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Big data analytics means big bucks for esports

Big data analytics is vital for esports today and in the future. The esports community started professionalising its passion some time ago, and has developed a serious industry which has prospered in an almost purely digital ecosystem, producing vast amounts of data over the years. In the digital esports world, which thrives on generating publicity just as much as the physical sports world does, collecting large amounts of structured data is no mean task – but it is worth the effort.

Big data means big bucks for esports. Big data analytics has already become economically relevant in esports, and its impact on the sector is only going to increase.  Data collection, aggregation, and analytics leads to highly scalable business models, especially in a dynamic digital industry.

How does esports use big data?

Competitor and performance analysis is central to professional esports preparation. This naturally involves players watching and analysing their opponents' gameplay, strengths and weaknesses before tournaments and trying to use this information in key moments during a game. The advent of big data analytics in esports means players and teams can leverage their information in ways that were not possible before. Powerful AI-supported analytics tools analyse hundreds of data points harvested from digitally recorded games. They provide useful statistics, identify weaknesses of competitor players and teams, and predict the likelihood of an opponent’s next move in any given situation. This is valuable information, and players, coaches and teams are happy to pay for the services that deliver a competitive edge.

In-game data is also being monetised for the betting industry. Betting on esports is a relatively recent phenomenon. It first appeared on illegal betting websites around 2013-2015, but was subsequently banned by publishers. Now, acting in a regulated environment, esports betting is growing as fast as the number of viewers. Total wagers are expected to reach USD 8bn in 2019. Providing live in-game data plays a major role for the betting industry, enabling it to create markets for in-play betting.

Protecting high-stakes data

Data analytics services in esports are therefore highly valuable to players and their coaches, and to the betting industry. Given that the stakes are high, they are ready to spend serious money on data services. This means that service operators are well advised to ensure appropriate valuation and effective protection of their business when they enter service agreements.

When a business model involves providing data, the service provider necessarily (at least partially) loses control over the data that is transmitted to the customer. How can this data be protected? IP rights in unstructured data do not exist in most jurisdictions, which rules out a number of statutory instruments covering the protection of intangible goods like data. Some IP rights, however, can extend to structured databases and their use, which by agreement can be strictly limited to a particular use. The use of an API (application programming interface) – a digital connector from which other software retrieves data – can be the object of a licensing agreement, allowing its use only in return for payment and under certain limitations. Thorough and meticulous drafting of licensing agreements or other terms of use is therefore vital when businesses want to keep control of their data when it is offered as a service.

GDPR – the EU’s data protection regulations – raises new questions over who owns the data generated during esports and its use by data processors. GDPR transferred considerable leverage to data subjects concerning their personal identifiable information (PII). By processing in-game data, the PII of every player is being processed – and eventually monetised. This means data processors need a legal basis for carrying out the processing, and may also need to conform with GDPR's information obligations. It is unclear whether and to what extent this will become an issue – high profile GDPR cases are yet to erupt in the esports industry. In such a dynamic, international environment, this will only be a matter of time.


Portrait ofKlaus Pateter
Klaus Pateter