Betting on esports is all about knowing the teams, players and current metagames as well as you possibly can.
Are we done here? Can I knock off early today?
No, of course that’s not all there is to it. Think of knowledge of players and teams like a basic four-year college degree. At one time, in the early days, it may have been a ticket to a great job all by itself. Now, too many other people have one – so it’s just table stakes.
Team and player research is the fundamental basic knowledge you need to have to be a profitable esports bettor. So what’s the layer that goes on top of that?
It’s an intriguing melange of techniques, qualities and information – money management, psychology, technical knowledge, self-control and more.
A phone book might not be enough to cover everything in full detail. But in today’s post, I’ll try to give you a very strong launching point with 10 important ingredients in that secret sauce.
1 – Treat Your Esports Bets Like Investment Assets
Sports betting shares some very fundamental similarities with stock trading, particularly with options and futures trading. In fact, betting exchanges directly incorporate basic principles of these trading categories.
Relatively few esports bettors are able to make it long-term as full-time professional gamblers. Of the ones that have that I’ve personally encountered, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they often come from a financial trading background of some sort.
In part, this concept overlaps with the simple fundamental of doing good research before placing wagers. Looking for favorable money lines and spreads is akin to timing the market, reviewing both historical and current performance data for relevancy to an upcoming match is akin to evaluating stocks to find the undervalued ones, and so on.
The trading mindset is the other big part of the advantage. For example, making risk mitigation a central focus of your betting process. Or sticking to simple bets that you can calculate the probability of with relative ease, as opposed to something extremely complex like a 15-leg parlay
2 – Learn to Keep a Low Profile
This tip isn’t about winning any one specific bet, but it’s key core advice for any esports bettor to have in their mental file before they start racking up those wins.
Generally speaking, esports is a low liquidity area of sports betting. They’re very young and bookmakers still don’t entirely know what they’re doing across the board. That means more opportunity for sharp bettors, but also relatively high market volatility and bookies that are very trigger-happy when it comes to limiting winners.
The downside of the greater prevalence of bookie mistakes in esports betting is that sharp bettors stand out to them much more readily than in something like the NBA or NFL. The only area where you start to see comparable levels of liquidity is in the biggest tournaments for the biggest esports: think the Dota 2 International or the League of Legends World Championship, the events that start to get viewership numbers that rival playoff games in traditional sports.
So what does that all mean for you? To put it in a nutshell, even if you’re great at picking winners you have the added layer of considering how the unique esports liquidity situation impacts your betting odds and access over time. Getting marked as a sharp can mean everything from worse odds for you personally to simply being banned from the site.
First, understand how the macro liquidity game works in esports. There is excellent opportunity to be found in smaller leagues and competitions, but you’ll have to expend more time finding action and account for more risk of fraud and match fixing. You’re also much more likely to pop up on the bookie radar after just a few wins. The higher-liquidity matches like The International will give you much more room to conceal yourself in the flow of bets, but finding favorable lines is more of a challenge as more liquidity always means more fellow sharps in the pool.
Got a handle on esports betting liquidity? OK, now it’s time to start thinking about how to be a betting ninja.
One of the biggest “red alerts” for a bookmaker is cashing out after a number of wins, which usually triggers an automatic review of your account. You can sometimes stay below the radar by simply not cashing out until you’re comfortable with all of your future action with that particular book potentially being limited.
Some other ways to avoid being labeled a sharp include:
- Make small deposits over time, ideally right before weekends or the biggest events
- Placing bets in multiples of ten or five, even if your betting strategy says differently
- Sticking to just one bet per game (per bookie)
- Only very infrequently going near maximum bet limits
- Throwing in some small parlays or accumulators when you’re doing well
A rigorous examination by a pair of trained eyes will likely get you labeled as a sharp, and that will happen eventually at most betting sites if you win enough from them. These techniques will help to keep you from tripping automatic detection methods and hold that day off for as long as possible, however.
3 – Snipe Lines Late
If you’re really confident in a match result, the most favorable time to get your bet in is usually as close to the match as possible if the site allows limits to increase as the start time gets closer.
A couple of caveats to keep in mind, however. Favorable lines might be gone by that time. And as we discussed in the previous point, max betting (and winning) is a great way to get your account flagged as a sharp bettor. This is best done very occasionally on smaller, low liquidity matches.
4 – Models: Build or Buy?
Behind every long-term successful esports picking operation is a good model. That includes the betting sites. Of course, bookies aren’t going to tell anyone how they build their models, so gamblers are left to come up with their own.
Though many professional and semi-pro esports bettors have their own models, it’s rare for something that one amateur-built on their own to work well enough to reliably bring in profits over the long haul.
Successful models are usually the province of “fancy stats” wonks with advanced degrees in mathematical probability, and sophisticated sports betting syndicates with big bankrolls.
There are a couple of ways the individual bettor can deal with this. The first is to narrowly specialize. Really get to know not just one esport, but one segment of it – like a particular region, or even just following an individual team. Focus just on the variables and patterns present in that relatively small segment.
The other way is to tail good models. This area is a minefield that you need to proceed through with extreme caution, however. Successful models are an extremely valuable commodity and are protected as such. There is the added complicating factor that most of the “tipsters” out there are full of it.
