Fans of the biggest Fortnite and Apex Legends streamers on Twitch can now place real bets on how well they play.
Esports platform Unikrn is debuting a new product that lets fans wager crypto on Twitch and other gaming sites, in a bid to give users more content for gambling.
The problem with running an esports book is that there isn't always something to bet on, according to Unikrn CEO Rahul Sood.
"Other sports books, the reason they can be successful is that they have thousands of events they can take on at any given time," Sood told CoinDesk.
Right now, users can bet on live esports tournaments at the top tier. They can also bet against themselves on Unikrn. But people don't always want to bet on themselves, and while there's a lot of esports tournaments in the world, there are not yet enough for fans to bet on a top-tier game no matter the time.
To get there, Unikrn is announcing a new system that lets visitors to its website open up streams on other platforms and bet on the outcomes of two of the biggest free-to-play first-person-shooter games out there.
To assess the outcome live, the computer actually watches the gameplay with them. It uses computer vision to assess whether the player wins or loses (and to build up its book on the streamer).
"We showed this tech to a few of the larger casino companies in the world, and their minds were blown," Sood said. "There's a pretty good opportunity for us to expand our business."
Like a casino, Unikrn doesn't arrange bets between players. Unikrn is always on the other side of every bet placed on the platform.
Founded in 2014, Unikrn has raised $10 million in venture funding, from backers such as Binary Capital, Ashton Kutcher and Mark Cuban. At the end of 2017, the company announced a $40 million public token sale for UnikoinGold, the token now used for placing bets and earning rewards on its platform.
In late 2018, it acquired a license for online wagering from the Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission.
Unikrn currently has roughly 100,000 registered bettors and 4 million visitors per month, according to Sood.
Online streaming is gigantic, with viewership numbers that rival cable news networks.
Amazon's Twitch alone had 2.7 billion hours watched in the first quarter of 2019, with another 700 million hours watched on competing game streaming platforms, according to StreamLabs.
While Unikrn will only provide gambling on the very best streams, those numbers still give some sense for how enormous the interest is in watching top players game.
"Unikrn is creating a fully-engaging platform to tap the potential of this unprecedented volume of competition-based entertainment," Unikrn COO Andrew Vouris said in a statement. "Streamers are the star athletes of a new generation, and they’re always on."
Sood demonstrated the product for CoinDesk. There's a number of different ways a player can bet on a round while a stream is live, such as betting on whether or not the streamer will win it, how long they will survive, how many kills they will get and more. In fact, they can place multiple bets on the same round.
The streams that can be bet on include players that are well understood by Unikrn's computers.
"We know how good they are. We have created a strong book on them," Sood explained.
Just like any other gambling, Sood said, there's no need for his company to get permission from streamers, but he does see a future where some of them will enter into partnerships with Unikrn, which could help spread awareness for the product.
Betting on the past
Unikrn has another new product it's announcing today, and it's one that non-gamblers may have a hard time believing.
The company is also giving users a way to bet on a giant backlog of matches from esports games that have happened in the past. It's kind of like betting on a recording of a football game.
If that sounds crazy, it's not without precedent. As Sood told us, digital horse racing is big throughout the United Kingdom. That is, betting on cartoon horses racing inside computers. It's something gamblers do when there's no real race to bet on.
"We looked at that model and thought, 'How can we do something like that with esports?'" Sood said.
Unikrn's answer is past-game betting on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) matches. It calls the new product "Virtual Betting."
In each professional game of CS:GO, there are multiple individual matches. So when players get set to bet, they might know the results of the overall game they are watching, but they don't know which match they are seeing.
Even for a wizard of CS:GO history, the system doesn't give players much time. "This moves very fast. People need to be engaged, need to be watching, to bet on it," Sood said, as he showed us a demo.
"This is like 24 hours a day. It continues to run," Sood said.
As to the bets, users can take fairly significant positions based on their history with Unikrn, but no one can place unlimited bets. As the system becomes more familiar with them, it allows them to bet more on any given round.
Legal restraints might slow the rollout of these gaming products in the U.S. because they need a local casino partner in most cases.
In much of the rest of the world, Unikrn's license with the Isle of Man covers their business. "They gave us approval on both of these," Sood said.
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