I have seen a change from a match requiring three traders to price a single match in-play to 1 trader managing 200 games in-play. So, we are already on the cusp of the next evolution within betting.

Undoubtedly, AI tools have already begun to make traders’ work much easier, offering faster and more accurate interpretations of the vast volumes of data generated and the multitude of markets to be priced and offered.

However, the human element present in all sports remains a unique challenge for AI to quantify. Despite all the advancements, AI models will always face challenges adapting to unpredicted factors, including human emotions and fatigue, that can only be comprehended by skilled and experienced traders. That’s why they will continue to play a pivotal role in delivering a world-class product.

While the blend of manual price changes may shift over time, I struggle to see a future where AI completely eliminates the need for traders’ interpretation of esports events.

Esports betting represents a swiftly evolving sector within the industry. Do you believe it has the potential to surpass traditional sports betting in terms of the number of bettors and overall turnover, and if so, how does that happen?

Traditional sports betting has seen gradual development over many years. Until recently, most casual bettors were well-versed in the fundamentals of each sport, while esports remained a relatively new niche. However, the core demographics of esports bettors are now aligning with the target market for traditional sportsbooks. This represents the industry’s most significant potential for growth, evidenced by the substantial interaction in markets worldwide.

Potential clients are increasingly drawn to esports over traditional sports. The accessibility of free streaming platforms, improving local media coverage, and the growing pro players’ presence in social media reflect the significant interest among the newer generation of customers in teams and players globally.

Notably, viewing figures for esports events now rival, and sometimes surpass, those of traditional sporting events, with live tournaments attracting larger audiences than ever before. While it may take time to predict esports overtaking soccer betting as the industry leader, I confidently anticipate that this niche will become equal to nearly any other sport in the coming years.

Which GEOs do you perceive as most promising for the development of esports betting? What distinctions in player behavior within these regions can you highlight?

Esports betting is experiencing notable growth globally, with Asia and Latin America emerging as prominent regions for this surge. The rise of top-tier talent across various gaming titles has fueled this popularity, attracting a diverse audience, particularly among the 18-30 demographic, who avidly support their favorite stars. We also see a much smaller gender gap within esports bettors, demonstrating the popularity of male and female players and presenting profitable opportunities for sportsbooks that excel with their offerings.

While esports popularity varies from country to country, certain regions stand out as hotbeds for growth. Brazil, in particular, exemplifies this trend. At the recent PGL Major in Copenhagen, the significant presence of Brazilian teams and players garnered record viewership on Portuguese-language streams, accompanied by heightened media engagement. The enthusiasm for local Brazilian matches translated into substantial betting activity from the region.

The Six Invitational held in São Paulo in February further underscored Brazil’s pivotal role in esports. With a substantial $3 million prize pool and the triumphant performance of Brazilian team w7m, the event highlighted the nation’s potential for further growth.

With the evolution of esports in recent years, which trends do you consider most significant for this industry?

Esports continues its rapid rise, marked by ongoing innovation, surging active users, and increasing monthly turnover. However, the industry still has ample room for growth and advancement.

Esports bettors have a discerning taste for products different from traditional sports. They demand a world-class user experience characterized by speed and ease of use. Thus, sportsbooks must offer a comprehensive range of markets without delays or downtime to effectively meet these expectations.

That’s why the future of esports betting centers on key product enhancements. Developing personalized experiences and market-leading features like Player Props and Bet Builders is crucial for catering to individual customer preferences. Additionally, users are growing interested in players’ performance, surpassing that of their respective teams. This trend is driving the demand for more in-depth tracking and markets based on players’ activities, enabling users to become more deeply invested in celebrating the success of their favorite players during matches.

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