Video interview: Ari Fox, Casino Esport Conference

"The problem with casinos' user acquisition is that they don't connect to a community"

2022-04-27
Reading time 9 min

The Casino Esport Conference (CEC) held its sixth edition on March 23 and 24, at the Alexis Park Resort in Las Vegas. And after a three-year hiatus as an in-person event, in the current global landscape where a digital and omnichannel presence has become the norm for traditional land-based casino operators, education on the potential integration of esports and extended reality, immersive technologies has taken a crucial role. 

"We're trying to teach the casino industry how to engage, how to connect with this new vertical," Ari Fox, Co-Founder and Executive Producer of CEC and Gameacon, tells Yogonet in a video interview after the event. "And of course, the gambling industry will gravitate toward what they understand, sports. But the takeaway from the Casino Esport Conference is that we're trying to change the conversation. The conversation is that you can approach esports the same way that you can approach general and conventional sports, and the way that people place wagers on it, the way that we look at it from that perspective, and it moves much quicker than what they're normally used to in the casino world and in sports wagering."

In Fox's view, there hasn't really been major innovation in this space for years. "We've had the typical slots and the table games and all the other stuff, and there hasn't really been gravitation toward creating much more immersive experiences, creating something that is much more impactful to a younger audience. What is currently at a casino today, what we have both in the online offerings, and that's changing, and in the brick and mortar is something that is much more geared to a Gen X generation or a Boomer generation kind of an experience or entertainment," he says. He explains that building a casino like 60 years ago with a room of slot machines would see people easily lose interest. The need to have additional experiences drove casinos to add extra amenities back then to further engage their audiences, which led to today's Las Vegas resorts.

"We're going through the same thing again. But the integration, the technology is what's driving this entertainment. So it's not just about a brick and mortar that looks like Venice or it looks like the Bellagio, it's really gorgeous, and those things are great in the real world, but it's that immersive, that hologram, that online experience, because it's all coming from video gaming, the development, and the growth into blockchain, the NFTs on the back end, the metaverse, Web 3.0. All this stuff has to be integrated into their offering because this is where the younger audience and their next audience is living," Fox explains.

The interview was conducted during ICE London week, and CEC Co-Founder cites executives and talks focused on the numbers, and not about the customer, or the experience. "If you want to talk numbers, there are 3 billion gamers worldwide, but only about 10% of those people are actual competitive video gamers. They either watch it or they play it. The rest of them are casual gamers. What does that mean? I know what it means, because I run a Gameacon conference, and I have a community of people that I've been talking to since 2014. People come in, regular video gamers, and I ask every single one of them, 'Would you come back to this casino if you could play a video game for money, and then earn points at this casino to get a free meal, to get a nice hotel room?' 'Of course I would!', they answer. But as the casino stands right now with the offerings that they have, this is going back to 2015, 2016. 'Would you come and experience the casino as it is?' 'No, that's for my parents, or that's my grandparents. There's really nothing for me here.' So the vision of what needs to happen is going to happen."

Furthermore, Fox points out a problem with industry conferences, which is that everyone takes for granted that people who attend panels understand what the speakers talk about. "And nine times out of ten, they don't even know what they're talking about, what's going on. It's a complete mess," he says, and notes that the CEC tries to see people actually understand and learn something. After the conference is over, there is a section on the CEC website to join in a chat with other people and talk about what they are doing at their property, online casino or iGaming platform, and share with the gambling or esports community how they are able to make money from those experiments.

"Because the one thing that's very different about gamers, and video gamers in particular, is that it is a community. That's the thing. We have to understand that we're really dealing not with numbers, but it's about the people that you want to come to your property or to work to play on your platform online, and build that community and that following, the loyalty to that property. I can't stress enough about how important it is that the younger generations today are so attached to the loyalty of a product. It's been around since the beginning of time. You look at companies like Nike and Apple and, now Skechers is even gotten big. They all find a niche in a community, and they have a community outreach. I would suggest that every casino that's on the planet have a community outreach person," Fox underlines, and identifies this as a key obstacle for traditional casino operators and their user acquisition: "They don't connect to a community."

"Hard Rock has a good name to start with, a good following from the Hard Rock cafes that existed before, and all the Hollywood influence, and the music influence, and the signed guitars from Kiss," he continues. "But taking Hard Rock as example, even Hard Rock's connection, interwoven into that music world is aged. They've aged." Fox says the younger generations want to create their own content. "They're all creators. They have their own imaginations. They want to create entertainment themselves. They want to be the centre of it." And he sees different ways to integrate that. "You can have an influencer that represents your label, Hard Rock Casino. And that influencer could challenge people and play people in video game competitions, or they're your reach out, your pull-in of people, and the way that younger people connect online, anyone if they build themselves up and get enough followers can create their own content, their own thing. But keeping in mind these older labels like Hard Rock and things like that."

