Pinnacle on the rise as eSports kicks off a revolution

Jane Guan, the Chief Commercial Officer for Pinnacle points out how the growth of eSports is triggering a revolution within the gaming sphere, as companies re-tool to try and attract a younger generation of punters. Despite not offering bonuses, the company “does not shut down winners” says the CCO, noting that its strategy and brand are its strength in forging its place amongst the ever-evolving game.

We’re joined today by Jane Guan, the CCO of Pinnacle. You’ve been with the company for quite some time now. How has that been going so far?

It’s been quite a journey. So, I joined around seven years ago. And Pinnacle was established in 1998. So, obviously the company’s been running for some time. But looking back, the day when I joined, compared to today, it had more of a startup vibe to it. And now the teams are more mature.

You’ve been growing in so many different segments, including the massive explosion which has happened within sports betting, not only within the US, but also over here in Asia. So how was that demand picking up within Asia? And are there certain countries and sports which are the main focus?

So the last few years definitely have been interesting. COVID obviously had a huge impact on the sports calendar. So, we saw the traditional sports gone completely. For two months it was completely offline. So for Pinnacle, we have both our B2C brands,, but we also have our B2B, Pinnacle Solution. So, during the time when COVID hit, eSports for us was the primary sport that was gaining a lot of interest, we saw a 40 percent increase in turnover in eSports. And nowadays, when we are going back to normal, for Pinnacle particularly we are seeing a lot of increase in basketball.

Okay. That’s surprising. And that’s within the Asian market, or that’s overall?

I’d say it’s general. Generally speaking it’s across the board. I mean, basketball is, or US sports in general, is always one of the strongest products for Pinnacle. Over the last 12 months, our sportsbook team added a lot of coverage, the product got stronger, and kind of organically we just gained a lot of interest across both B2C and B2B.

So again, I think referring back to the eSports that Pinnacle has been running. So, we started offering eSports, as just something on the side for fun, from 2010. But from about the time when I joined, so 2016, we started seeing some interest on eSports, initially from I think the Asia region, but it also spanned across to European regions. Canada, as well, is a big market for eSports.

So, I think for the traditional sports, you’re kind of still looking at a similar audience as before. But for eSports in particular, this segment is definitely a younger generation who are more accustomed to seeing the products online streaming. And, you know, life backing experience is what they’re after.

Yeah, I mean, that’s been a bit of a revolution within the way that the online gaming sphere works, especially within sports betting, the live betting has completely taken over.

Yeah, absolutely.

So, in terms of the punters that you have, that you’re engaged with and that you’re trying to get, how do you make sure that they keep coming back to you? We’ve talked a lot about loyalty programs within recent forums and exhibitions and so on. What is the best way to actually get these customers, once they’re engaged, to keep coming back?

For us, product is the key. I think Pinnacle has a bit of a unique business model in the industry, where we are known as the sportsbook who doesn’t tend to offer bonuses. Whereas, you know, it’s obviously one of the key tools for marketing managers to get the players to come back. So, for us to get the players to keep coming back to us our biggest tool is to make sure we have a solid sportsbook product.

So what does that encompass? What would you say are the highlights that distinguish you to them coming back within that sportsbook product?

So, Pinnacle always has been (about) training internally. Nowadays, if we look at – across the market – I think a lot of companies use suppliers. So, as the punters look at a variety of websites, they are getting similar sportsbook offerings. So Pinnacle stands out from that perspective. And the other part is our business model as well. Again, we are known as the sportsbook who don’t shut down winners, we don’t tend to limit accounts. So that’s also something that’s very unique for punters.

What’s the crossover within that and regulation? We’re seeing much more increased regulation, especially throughout Asia, which has been lauded as a major benefit to the region. So what is the crossover between that and then your bottom line?

I think regulation and compliance is always something that’s constantly evolving. We have our legal and compliance team keeping on top of that and making sure we are up to date as to the latest regulations. We really go by it on a country-by-country or region-by-region process because for Asia you have less of a very clear set of guidelines from governments.

But we operate in regions such as Ontario, Sweden, Italy, who all have very specific requirements, and that’s specific to their region. For example, some of them are open to eSports, some of them are not.

Some of them limit bonuses.

So it’s more about, I guess, as operators, we just need to make sure we are understanding what’s the requirement and also make a full assessment as when we do a market entry decision, make sure we understand what’s the requirement, and what’s the potential cost that’s attached to it, because making sure our product meets the compliance standard can be also costly and time consuming.

Are there any markets where it’s been more difficult to ensure that you can achieve that compliance?

I think Italy is definitely one market that’s very specific. There’s obviously the hosting and the integration with the ADM etc. is quite unique. And also some of the betting rules are very different as to what we’ve been operating under in our .com business.

Within Asia, are there any of the markets which are a little bit more stringent with their regulations?

So, the Philippines is now making some changes to its licensing region. So, we don’t operate within the Philippines, but we have B2B clients who do and we speak to them. I think for the Philippines, they have some guidelines as to which products they can offer and which ones they cannot.

And there are some certificate requirements as well to make sure the suppliers they are using are certified by certain Institute’s. So, I’d say the Philippines has more of a clear guideline in that sense. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s stringent. I think it’s fairly reasonable from what we’re seeing, but again, this is a region that’s constantly going to be changing and I’m sure everyone’s watching that.

