International edition
September 16, 2019

Interview with WIN's founder and CEO Serge Vardanyan

"Casinos need to organize regular eSports events and promote them to the right audience"

"By utilizing both (online and on-site eSports tournaments), the casino will bring not only the gamers to their premisses, but also their fans, friends, and families," says Serge Vardanyan.
United States | 09/03/2019

Ahead of its address at the Casino eSports Conference Las Vegas, Vardanyan tells Yogonet that young eSports fans and players do not feel that casinos are part of the eSports movement, mainly due to a lack of continuity. He recommends organizing tournaments online and then holding the final stages on-site; and hiring people who understand the esports ecosystem and know the community.

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he Casino eSports Conference (CEC Vegas) 2019 is taking place on September 4-5 in Las Vegas at the Luxor Hotel & Casino, aiming to connect the casino world directly to esport players, marketers, developers, products, services, event providers, lawyers and educators. Organized by Clarion Gaming, the event provides direct and informative connections to facilitate the infrastructure for all gaming establishments looking to incorporate the esport gaming world, as well as iGaming and skill-based gaming.

One of the exhibitors in Las Vegas will be WIN, the company behind Winners League, and which will soon launch Winners.bet, a sportsbook built and designed specifically for eSports. WIN’s founder and CEO Serge Vardanyan spoke with Yogonet ahead of its participation as a speaker at CEC Las Vegas.

Rivers Casino Schenectady hosted a Madden NFL esports tournament in July. Are you considering potential partnerships with land-based casinos for further LAN events?

It’s no secret that games like slot machines are losing their appeal to younger demographics and in order to bring in more foot traffic, casinos are looking for alternative channels. Esports is at the top of that list. The Mystic Lake Casino in Minnesota organised an esports tournament last year. The event was well received and crowded with attendees. But were they able to capitalize on that increased foot traffic? I’m not so sure. One-time events can work, but their effect is temporarily because once the event is done, the gamers leave the casino and rarely come back. So even though the casinos are able to bring in the new foot traffic to the casino floor, they still struggle to engage them as returning customers.

Why in your opinion are the gamers not coming back? What can casinos do in order to convert gamers into loyal casino visitors on top of organizing these kind of events? 

Young esports fans and players do not feel that casinos are part of the esports movement. They don’t yet believe that any casinos or gamin providers are genuinely committed to supporting their community in the long-term. The main reason for this is that most of the esports tournaments organised by casinos are one-time events. There is no continuity. I’ll provide an example. San Manuel Casino in California, along with many other casinos, are organising slot tournaments every Friday. Slot players follow these events, are kept up-to-date on these events, and in turn these events are hosted at full capacity. This same dedication should be implemented with esports tournaments. It’s good that Rivers Casino Schenectady has hosted an esports event, but when will the next one be?

Here’s another example: every Wednesday, there is a bingo night at the Black Bear Casino Resort in Minnesota. That is the bingo player’s day, they know what to expect, and it’s working. Casinos should adopt the same approach to esports. Once the gamers feel that they are not being treated as “tourists” but more like “locals,” they will come back. Everyone will know that at this casino, every set night is an esports night. It becomes a place where they can compete in a small tournament or cheer for their friends at the bar, then maybe go to the restaurant or play some table games. It becomes a weekly hangout. These esports events must become a regular occurence at the casinos in order to work. Some casinos such as Luxor and Downtown Grand in Las Vegas invested into the infrastructure and created esports Arenas.

What will you recommend to those casinos that want to be in the esports game but don’t want to invest millions into infrastructure? Also, there are casinos that don’t have extra space for arenas. What will be your advice to them?

Just building an arena won’t be enough in and of itself. You can’t just build a football stadium and assume that NFL games will be held there. The casino needs to organize events and promote them effectively and to the right audience. Another issue that has been fairly pointed out is that, unfortunately, not many casinos want to invest in this infrastructure. In some cases it’s because of budgeting, while others simply don’t have the space available. For these casinos, I’d recommend to partner up with esports event organisers who can put together the required infrastructure for a day and make use of existing event spaces, like a banquet hall or something similar. I understand that it’s easier said than done, and doing it every week may initially seem onerous. It’s possible that events could be organized once every month or two, perhaps on a slightly larger scale. There just needs to be an element of consistency so the players and fans understand that the organizer is just as committed as they are.

You were talking about the importance of continuity. How will doing an event once a month keep that engagement? 

Great question. In order to maintain interest and engagement, I’d recommend organizing the tournament online and then holding the semifinals or finals on-site. Everyone knows that gamers live in a digital world. The casino can enter into this world by providing the opportunity for players to compete from the comfort of their homes. Trust me when I say that everyone will come to see the final match if it’s sufficiently promoted. Let’s not forget that esports has proven to be great for spectators both online and in live venues. By utilizing both, the casino will bring not only the gamers to their premisses, but also their fans, friends, and families. They’ll also be able to maintain a connection to players and fans through the digital competitions they organize. 

What will be your practical advice to the casinos who want to enter the esports space? Where should they start?

I think the first step should be hiring people who understand the esports ecosystem and know the community. Develop a strategy by making use of their expertise. The casino must decide on their individual approach and whether they want to build an arena or a small event center, or convert an existing space. After deciding on this, I’d strongly recommend to hire a professional company who will handle the actual event setup. If they don’t want to invest so heavily, they can go the contracting route. There are also professional organizations who specialize in esports marketing and can help to reach out to the right audiences. Whichever direction they decide to take, I’d strongly suggest running online tournaments parallel to the live events. Winners League is a success story showing how online tournaments can be organized both from the technical side and the marketing side. WIN is now aiming to spread out these offerings even further and share in our success and expertise by organising these type of events for the casinos and gaming operators. I’ll be speaking at the Casino Esports Conference (CEC) at the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, taking place September 4-5. I’ll be happy to discuss potential partnership opportunities or to just share my knowledge and expertise in the space while there. 

How could the online sports betting boom in that country affect your business areas with WINNERS.bet, also regarding your WINNERS League entry into North America?

While the United States has recently enabled individual state governments to tackle legalized sports betting, there is still a lot of work to be done at the state level in most parts of the country. Our focus with regards to the WINNERS.bet launch remains on the European marketplace, where the platform will initially be based. In the future, we will of course be open to expanding to any and all areas that are receptive to business development in sports betting, including the United States. Winners League, on the other hand, can immediately integrate with gaming operators as it does not rely on betting markets. So our immediate domestic focus in the United States will be on growing and promoting our league and connecting with the right partners to better achieve those goals.

What other WIN’s projects could you tell us about in advance? Are you looking into new technologies, or boosting ones you’re already using with further roles, both for the league and WINNERS.bet?

We’re always working on new developments at WIN. The esports industry is very welcoming to new and different approaches to business, and we are always looking for ways to advance our goals of better serving this industry and its audience. I can’t speak on everything that we’re working on behind the scenes right now, but there is something that I will draw attention to. That is the work that we’re doing in data analytics and machine learning, which will enable us to offer a unique predictive service unlike any other currently available on the market. Being able to offer something to consumers that is unique to our company is something we’re very interested in. We’re excited about the possibilities afforded to us by our advanced analytics work and we’re looking forward to sharing more on it when the time is right.

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