First ESports Event A Hit In Atlantic City

Madden '22 competition at Hard Rock let participants bet on themselves

The Green Bay Packers defeated — well, the Green Bay Packers — in the title game of the Madden ’22 ESports competition at the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City last weekend.

The event, sponsored by Esports Entertainment Group and LANDuel, was noteworthy for being the first sanctioned skill-based wagering event held in the U.S.

More than 16,000 viewers of the livestreamed event watched professional competitors such as DubDot, Joke, and OneGreatUser play. Up to 300 on-site spectators — including representatives from multiple casinos, resorts, and professional sports teams — attended the tournament.

Competitive Madden player Jaybird received the first-place prize of $3,600.

“I am honored to be the first LANDuel champion,” Jaybird, the manager of the winning squad, said in a statement. “The entire tournament ran very well, and the team at EEG took care of the players, which means a lot to me. Instant payouts aren’t commonplace in large-scale tournaments, so this is another thing they knocked out of the park. I’m excited to take part in future tournaments and defend my title as LANDuel Champion.”

Grant Johnson, CEO of Esports Entertainment Group, said, “The strong interest in the event by participants and spectators showcases what we already knew about this industry: eSports players are excited for the opportunity to participate in peer-to-peer wagering on a tournament level.”

Betting on yourself

The tournament was the first eSports skill-based wagering event approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in which participants were permitted to wager on themselves in each round of the event. Players were able to place bets of up to $500 on their own matches as they tried to make their way to the finals.

The event space at Hard Rock Atlantic City also featured a dedicated set of PCs for non-tournament participants to compete in side matches on LANDuel, for up to a modest $25. That gave eligible tournament spectators and casino guests the ability to side-wager in their own matches outside of the tournament.

“We are extremely proud to offer a one-of-a-kind eSports wagering experience in partnership with EEG,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. “We are confident that this innovative and highly regulated partnership will prove to be a success, contributing to our market-leading gaming offerings.”

Johnson told NJ Online Gambling Wednesday that a number of casino operators were intrigued by the high number of competitors and spectators who were under the age of 30.

“The player versus player betting also was of interest, as a lot of the trash talking got a little raucous,” Johnson said. “And a lot of [eSports] influencers said they wanted to be involved in the next event.”

A handicapping system was in place, Johnson added, to set up similarly skilled players to face each other, “which makes it better for everybody.”

The event was held on Saturday and Sunday, and Johnson said he was gratified that so many of those eliminated on Day 1 returned to play “side games” with other players on Sunday. There were logistical challenges, however, with Johnson noting a shortage of hotel rooms existed for the competitors in that March Madness also drew crowds to Atlantic City.

Next steps not entirely clear

A number of casino operators have sought to work out exclusive deals for such eSports competitions, Johnson said.

Also, a professional sports franchise — which Johnson did not name — sent representatives. They were “extremely interested,” he said, in trying to figure out how to attract eSports events to their facility.

The possibilities for future eSports tournaments are to be showcased April 19-22 at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention in Anaheim, California.

“We don’t have a hard plan for the next event,” Johnson said. “But this works for getting steady foot traffic to a casino from the under-35 demographic. Their slots players trend more age 60-plus, and that’s not a viable economic plan.”

Photo: Shutterstock


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