"We had more users than ever before joining the platform," says Rahul Sood, Co-Founder & CEO of Unikrn, one of the esports betting companies that have benefited from the global growth seen by esports since the pandemic began.
In a video interview with Yogonet, he said the pandemic was basically a look into the future. "Things are not opening back again, I think they are going to shut down again soon. Sports are changing big-time. I've just got a letter from the Seahawks football team in Seattle saying that there likely may not be games this year in the stadium. So the idea that everything will go back to normal is just not the case," he said, adding that most companies were not ready for this situation.
When asked about increasing investment activity in the esports industry, Sood confirmed there is a lot of interest, and believes the factor that really sparked it was DraftKings going public, with their "incredible" valuation. "For Unikrn going forward, I think this is a defining year for us," he said, as the company goes through some regulatory actions while exploring a number of different opportunities that are coming their way since the pandemic started.
Watch the full video interview with Unikrn CEO Rahul Sood:
Regarding esports potentially taking over from traditional sports at some level, Sood noted that people who bet on traditional sports don't necessarily understand esports. He believes traditional sports bettors may play video games such as FIFA or Madden NFL, so Unikrn can onboard people onto the platform much easier as it allows those players to bet on themselves in those more mainstream games. "So it really depends on the offering, I think if you have an offering that speaks to regular people then yes, we could be a leading kind of customer acquisition vehicle, for customers waiting for sports to come back," he explained. "And then we can onboard them and teach them about esports overtime. If anyone tells you that esports is definitely going to take over sports and we're going to be the biggest gambling in the world on esports, it's nonsense, at the end of the day you need both, work hand-in-hand together, and I do believe that esports is absolutely becoming more relevant and it's growing, but it's still pretty nascent, it's still going to take time." He added that "the blue ocean for wagering experiences is gigantic and there's so much more opportunity in wagering on these things versus traditional sports, it's unbelievable."
Moreover, Sood referred to his work with the largest traditional casino operators for five years. "It took the pandemic to happen before they really started calling us and say we need to do something quickly, in a panic situation, they furloughed 90% of their employees and they want to get something out, it's insane that they're not ready. The reason they're not ready is that they weren't willing to invest in a new space because they're run by traditional CFO's who are looking at short-term gains and not long-term strategy. These people, I hate to say it, but in many of these operations they should be fired, and they need to bring on new thinking, younger people maybe who understand this space more, who understand this audience better, to help change the way they think about the future. The casinos were not prepared for this."
Unikrn CEO said casinos are interested in the esports space but they don't understand it. In that sense, he criticized the fact that gambling is not available at Luxor Esports Arena, for instance. "I have been saying this since the beginning, I talked to MGM, you've got this amazing arena there, why is there no gambling there?" Sood said. "Setting up an esports arena that is just a place to babysit your kids is not a good idea, I'm afraid."
"If you want to talk to this audience do it properly and call us, we'll be able to help you do it, and that's the point that I've been trying to drive for years, and it's a very fun business but a lot of the traditional operators are just too slow to move forward and they need to change that. The CEOs who get through this pandemic have to just completely change everything, and force this type of innovation, regardless of cost, they should just go make it happen, because I promise you, if they don't do it now, they won't be here 10 years from now. They aren't talking to their future customer, we are."
With regards to cryptocurrency, Sood believes the US is too far behind. "The lack of regulatory clarity in the US with regards to cryptocurrency makes it very difficult for a company like ours for example to be able to go to regulators with this. They don't have the apetite for that yet. Eventually they will, everybody will. As you can see now, Bitcoin is getting a far more mainstream attention, more banks are getting involved, it will eventually come around to where accepting cryptocurrency becomes more mainstream. We're going to continue doing it because we know that a younger audience likes that, and eventually we won't be so far ahead in the market. Right now I would say we're probably three to five years ahead of the market, which could be good and could be bad." "We offer it because we know it's coming, but eventually these things will collide," Sood concluded.