Exactly. Even within the Philippines, the specifics are already changing, sometimes month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter.
I want to delve quickly into eSports. Because I know that you have been focusing on that a lot recently. I’ve been happy to hear your panel discussions at some of the recent expos. What percentage do you think that esports is deriving in terms of revenue, in regards to betting?

So for us, I think, an easy analogy is – for us – it’s about the same size as tennis.

It’s not at the size as basketball or football at this point. But tennis is also something that’s very strong. And eSports for us is about the same time.

So can you give me a very quick breakdown of what would be your top five sports, including a eSports right now?

Sure. So there is football, basketball, baseball, then eSports and tennis.

I’m surprised about baseball, actually. Within Asia, would you say that would be driven more by the Japan interest or is that just overall interest?

Baseball is strong in Japan. It’s very strong in South Korea as well. We see that in particular with some of our B2B clients. And, actually, Taiwan is also a region where baseball is very, very big.

Back to demographics, the people are shifting increasingly online. That can provide a lot of different opportunities or challenges, especially as things are being streamed more often and live betting comes more into play. Do you think that in any way is reducing the desire for the different demographics to actually bet?

I think it’s actually the reverse. I think the live experience, it’s almost one package in a way, where they see the live action and they would like to back the teams they are supporting or prove that they understand the game. I think it’s more: how do we make sure that streaming and the live experience, and the live odds and live betting opportunities are nicely integrated together to give them an interesting and overall live betting experience.

Is there a bit of a learning curve when it comes to trying with some of the older generations, which aren’t quite up with the technology, is there a bit of a learning curve for them getting into understanding what product you’re actually offering?

Is this specific to eSports?

I think that sports betting currently is a little bit bigger than eSports, obviously. And I don’t envision somebody who’s in their 50s going to watch an eSports match, I could be completely wrong […]

I think that crossover would be difficult. But okay, so if you’re talking about sports betting, in general, then not really, there’s not so much a difference for a fan to watch football, live at the stadium, and, going to a betting shop to place a bet versus now you have everything on your mobile or tablet or in front of your desktop, and there’s the odds right next to it. So, I think technology has actually made things easier for them.

Within the kind of learning curve of all of the different odds, all of the different betting options. Are you finding it harder to onboard some of these players who may even be within their 30s and 40s but don’t quite understand, instead of: placing 100 on the traditional win or loset they have so many different options within the live betting scenario. Is that more difficult now to explain to them what everything is?

That definitely is a challenge. And I think it’s something that we are trying to figure out ourselves. And this is across traditional sports and eSports. So, you know, using eSports as an example, if you look at the eSports audience it’s massive. But watching eSports versus backing eSports is very different. So how do we make sure when our esports audience when they come over to the Pinnacle site, when they look at all these different odds, it doesn’t confuse them?

So, for us, we do have betting resources, or we call it a blog on our website, where we share some tips as it’s a variety of information material, ranging from what’s the probability? What’s the meaning of some of the betting markets? All the way to: here’s the fixtures for the upcoming major tournament, and what’s our traders’ views on it?

That’s definitely helpful material. I’m wondering about what component eSports is going to comprise and what type of timeline you’re kind of looking at. I was given a separate estimate by Daniel Long, actually from QTech the other day, and he was saying that within five to 10 years, we’re going to see more of the emergence of eSports. And it could potentially take maybe 30 percent of the revenue which is currently coming from typical sports betting. Do you think that that’s kind of within the ballpark of what you’re looking at also?

That’s very doable, I think. So, if we look at the growth trends, over COVID, we saw 40 percent growth in eSports. And this year, I think, so far we are seeing roughly 30 percent increase in eSports already. And like I said, eSports for us, is already at the size of tennis. So it If you compound that with the growth rate, I think what Daniel put up there is very doable.

Having come off of COVID, do you think that 2023 is actually a good comparison year? Or do we still need one more year to try and get a little bit more accurate predictions?

I think 2023 has been a really interesting year, with a lot of investors coming back to the eSports scene, We have seen, obviously, Saudi Arabia: they invested very heavily, running some eSports tournaments. And we’ve also saw some of our clients and other peers from the industry – they are running their eSports tournament, and those have been very successful as well. So, you know, I guess with the investment, the audience is going to come and the betting interest is going to grow with that as well.

So for us, size wise, this is globally, Dota 2 is the biggest. But if we look at per region, it’s very different. If it’s Europe it’s CSGO, if it’s Asia it’s very much Dota 2, and mobile title […]that’s massive in Southeast Asia right now. In terms of the betting, it’s still small, but I think it’s going to grow. And Valorant as the eSports title that’s growing hugely as well.

I really enjoyed speaking with you, I probably shouldn’t steal any more of your time. But I would love to speak with you again, quite soon. I’m sure that there’s going to be a lot happening within not only this space, but everything else that Pinnacle is doing. Thank you again for your time, Jane Guan, CCO of Pinnacle.

Thank you. Thanks a lot.

Kelsey Wilhelm
Kelsey Wilhelm is a broadcast, print journalist and editor based in Asia for over 15 years. Focused on content creation, management, cross-cultural exchange and interviews for multi-lingual productions. Writing focus on gaming, business, politics, culture and heritage, events and celebrities, subcultures, music, film, art and fashion. Some of Kelsey's specialties are: editing, writing, copy creation, multi-lingual content production, cross-cultural exchange, content creation and management for Asian markets.