Back in March, Esports Entertainment Group (EEG) hosted the first sanctioned skill-based wagering event in the US, Madden NFL ’22 tournament, at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in New Jersey. When asked about this, Fox says that "a lot of these companies like EEG, and also Esports Technologies, "it's almost like they try to buy, they're buying the idea. They get a lot of people with a lot of money. They dump a lot of money on the table and they say, okay, I'm going to buy esports, and I want to buy esports wagering." He also exemplifies this with the Allied Esports arena at Luxor Las Vegas. "Their concept is, I'll build this thing, guess what? Everybody's going to come to it, and it's going to be the greatest thing. It's not how it works with younger people. You have to earn their business."

As a positive example, he cites a Las Vegas venue called Area 15, offering an immersive experience. Meow Wolf has an art installation, Omega Mart. "And that place is packed all the time, and they have virtual reality experiences. There's people zip lining on the ceiling. So it's packed, with millennials and Gen Zs. They put a lot of money into that, yes, but the way that they interacted with their audience was in a creative way. They allow in the audience to discover, to go through this art installation and this creation, to explore the human nature, to explore and discover. Younger people love that because they're constantly on their iPhones, all the time. And I'm going to quote the CEO of Meow Wolf, Vince Kadlubek, who spoke at the CEC. He said if the younger audience is more excited to see what's on the phone and not being challenged from what's out here, then you really have a problem. And that's the key, is that if you can create some kind of an experience, brick and mortar wise, that can really gain their attention outside of that small little box that they're carrying around, or even utilizing this little box as an AR experience, you really can connect to people and younger people in the ways that they really want to connect."

In terms of user acquisition, Fox notes the cultural factor behind this, which he describes as featuring indie games, esports games, interaction with friends, rave parties, musicians playing gaming music, cosplay, among other features. "And so my vision is one day to have a video gaming or adult arcade casino where the cocktail waitresses are dressed up as anime characters or something like that. So this is the future. And it constantly has to be changing because you have to be creative." And he adds: "If you're not part of the culture, it's hard to attract that culture. And they'll see right through it, every gamer, you're not part of my world."

The CEC Executive Producer also stresses as a key factor the personal contact with the audience, with each individual person. "So if there is a person that's going to start Unikrn, they really need to be at events like PAX. They need to be at events like Dreamhack. They need to be at events like Gameacons, on the ground level, talking to people about their product, just like anyone else would be talking about their product, just like Coca-Cola still does, all the old companies still do." And he adds: "It's just one interaction with a customer, and you can have that customer for life. And I think there's a lot of that that's missing. And the casinos expect that if they're going to throw something online, that people will gravitate to it. And they'll build their user acquisition. And user acquisition is everything that matters."

"It's funny because they talk about the numbers all the time, and how many people are following. But then you look at their actual social media and they have nothing. I mean, most casinos and online casino products, their social media is horrible. I mean, they have limited Twitter followings. They have limited Instagram followings. They don't have anything on Discord, which is a major video gaming social media platform. So it's like, you create this huge thing, and then you take an ad out in the newspaper, which nobody reads, or at least the audience that they're trying to track won't read. And you think that you're doing what you need to do. The biggest part I've got to say is the marketing. They do not market properly," Fox says. 

In Fox's view, this represents a huge opportunity today. He mentions an experience with betting on the Super Bowl inside a metaverse bar, with the NFL game being broadcast live inside that virtual space, and people taking bets through crypto. "So it'll happen whether the casinos are part of it or not, it's a question of whether they're going to engage and take advantage of that. And in my opinion, I think it's a little bit of a fear factor in the casinos and the gambling space, because I don't think they understand it. And anything you don't understand can be a little scary. That's why we have the Casino Esport Conference. That's exactly why we have it, because we're trying to say to you, change is good. Casinos could change their whole view of what a metaverse is. Do you know how great it would be if, like, Native American casinos could create their own coin? They're always looking to try to find more ways to make money for their reservations."

"There's an unlimited amount of ways today technologically that all these companies can benefit from. They hold all the keys to the castle. It's a question of how do they implement it? How can they learn from it? And we do all the research all year round. And then I build up an agenda for the Casino Esport Conference, and then I have people come that are actually implementing these things," Fox tells Yogonet. He says casinos don't even have to build their own metaverse, given that there are several metaverses that already exist, like Ultraverse or Decentraland. "It wouldn't cost them that much money because so many metaverses already exist. You just build within that metaverse. That's it. So I go to Decentraland and then I find Unikrn there, and I can go to the Unikrn store, and I can hang out in Unikrn world for like, forever. But it's part of Decentraland. I didn't build the metaverse. I just built a piece of property in it that's called Unikrn."

Watch the full video interview with Ari Fox on our YouTube channel.

 

 

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