Mike Holinski: Safer gambling in esports ‘must be proactive rather than reactive’

By | March 17, 2021

Esports has become an increasingly popular form of entertainment in recent years, with more fans now wagering on the outcomes of various different events.

As with many other sports and forms of entertainment which act as betting commodities, this has not only generated revenue for the industry, but has also brought about unique challenges with regards to player safeguarding – particularly as a large number of esports fans come from a younger demographic.

Speaking to SBC News, Mike Holinski – Head of Sports Management at EPIC Risk Management – discussed the importance of promoting a safer gambling message in esports, and what approaches can be taken to achieve this.

SBC: CS:GO players such as ‘Coldzera’ are hugely popular with esports fans and have formed agreements with betting operators. How important is it for brand ambassadors such as this to promote a safer gambling message?

MH: We would encourage all stakeholders in the esports landscape to promote such a message, and moreover, to be proactive rather than reactive regarding raising awareness of potential issues much like other professional sports we have done work with / worked on..

Indeed, we feel that by having brand ambassadors who are fully invested in driving this message that it builds belief and legitimacy which is vital for buy-in to potentially minimise gambling-related harm.  

The CS:GO players have a real opportunity to lead in this space and take a front-foot approach to this issue.

SBC: Esports fans come from a broad demographic range, but there is a large young audience. How is EPIC using education and lived experience to ensure that younger esports fans are aware of the risks associated with gambling?

MH: Much like our approaches in other sports and sectors, we concentrate on the pitfalls of betting integrity and the potential harms of problem gambling. 

Indeed, we have members of our team who have lived experience in other forms of gaming that we can call upon to deliver this message, for example Jonathan Peniket, who joined the company in 2020 as a gaming and esports consultant. 

We take the same approach as we do in other sports, where we tailor the content, the delivery and look-and-feel of our message to increase what we believe to be the likelihood of this message resonating with the intended audience. 

SBC: When educating esports athletes on problem gambling, what are the main focus points of the sessions? For example, the harmful effects of gambling and decision-making?

MH: These sessions will be very much tailored to the audience and do this we are working closely with the CSPPA in this instance to identify where we feel their members could be exposed to particular vulnerabilities in terms of links to gambling and integrity issues. 

We have already seen examples of integrity issues in esports, and the CSPPA have had the foresight to approach EPIC Risk Management to raise awareness and educate their members. 

SBC: The UK’s gambling authorities are currently engaged in a review of the country’s gambling regulations, and the presence of ‘loot boxes’ in video games has played a central role in the debate. What steps does the government need to take to ensure maximum levels of protection for players? Are the risks associated with loot boxes downplayed at all?

MH: We passionately believe that more needs to be done to regulate loot-boxes. Simply put, we believe that no child should be able to engage in this type of activity and we welcome the review. 

SBC: What role can major operators such as Entain play in safeguarding the integrity of professional esports competitions now that betting on the sector is becoming more widespread?

MH: As more and more stakeholders, including gambling operators, enter the world of esports it’s important to reiterate the message that we all have responsibilities to act with a duty of care in terms of promoting and gambling on esports. 

SBC: Do the approaches to safer gambling in the esports sector differ between the US and the UK? If so, how? 

MH: The esports community is a global community. It has a sense of interconnectedness and a shared approach to what is a truly global community, with that in mind our approach needs to reflect this. 

SBC: And finally, what more does the betting industry and education sector need to do to ensure that esports fans are well protected?

MH: Raising awareness and promoting education around this issue is key in our perspective. Reiterating the messages of all stakeholders’ responsibility regarding duty of care is paramount in this instance. 

Ultimately, we are dealing with a younger demographic of people and in much of our work in the professional sport and education sectors we believe the best way to ensure that all stakeholders in the esports ecosystem are protected is through education and awareness.