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Esports gambling could lead to a slippery slope

(Photo courtesy of “Stage of an esports competition.”

Jake Messer
Connector Staff

Now that sports betting is becoming legalized in more states across the country, more and more adult sports fans will have the choice to enhance their own sports consumption at their discretion. They don’t have to play, but if they want to, they can now legally do so.  

This change has been well received by fans as they can finally gamble legally. States and casinos are reaping the rewards. With that being said, there has been a form of gambling that has been running for well over a decade. Esports gambling, where children are the main players. 

All the way back in 2012, Electronic Arts (EA) released a new game mode titled, “Ultimate Team.” In this mode, players could construct their own teams with their favorite athletes to compete online.  

The athletes were given stats and ratings. The higher ratings an athlete had, the more desirable they were as they gave the player the best chance of winning. The system took the shape of sports cards, and the best way to get the best cards was to open packs, similar to how real life sports cards work.  

It started out innocently enough, but over time this mode began to morph into one of the most cash grabbing, pay to win modes in the whole video game industry. EA realized that if they made the packs the center of the game, and the easiest way to get them was to buy them with real money, then their profits and revenues would soar to new heights.  

They would also make the best players the hardest to get. This would entice players to spend even more money to try and get them for their teams for an advantage in online competitions. The problem is their main player base across their sports games is children and young adults. 

These kids spend real money hoping to get athletes like Lionel Messi, Patrick Mahomes, Connor McDavid, but they don’t understand how much the odds are stacked against them. This strong connection they have to their favorite athletes means they’ll spend more and more to try and get them, even though the odds of getting the most desirable players are usually less than 1%. In simpler terms, children are unknowingly developing gambling habits. 

The game’s age rating is E, which is meant for everybody, kids and adults alike. This is especially troubling when one factors in that around 10.3 million copies of “FIFA 23” were sold world wide. If even half of that number were kids, then over 5 million kids played a gambling centric game. 

Some might argue that this isn’t a big deal and that kids aren’t falling for it, but the financial numbers say otherwise. In the final quarter of 2023, EA reported record breaking live services sales. According to EA, overall revenue from just their live services, ultimate team, reached upwards of $1.3 billion for all their games across the third quarter of that year, which is up 5% from 2022. In comparison, total game sale revenue topped out at $618 million in the third quarter.  

It is clear that the money isn’t in game sales, it’s in their online gambling services they provide. They have continued to squeeze out every chance they get to increase revenue by making packs more enticing to buy, with more expensive packs having better odds to get better players. In addition to this, they make it harder to acquire the athletes through just playing the game normally. By not spending money, you have to play the game for hours on end for some minuscule rewards. 

It creates an unfair advantage as players who spend no money stand no chance against people who have spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on their teams. The games, now more than ever, are pay to win, and if the player isn’t willing to pay, then they better accept that they will be at a disadvantage right from the start, regardless of skill level. 

Some action has already been taken to try and stop this problem. Countries like The Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Australia and England have all taken measures like disclosing odds, putting warning labels on the games and restricting access to minors. Belgium has even gone as far as to ban all forms of esports gambling in the country to try and combat the addictive gambling systems. 

As for the United States, change has been called for, but little to no action has been taken by lawmakers. As it stands, EA will continue to incentivize gambling to their player base and will continue using their pay-to-win system to profit off of children and young adults.  

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