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Why Haven’t Casino Games Impacted Esports?

Long before esports really got off the ground, competitive poker helped to establish the world of televised pseudo-sports. This was largely a U.S. craze, but it’s fair to say that it ultimately went global. Some trace the so-called “poker boom” back to the late-‘90s film Rounders and the subsequent emergence of Chris Moneymaker, the first amateur champion to strike it rich on television. However, as a history of the poker boom put it, Moneymaker’s win caused many others to wonder, “why not me?” Before long amateurs from all corners of the globe were turning themselves into professional competitors, and a sport was born – televised primarily on American networks, but taking place in high-profile tournaments at casinos and venues around the world.

It was essentially the definition of a pseudo-sport: something with niche appeal that wasn’t athletic in nature, but which became an object of popular consumption much like a sport. There were celebrities, endorsements, fan bases, and tournaments, to say nothing of lucrative prize money. In these ways, at least, the poker boom can almost be looked at as a sort of template or model for what’s happened with esports over the last five years or so. But this begs the question: With poker having already proven its worth as popular entertainment, and with the game having since migrated largely to online casinos, why isn’t there a significant space within the esports industry dedicated to digital poker tournaments, or even other casino games?

One reason might in fact be the distinction between poker and other casino games. Following the poker boom, online card games were extraordinarily popular throughout much of the world. Since then, however, internet-based casino platforms have expanded their offerings to include more of the casual, arcade-style games and slots that are perhaps more accessible to a wider player base than poker. This has been particularly evident in the rise of UK sites dedicated to slot games, which now comprise a significant portion of the overall online casino world. These slot sites attract players through deposit bonuses and favourable gameplay conditions that poker can’t quite match, and then present those same players with an impressive selection of animated, video game-like slot reels. One could argue that these games have taken over the digital casino world, such that while online poker remains popular among certain audiences, more people gravitate toward these simpler, yet perhaps more satisfying (or at least more instantly gratifying) alternatives. And online slots – for all their merits – aren’t built for peer-to-peer competition, and thus don’t fit the esports model.
Speaking of what fits the model, the issue may also be that casino games simply don’t pack the same entertainment value for viewers that other esports do at this point. In a piece on what makes a good esport, we previously touched on the importance of a game’s appeal as a spectator sport. As we explained in that piece, for instance, PUBG struggles with esports fans because the format of 100 fighters in one hectic arena is just a little difficult to watch. Casino games don’t have that specific problem, but they may just not be what modern esports audiences are looking for. The games from slot sites and the likes are, again, not competitive by nature. And poker, while it’s proven at times to be popular with television audiences, doesn’t offer the visual excitement or fast pace that people have come to expect in esports.

Beyond all of this, it could also be that casino games have just had their time already as spectator sports. With slots and similar modern arcades not aimed at viewing audiences and poker having “boomed” and faded years ago, it might simply be too much to ask for the public to take an interest all over again – despite the general rise of video games for public viewing. This is not to say that poker or other competitive casino games won’t have their small corners within the industry. But for these various reasons, it seems unlikely they’ll make a significant impact.