Here we have with us Gianfranco Capozzi, the Head of Esports at Catena Media. He’s had one of the amazing careers you’ll ever find in this industry. An avid gamer from the childhood, he had worked five years in the Italian Army before finding his true niche in gaming and esports.
Jump straight to the interview to read his insightful commentary on the present trends and technologies in esports and the role of cryptocurrencies, blockchain and artificial intelligence in this sector.
Q. Let’s begin with a quick introduction. It would be great if you briefly tell our readers about yourself and your career.
A. I had one of those atypical careers, I wore different hats and spent some time chasing after different opportunities: I spent 5 years in the Italian Army within the Engineer Corps, then I moved to the sunny island of Malta where I started working in HR and recruitment- before entering the world of gaming and esports.
That is where I’ve found my real vocation. I am adopting digital marketing channels and building digital products from scratch for an audience similar to myself.
I’ve been an avid gamer for all my life, I started playing with my uncle’s Commodore 64 when I was 10, and eventually moved from PC to console gaming. Age of Empires and Dark Age of Camelot were my first online multiplayer games where I spent uncountable hours.
Q. We shall talk about esports now. How would you define the esports market? Is it a media product or a niche betting market? Enlighten our readers.
A.Esports are without a doubt a media opportunity for all brands and companies, even for those that are galaxies away from the gaming industry.
All you need to do is look at the different sponsors that have shown up at the leagues and tournaments: from BMW to McDonald’s, marketers have understood that if they want to attract the new generations, traditional advertising channels are no longer enough. TV advertising, magazines, and other legacy media are part of history.
As we grow older and our responsibilities grow, the time available for playing games (especially competitively) decreases. For those who want to stay connected with gaming, watching esports is a nice option.
Even if you can’t play, you can always place a bet on esports. It’ll definitely make the match even more thrilling.
Q. What are the growth rate and new trends in the esports sector?
A. We’re seeing an unprecedented growth rate in the esports sector. As has been shown in various reports from Newzoo, Statista and even BusinessInsider, the esports market is growing rapidly with projections of a value over $1.5 billion by 2023.
Aside from the statistics, which are typically interesting for investors or professionals in the industry, a shift in mindset is becoming more and more prominent.
Originally set as a subsection of sport, or of the larger gaming sector, esports are now becoming a full industry with a vivid ecosystem and a strong presence in all 5 continents.
The major driving force, in my opinion, will be the release of new games which are oriented towards generating new leagues and competitive teams. We have been closely watching the rise and glory of the battle royale games (such as Fortnite, PUBG), to the second Riot title which encountered immediate success, VALORANT, and even mobile gaming which is constantly on the rise.
I think it’s difficult to predict what will happen next, what game will be the top-notch in the market, or which revolutionary game genre or feature will disrupt the growing ecosystem. What we can do is follow the scene, contribute to it with our interests, and work on its development.
Q. How do you think the Covid 19 outbreak affected the growth of esports, especially after a number of outdoor sports events were cancelled?
A. I believe that Covid-19 accelerated the growing trend of esports. We moved on from asking ourselves if “Esports is considered a sport” to the 2020 statement “Esports is the only sport available”.
People who never had any interest or knowledge in esports suddenly became interested, as that was mainly the only option. We’re pretty confident that many liked it after the first dip, and even stayed interested in esports following the pandemic.
Q. What are the new esports betting technologies and innovation that you would like to witness the iGaming industry?
A. We’ve already seen some great and innovative products being built and constantly upgraded in recent years, especially in relation to esports betting technologies. With more operators being attracted to the industry, we can be sure that we will see even more products being reinvented or actually created for the needs of esports betting.
You only need to look at the opportunities to Bet on Streamers (pioneers like Unikrn, GG.bet and Rivalry have been advancing on these), or Virtual Esports- where you bet on the outcome of AI-driven games, making it available 24-7 and more similar to a Casino product, rather than the traditional sportsbooks.
These and similar products are the next game-changers, as Millennials and GenZ are becoming the main customers of the online betting industry.
Q. What is your take on the combined growth of esports and cryptocurrencies? Why these two new-age elements are ideally placed to coexist and flourish together?
A. I am a great supporter of the cryptocurrency movement and I believe that Betting on esports with crypto will soon become the norm.
The combination of these two new-age elements is ideally placed to coexist and flourish together, because it’s easy for anyone anywhere in the world to make a bet using cryptocurrency at odds which are better than ever before.
The esports and crypto industries have a lot in common, as their audiences are both highly engaged, with a decentralised mind-set and thirst for innovation.
Moreover, the vast majority of esports audiences are young and tech savvy – which makes them perfect candidates for crypto enthusiasts as well.
Q. How are blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies going to impact the esports betting industry?
A. I believe blockchain technology and cryptocurrency can revolutionize the esports betting industry, it will allow for a more transparent betting experience, lower transaction fees and an easier way to identify underaged users. This is particularly important for our young and emerging industry.
Blockchain technology is already starting to be implemented in the esports industry, not only for the betting contract-security component, but even through the release of NFTs and assets that can be adopted and boosted by small or large enterprises at any level. Adopting blockchain technology and cryptocurrency in this day and age is a step toward the future that we’re building – especially for the upcoming generations.
Q. How will AI and machine learning affect the online marketing for betting and gambling? Do you foresee a takeover by machines?
A. AI and machine learning are already being used in online marketing, with programs that automatically optimize the website design and other aspects of a company’s marketing campaign.
But nope! The human element is what makes betting fun – it can’t be automated to make decisions for you (unless we’re talking about blackjack). What AI can improve, in my view will be the gaming experience, as it allows you to collect and analyse huge volumes of data, and generate feedback and suggestions for further improvements.
Gaming providers and esports betting operators can implement AI and machine learning solutions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their services in different departments: from customer support -via Chatbots for example, to odds trading, digital marketing campaigns and so on.
Q. Finally on to Catena Media. What makes Catena special from the other companies in the vertical of lead generation?
In Catena Media, and in particular when it comes to our esports betting division where we operate specialist products like EsportsBets.com, we’re after innovation and creativity. We have the customer acquisition tools, the analytical insights and the understanding of how to use them for maximum effect. That is invaluable in this industry.
And it’s not just about our own products either – we work with partners too, ensuring they get to market as quickly and efficiently as possible, irrespective of whether it’s a world-famous brand or a new start-up which is just about to get started within the sector.