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A [Virtual] Problem?

23rd September 2016

Responsible Gambling Officer Daniel takes a closer look at the world of eSports, skins betting and underage gambling.  

eSports (also called electronic sports or pro gaming) is a form of competition that takes place electronically, most often in the form of video games. eSports is a popular spectator sport, with an estimated global audience of up to 150 million people.

Some eSports professionals make money from gaming competitively online and in packed out arenas. You may even have heard of some of the most popular games - Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), League of Legends (LOL) or Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

Within eSports games, players can purchase new weapons, accessories and appearances for their characters - known as ‘skins’ – with real money. Some of these skins are rare and much sought after, meaning that their value can sometimes run to tens of thousands of dollars.

As a result of this value, unregulated skins betting sites have appeared. Given the popularity of video games with people under the age of 18, the question is does this pose any risks for younger people? What can be done to lessen these risks?

eSports has grown rapidly recently, and professional eSports is worth an estimated $612 million a year. Many bookmakers now offer betting opportunities on the outcomes of eSports matches, however the dangers of underage players being able to bet this way are minimised, due to the age verification procedures required to bet with bookmakers in regulated markets.

An area which does cause concern is the unregulated betting of skins on websites with little or no age verification in place. Here, young people who are not old enough to gamble can potentially bet on skins worth substantial sums of money. Recent studies show greater participation in gambling activities for teens across Europe, which means there is certainly potential for serious issues to develop for more young people if they are not properly educated about the risks associated with gambling.

As a society we strive to protect young people from harm, and from being exposed to activities where there is a risk of a problem developing. To be able to protect young people from harm in this case, we need to recognise that children and young people, as well as parents, need more education on the risks involved with eSports and skins betting.

As far as we can tell, parents often have no clue that this type of betting even exists, and may be paying for their child to gamble without even realising – charges usually show up as transactions on gaming accounts. Raising awareness about this issue is key.

Skins betting is now being closely monitored by regulators. Perhaps regulation could help to push skins betting away from the ‘black market’, and away from underage gamblers.

All indications would seem to show that eSports, and betting on eSports, will continue to grow. As it does, we must be mindful of how we can work together to prevent harm to the underage and the vulnerable.

If you or anyone you know needs support or is concerned about their gambling behaviour, our Advisers are available from 8am – Midnight, seven days a week on the National Gambling HelpLine: Freephone 0808 8020 133 or via web chat on our NetLine.