The who, the what, and the how of video game-related gambling.

Gambling connected to esports and video games is big business, with current estimates valuing the market at several billion $US a year. Until now there has been little evidence, beyond anecdote, as to who participates in these new forms of gambling and how they play. One of the first empirical investigations of video game-related gambling suggests that typical participants are almost exclusively young males, including a significant section (27%) under the age of 18. And that although video gamers and esports viewers participate in gambling to a lesser degree than the wider population, rates of problematic and potentially problematic gambling are higher.


Gambling: Keenan Constance


Recent decades have seen the internet transform the gambling environment, not simply in regard to the ways in which gambling activities are accessed but also the types of products, promotions, and activities which are now available. Alongside this growth and maturation of the digital gambling servicescape we have seen the development of online video gaming and, as a direct result, esports. Esports is essentially competitive video gaming which, like traditional sports, is structured around league- and tournament-play, furthermore, there is a growing ecosphere which includes team managers, trainers, sponsors, and dedicated broadcasters. Also like traditional sports esports is subject to gambling in the form of sportsbook-style betting and fantasy sports, with some estimating that the value of the gambling market outstrips that of the esports market by a ratio of 4:1. However, unlike traditional sports, the fact that esports utilise video games means that they offer several novel gambling experiences: from skin-based gambling such as crash betting through to the heavily debated issue of loot boxes.


A loot box from the game Overwatch: Blizzard.


The development of esports gambling in particular, and video game-related gambling in general, is a recent phenomenon, with little known about the participants, their gambling habits, or the potential manifestation of problematic gambling behaviours. This study is one of the first to address such questions, utilising data gathered from social media sites, discussion forums and dedicated esports pages. Data was gathered via an online survey (n = 582) with global reach: over 61 different nationalities participated, and every continent was represented. The sample highlighted the prevalence of young, often under-age, males in eSports-related gambling activities. Participation in gambling, and gambling-like activities such as loot box opening, was found to be 67%, with rates of problematic and potentially problematic gambling, assessed using the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), being 50.34%. Finally, increased gambling was found to be associated with increased spectating of esports.


Esports Competitor: Jamie McInall


Due to the method of data collection the results are not generalisable to the wider population, however, they suggest a need for increased attention both from academia and regulators in regard to newly emergent gambling behaviours in contemporary digital culture.

In addition to the issues discussed above, the paper offers a description of contemporary gambling activities related to video games and esports, including the means by which they can be accessed through real-world currencies, digital currencies, and in-game virtual items. Finally, the current legal situation regarding loot box opening is presented, building on the issues presented in an earlier blogpost which can be found here. As such, it is one of the first academic treatments of video game-related gambling which brings together in one place a description of video game-related gambling activities, a discussion of contemporary legal issues related specifically to loot box opening, and an empirical investigation of participation rates and demographic characteristics of esports and video game-related gambling.

Please see the paper for full details:

Recommended citation: Macey, J. and Hamari, J. (2018). eSports, skins and loot boxes: Participants, practices and problematic behaviour associated with emergent forms of gambling. New Media & Society.


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