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New UK Study Investigates the Effects of Esports Gambling

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Over the past year, there has been a number of questions raised in regard to gambling elements found in video games. Most notably, loot boxes have been highlighted as a particularly questionable form of ‘gambling’ hidden in computer games.

Now, a new study from the University of York in England looks into the many ways in which gambling has found its way into the online gaming community.

Beyond loot boxes

The full study, entitled Beyond loot boxes: a variety of gambling-like practices in video games are linked to problem gambling and disordered gaming,” specifically questions the logic of focusing purely on loot boxes as a problem. In-game currencies, token wagering, social casinos, and esports are noted as potentially harmful elements for younger players.

The study took a sample of 1,081 adults from the UK, covering a broad spectrum of age, sex, and ethnicity.  A key take-away found that around 18 percent of the respondents had taken part in gambling-related activities since the beginning of 2020. However, it was unable to ascertain whether this involvement would result in problem gambling later on.

Esports Betting

Betting on esports differs quite considerably from betting on traditional sports, particularly in relation to understanding the game. It’s unlikely that non-gamers from a sports background would be attracted to esports unless it was a virtual version of a traditional game, like football. The most popular esports games focus on multiplayer and strategy games like Dota or Starcraft.

However, with the recent suspension of traditional sports around the globe, a lot of football fans or other sports enthusiasts have begun investigating esports betting. With esports exploding in popularity over the past few years, knowledge of the games is becoming more mainstream. As the study notes, the 2018 League of Legends World Championships enjoyed a viewership of over 44 million people.

The paper highlights a separate study that found a possible correlation between esports betting and problem gambling: Research has suggested that esports betting may be linked to esports spectatorship and video gaming, and that esports betting may be linked more strongly to problem gambling than traditional sports betting, it states. However, it concludes that there is a lack of knowledge with regard to the prevalence of the problem.

Online gambling and Esports

While many gamers who also enjoy gambling may play at or similar online casino sites, it’s unclear whether the same gambling activities cross over into esports gambling. The concept of being actively involved in playing a game for money versus betting on the outcome of somebody else playing a game does have significant differences.

Nowadays, the line between these two is becoming increasingly blurred. Games like “Strike! esports Bowling” provides a method for players to bet on themselves with real money while playing the game. Sites like Gamer Saloon make it possible for players to create new esports challenges or join existing challenges to play against other players online for real money.


Ultimately, the York University study found that loot boxes may only be the tip of the iceberg in relation to elements of gambling in gaming. In particular, it’s difficult to conclude whether the removal of these elements would actually reduce harm or simply turn players towards other (possibly more harmful) gambling activities.

However, researchers in the study do highlight the need for engagement and discussion going forward. As both the gaming and esports industry involves, emerging technologies threaten to increasingly blur the lines between what is considered safe gaming and what constitutes gambling.

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