There are good models out there that provide results to the public, though. Not a whole lot, but they do exist. The thing is, they’re almost always going to be a paid subscription service. A subscription model drastically cuts down the number of followers that could potentially ruin lines for the tipsters, plus it also gives them a nice added income.
So how do you evaluate tipsters? First of all, look for an established service with a long history. One or two successful years is too small of a sample size – that could just be luck. They should also place at least several hundred bets a year, and not have reports of deleting losing bets from their records.
There is all sorts of math you can do to evaluate tipster track records, but it all basically comes down to a verifiable record of profitability over at least a few years. Also, don’t just blindly follow one tipster – find several that are reputable (if possible for your chosen esport) and check their results against each other.
Once you’ve built a solid model of your own, check results against what you see happening as well.
There is one other indirect way to follow tipsters and smart money that costs nothing – it’s called “chasing steam.” Basically, you’re constantly watching lines for certain moves that indicate a betting syndicate or some other well-funded source is making a sharp play, and you mirror their bets before the lines adjust to it. You may only have a matter of minutes to make your move, however, so you’ll need to be spending significant time during the day monitoring lines and also have deposits with various betting sites ready and waiting so you can quickly get your bet in. Chasing steam is also something that some sportsbooks watch for and frown upon, so be mindful of that.
5 – Be Mindful of the Outsized Presence of “Sway” in Esports
“Sway” is a concept you’ll find across all kinds of sports betting. Basically, it’s misinformation – whether intentional or unintentional – that gets posted publicly and ends up influencing betting patterns.
Sway is all over social media sites, forums and video sites for all sorts of sports. Sometimes it’s due to someone just being well-intentioned but dumb and overconfident, sometimes it’s an intentional FUD campaign to try to manipulate lines.
Either way, esports is more subject to sway than traditional sports due to a number of factors. It basically boils down to lots of kids, lots of memes, and lots of people who don’t know what they’re doing due to the relative newness of it all.
Assuming that everything that is volunteered for free is sway is a mistake that can cost you, however. Passionate and smart people post valuable nuggets of information all the time just because they feel like chatting.
Always consider the source, but keep in mind that a lot of those sources are full of it. And look for opportunities to “fade the public” when sway is running rampant to the point that it’s moving lines.
6 – The Online vs LAN Impact
One technical item that newer esports bettors often overlook is how the game is being played. Are the teams competing online over an internet connection, or through a local area network (LAN) with computers linked directly to each other? Each adds their own elements to the match.
Internet matches bring with them the increased possibility of technical issues – lag, attempted outside interference (such as a “denial of service” attack), inter-team communications breakdowns, or one particular player having a problem with their own computer.
A LAN match gives players the most reliable hardware, connections and communication equipment possible. However, there’s almost always a crowd present. Some players falter in front of a live audience, especially in high-pressure situations.
7 – Keep Your Ear to Social Media
You don’t have to have a full long-term prediction model to occasionally come across a juicy piece of news that gives you a big advantage in one particular match. Sometimes, it’s as simple as monitoring team social media accounts.
— Golden Guardians (@GoldenGuardians) February 3, 2019
Look for the player and team accounts that are most frequently updated. In many cases, this is going to be Twitter. This is usually the first place that anyone learns about changes to the roster or to player status. If you spot it right away, you may be able to act on it before lines shift.
8 – Never (Well, Rarely) Go Full Kelly
The Kelly Criterion is something you’ll commonly see on betting advice sites. It’s a formula to control your bet amounts and minimize risk.
It’s a good thing to use, but the thing you see much less commonly is that it actually works much better if you cut the bet amount it suggests by half (or even down to a quarter). If reducing volatility and risk over the long run is your main goal, evidence indicates that smaller Kelly bets are better. Naturally, your expected return goes down with these smaller bets … but your protection from ruinous loss is proportionally much greater.
So why don’t you hear about this more often in betting circles? Because it’s a concept more commonly applied to stock trading, but it’s no less valid here.
9 – Learn What to Look for When Watching Games
Winning esports bettors watch lots of games, but watching lots of games doesn’t automatically lead to winning esports bets.
What do I look for in a #DBFZ team?
-Point char should have no bad matchups, back chars great assists
-First two chars should be capable of playing point in case of DHC kill
-Second char should be self sufficient with one assist
-Anchor should spend meter well and need no help
— Dacidbro @ Genesis (@Dacidbro) January 29, 2018
Matches will just slide off your brain unless you’re actively looking for certain things. For example:
- The style of play with each team lineup
- How different play styles tend to fare against each other
- How well players work together
- How players use particular characters
- How players and squads tend to perform on particular maps
10 – The Map Factor (“Maptics”)
Some esports matches come down to map selection. Analysis of how teams and players perform on a particular map is often key to prediction, yet is also one of the most frequently overlooked factors in esports betting.
Some games are all about map selection. CS:GO is a great example. The edge between two relatively evenly-matched squads is often determined by which maps they end up playing. This ties into the team’s play style and how well-suited it is for the known “best practices” for that particular map.
The Secrets are Spilled
So you’ve got the Colonel’s blend of 10 herbs and spices. You’ve still got to make the chicken, though. That means putting in the time to really get to know at least one esport and its field of competitors. Do that, have a solid bankroll and manage it properly, and put this advice to work. You should see solid improvements to your win rate, maybe even enough to make a living at this crazy game.