Interview: Bobby Longhurst Speaks to Asia Gaming Brief About Virtuals Gaining Ground

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for flexibility and shown the ability of online suppliers to rapidly adapt to new realities, with sportsbooks getting creative in searching out opportunities.

CCO, Bobby Longhurst shares his thoughts in this interview

How important is flexibility for suppliers in the current climate?

Nobody could have predicted this pandemic, but it just goes to highlight how important it is for both operators and suppliers alike, not to be so over reliant on one vertical. Those which have a multi-product offering that consists of casino games, virtuals and eSports will be a stronger than those that are primarily focused on a sportsbook only. A lot of lessons will be learnt from the current challenges that the industry is facing, but it’s not too late to evolve your offering going forward.

Can eSports and virtuals fill the current calendar void of sporting fixtures for those who sports bet rather than use online casino? And do you expect to retain them when sports returns?

It will never 100 per cent fill the void, but it will certainly help customers retain a large portion of their customer base by offering them an exciting and engaging product. Virtual sports were never invented to replace sportsbook offerings and they never will. They were designed to fill downtime between live sporting events and are certainly showing their worth now. It comes as no surprise to learn that turnover on virtuals has multiplied 10-fold since major live sporting action was brought to a halt. But even before this downtime, they provided double-digit percentage revenue streams for a large number of operators and are sure to have won over a few more regulars in the last couple of months. Though we will see regular sports betting return as the main driver of revenue, we expect virtuals to remain at a higher level than prior to this pandemic.

How can suppliers go the extra mile to help operator partners in difficult times, such as now?

We pride ourselves on being an agile and nimble provider and it’s why we’ve been able to support our partners with additional content that can be quickly activated during this difficult period.

We showed this within days of the live action stuttering to a stop by ramping up our wide range of virtual sports. We were able to ensure our customers were able to continue offering quality betting events when they need it most.

Has this crisis period opened the door for a period of sportsbook innovation?

Innovation is at the forefront of our industry, but at times it has proved shortsighted and I think it works more as a reminder that we do need to be set up to prepare for the worse. Of course, nobody saw the severity of this issue coming. However, FOBT limits have completely changed the retail scene and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for stake limits to be introduced online in various markets. That would be a hammer blow for a lot of operators and is another example of why contingency plans need to be drawn up by operators. It has opened up the doors away from traditional sports with aforementioned virtuals enjoying their time in the sun, but also for eSports. Perhaps the innovation could be a willingness and readiness to adopt these new verticals and appreciate what they can offer.

How are sportsbooks getting creative in the absence of live sporting events?

I think the whole industry has shown its creativity by adapting quickly to the current climate and collaborating with others to ensure that operators have the content they need to cope with the live sports shutdown. From a virtual and eSports perspective, it has been great to see Premier League footballers go head-to-head for charity, Formula-E stars battle it out on Sky Sports and the virtual Grand National fly the flag live on ITV in front of millions of viewers, raising over £2 million for the NHS in the process too. It’s safe to say that the once-a-year punters are a tough demographic to convince when it comes to virtuals, so even if it helped convince a small percentage of them, it was worth it. The fact it was also shown on primetime terrestrial television also proves that extra layer of trust to virtuals and that, added to the placement and promotion of virtuals online, is sure to have boosted them.

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