Betting on Australian esports has traditionally been limited to international finals, qualifiers or the finals of major local events, regardless of the game in question.
That's starting to change, however, with a new Australian site allowing users from all around the world the opportunity to bet virtual skins on lower league Australian Counter-Strike matches for the first time.
SkinBet launched the beta version of their website today, with a more formal launch due next week. It's fairly barebones as far as sites go -- it's certainly not going to challenge larger global rivals such as Alphadraft or Draftkings for looks or functionality.
But its presence is important because it opens up matches for betting that have ordinarily been considered too unimportant. For those unaware of the context, I'm referring to the Cybergamer Main and Intermediate matches open for betting. (For those unaware, Cybergamer is Australia's largest and longest-running third-party site for video game tournaments.)
12 teams split across 2 groups currently make up the intermediate division, with another 12 teams in the main division. Coupled with the 8 playing in Cybergamer's highest league, it makes for a substantial amount of games that players can bet on over the course of a season.
Curiously, however, the new betting site appears to have not fully consulted before lower league matches were opened to betting. One of Cybergamer's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive admins said it would be possible to remove intermediate and main-level games from being open to bets if there was community consensus -- although it raises the question why that consensus was not sought out before SkinBet began accepting bets and inventory trades from players.
Players and observers have already questioned the wisdom of the move and the potential for players to be influenced to throw matches as a result. SkinBet and Cybergamer both have rules against this, although it's not yet confirmed whether Valve would extend permanent bans to players banned for match fixing in lower level online competitions.
First place for the top echelon of online competition in Australian CSGO is $3500, with $1500 for second
Concerns about integrity aside, the presence of SkinBet marks a reality that the wider esports community has seen coming for a while. Fantasy betting and skin trading is already enshrined within the CSGO and Dota 2 communities; the sale of stickers alone is becoming increasingly lucrative for international stars and their organisations.
The expansion of real money betting into local tournaments also seems inevitable. Weekly games in League of Legends Oceanic Pro League, the Call of Duty World League, or major tournaments for the fighting game community, such as the OzHadou nationals, Shadowloo Showdown or Battle Arena Melbourne, are just some of the regular fixtures in the local esports calendar that sites and bookmakers could investigate.
The more interesting question is what the response will be from legislators, given that SkinBet is registered in Australia. Will local skin trading/betting sites will be treated the same as their real-money counterparts (such as the Moneyball daily fantasy sports site), or will a much stricter approach be taken?