Just at the end of a particularly interesting edition of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Conference, a panel was held to discuss one of the fantasy industry’s newest and most exciting ventures: fantasy eSports. Various big names in the fantasy world took part in the panel, including DraftKings’ eSports Manager Evan Walker, AlphaDraft founder Todd Peterson and Sportreader’s Enterprise Sales Director Brian Josephs, and industry enthusiasts were fascinated to learn more about what many believe to be a very big part of the future of fantasy games.

What are Fantasy eSports?

For the uninitiated, fantasy eSports isn’t so different from any other kind of daily fantasy sports like NFL or NBA. Instead of making up a team with running backs or point guards, fantasy eSports allows you to make a roster of professional video game players. The eSports scene is developing at an incredible rate and the fantasy industry is doing its best to keep up, with sites like AlphaDraft, DraftKings and eSportsPools all offering their own fantasy eSports games with real money. Sites like Vulcun and Fantasy LCS also offer daily fantasy eSports but with virtual currencies.

What sets eSports apart from other sports is that it can be broken down into all sorts of extra categories as there are many different games being played. League of Legends is the biggest title right now, with most sites offering some form of fantasy eSports for this game, but you can also participate in fantasy games for other titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2. New games will be added and removed from the eSports lineup as time goes by, so fantasy sites will have to adjust their own offerings accordingly.

For now, fantasy eSports is in its infancy, but many enthusiasts believe that it will become a huge part of the DFS industry in the years to come, and the statistics seem to back up this claim. A report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming and Narus Advisors suggested that around $16 million will be wagered in fantasy eSports games this year, and that number is set to rise exponentially in the future, with thousands of new users signing up on a regular basis.

The panel was the least-attended of the whole conference and many attendees were left scratching their heads at the mere mention of the word ‘eSports’, showing that a lot of work still needs to be done to help DFS fans understand what eSports is and why they should care about it, as well as explaining to eSports fans why they might want to sign up for DFS games. The panel stated that the average age of a DFS player is 29, while eSports players and fans tend to be much younger, filling out the 16-24 age bracket.

However, other reports have suggested that the gap between eSports and DFS isn’t as big as it might seem. A SuperData report, for example, found that 60% of eSports fans in the US do spend time on fantasy or betting sites for their favorite eSports competitions, with 27% of fans going even further and looking at data and statistics for their favorite teams and players to give themselves a better chance of success in fantasy eSports games. Clearly, many eSports fans do understand DFS and the fantasy eSports market can only get bigger from here.

Remaining Steps for Fantasy eSports

Like with other sports, regulation still needs to be introduced in order for the eSports world to gain more credibility. A question was asked during the panel about skins wagering, a completely unregulated practice in the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive which allows players to wager virtual items with each other. The panelists clearly weren’t too keen on talking about this issue, with one even saying he wasn’t allowed to use the “b-word” (betting) on stage. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, but the fact that such an unregulated practice can exist in the same space as fantasy games could raise a few red flags.

The future of fantasy eSports is therefore pretty hard to make out for the moment, but all sorts of ideas are being tossed around. In Las Vegas, the Downtown Grand’s Seth Schorr has introduced an eSports lounge: a fully regulated, real-money environment in which eSports enthusiasts can wager on gaming competitions. Other casinos are also set to introduce these lounges, including the Revel in New Jersey. It’s most likely that these areas will offer head-to-head wagering, offering players the chance to wager on themselves winning a match or tournament. As this sort of wager is so heavily reliant on skill rather than luck, the legality of such a practice could be very easy to prove.

And what about the games themselves? As mentioned previously, the eSports community is always shifting and evolving. New games are being released all the time and few of them will ever become huge eSports phenomena on the same level as League of Legends or DOTA 2, but last year’s release of Overwatch proved how quickly a new game can blow up onto the professional gaming circuit.

The game, released by industry giant Blizzard, earned around 7 million players in the first week of release and has gone on to become a huge player in the eSports scene. Fantasy sites will therefore need to keep track of these releases and expand their offerings as quickly as possible to keep players on board.

It will also be interesting to see what sort of role data and analytics companies have to play in the future development of fantasy eSports. Fantasy sports players rely on data to make the best decisions, and that data is owned by the developers and publishers of each individual game like Blizzard, Riot, Valve, and more. These companies can choose to sell that data on to companies like Sportradar, who would then be able to offer statistics, analysis and other services to their users. So we can expect to see a whole lot of developments in the fantasy eSports world in the months to come.