Q&A with OddsMatrix Head of Sales Ivan Rozic: Cracking the esports code

In an exclusive interview with Gambling Insider at EveryMatrix’s new office in Bucharest, Romania, OddsMatrix Head of Sales Ivan Rozic spoke about the developing esports market and its importance to a new generation of bettors. 

ivan rozic

Tell us about your history in gaming.

I'm Head of Sales at OddsMatrix, which is the sportsbook arm of EveryMatrix. I've been in the industry for eight years now and I've always worked on the sportsbook supplier side. Sports is what I enjoy and I understand sports betting from a punter’s perspective.

How important is it for esports to be offered by sportsbooks to get Gen Z using their platform?

It's a no brainer. Every single sportsbook, every single B2C out there is trying to have as much content as they can, regardless of whether it's sports or casino. There are regulations that are not supportive of that. But, if you have the regulation in place that you can offer, you're going to offer as much as you can.

I think for esports, nobody’s unlocked the golden trick to it, because the core focus for most of the traditional B2Cs out there has been traditional sportsbook players. Everybody is struggling on how to appeal to younger audiences who are into esports. What's happening today with esports, I wouldn't be surprised if in a decade from now, maybe even sooner, transfers of esports players between different esports teams are going to be even more valued than traditional football, which is already hyper inflated. But when you see some of the new contracts out there and signings that have been made, it's going in that direction.

It's essential and it needs to be there. I think B2Cs and providers alike are just going to keep iterating until they find the recipe for Gen Z.

I grew up with all the local networks, basically garages in my hometown. We would get together, play Starcraft, Age of Empires or CS:GO. This was 15, 20 years ago. What I'm seeing today is some of my friends who were deeply into these games have remained there and helped raise a new generation of CS:GO players

One thing that's quite interesting about esports is that they're constantly changing and evolving. There's a new gun, a new character. How do you build an efficient data feed when accounting for these variables?

Organisations are trying to find official data partners. It's much easier to do that when it comes to esports, because traditionally, for football, basketball and other sports, when you look at the core of it, people manually type in what's happening at the match. It's not super diligent, is it? Everything that's built on top looks very nice and modern, but the core of the information is still very 20th century. Esports is going to present a big change. In tennis that happened when they started introducing data directly from the umpire’s chair. You don't need anybody there; you have the most reliable source of information right in front of you.

This is why esports are so big. There are concerns about the integrity of esports but in my opinion the integrity of the players is arguably higher than in some traditional sports largely because the information is so automated, it's more difficult to manipulate. With the funding and the attention esports is getting, this will not cause an issue going forward.

It won’t be one of the traditional sportsbooks that breaks the ice and finds new horizons with esports, it will be a more niche organisation. There have already been attempts, but I don't think anybody has cracked it just yet.

Is there any kind of synergy between traditional sports and esports? How many people do you think enjoy both?

We're always trying to find that out... Most of our content and traffic is for traditional sports. We offer a wide variety of esports, but when you take markets such as the Czech Republic or Finland for example, there are certain markets that have exploded when it comes to esports.

Latin America is also a different story. When you look at Europe, it's mostly Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and maybe Dota 2, but in LatAm it’s the other way around. The synergy is perhaps not there but there should be more synergies going forward because esports has been quite niche for so long.

A personal story I like to tell when it comes to esports is I grew up with all the local networks, basically garages in my hometown. We would get together, play Starcraft, Age of Empires or CS:GO. This was 15, 20 years ago. What I'm seeing today is some of my friends who were deeply into these games have remained there and helped raise a new generation of CS:GO players.

These guys are another level when it comes to paychecks. It's not about the clubs paying for them, they earn most of their revenue from badges, icons, items, you name it. It's the other sources they are branding and earning from. It's going to get there because the crossover will be complete at one point. Right now, we're seeing more and more overlap. In the beginning, it was split between esports and traditional sports. But as the years go by, we're seeing the same players place bets on Counter Strike or League of Legends and then betting on live sports matches. It's going in that direction.

I've got a similar story. I went to a live Counter Strike match about eight to 10 years ago. The energy was immense. It was like going to go see the football. It was crazy!

The level of energy is still there, which is remarkable when you think about it. South Korea made the biggest impact. But now, with all the other countries and hotspots around the world pushing? When you look at TV coverage 10-15 years ago, not a single sports-oriented media outlet dedicated a channel to esports. Now they all have at least one. I think that proves the popularity is there and it's going to be reflected in the sportsbooks.

There's always a gold rush. It was esports when I came in, then it was the US and now it's Brazil. But nobody realises the big thing doesn't happen overnight. It takes years to get to that state

What do you expect esports to look like going forward?

I would love to see the operator who cracks it and who becomes the ‘go-to’ operator when it comes to esports. As you said, the energy is there in those competitions, it's very much like traditional sports. But I think there is a segment of it that nobody’s figured out yet. Maybe it's the way the content is delivered. You cannot offer it in the same way that you do traditional sports. There is more to it than just giving an offer to players and expecting them to come to your website and place a bet.

It has to be much more integrated into the whole experience that they are going through, following the teams and the players they follow. When you make a comparison to European-heavy sports, it was always about the teams. Even today, it's mostly about the teams. But, when you look at US sports, it was always about the players. Teams were there, but it was about individuals.

Esports have already gone through that evolution. It's already about the individuals. Nobody knows, if you're not fully into it, which team, NiKo is on for example.

No one knows who Cloud9 is, but you know the guy that plays.

Exactly. This is where they're at right now. This is going to propel it throughout not only the US, but also globally, because Europeans caught onto this as well. Football players are becoming what NBA players have been for the last decade or two. Everything is moving in that direction. I'm expecting esports to be right there on track. I don't know what the solution is but I'm so curious to find out who cracks it and who gets there first.

I think for esports, nobody’s unlocked the golden trick to it, because the core focus for most of the traditional B2Cs out there has been traditional sportsbook players. Everybody is struggling on how to appeal to younger audiences who are into esports

Do you think as more Gen Z comes into the workforce, we're going to be close to cracking it?

I think so. They're going to be the ones who come up with ideas. It's not realistic to expect somebody who's 60 years old to understand what they are interested in, how to place it in front of them. This is the joy of it. It wasn't the 50-year-olds back in the late 1990s who found a way to offer sports betting online. It was the newer generation... I just hope we don't fall into the trap of doing things the old way because everything has been done that way.

Esports is so new. It's a new format. You have to have a new mindset when you go about it...

From my experience in the industry, what I've seen is that there's always a gold rush. It was esports when I came in, then it was the US and now it's Brazil. But nobody realises the big thing doesn't happen overnight. It takes years to get to that state. But as with the US, who's going to be showing its real capacity and real power a few years from now?

Esports has come a long way. It takes time and several evolutions and iterations to crack the code.

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