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eSports gambling ads have taken over Twitter – and it’s a big problem

esports arena

Professor Agnes Nairn is Chair of Marketing, School of Management at the University of Bristol and is a researcher, writer, consultant and speaker on issues related to marketing, ethics and the wellbeing of children and young people.

If you think Defense of the Ancients is a device to keep grandparents safe – think again.

DOTA (as it’s known to the initiated) is a top eSport, or electronic sport, along with the likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and Fortnite.

Our kids not only play against each other in these multiplayer video battles in far-off virtual lands but also watch professionals fighting it out in HD on huge screens – and winning sizeable amounts of cash.

eSports tournaments can fill the Royal Opera House in London and since lockdown are streamed around the world to audiences of billions. The market size is currently £1.12bn and is forecast to reach £5.17bn by 2027. And with universities around the world offering eSports degrees, it’s now a viable career option to which children can aspire.

But there is something else growing fast around eSports: gambling. Just as betting is now intrinsically associated with traditional sports such as football, it’s also part and parcel of the rapidly expanding eSport milieu. And because gambling is legal in the UK, it can also be advertised.

GambleAware recently published the findings of a large-scale study into the Effect of Gambling Marketing and Advertising on Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults across all media. At the University of Bristol, we looked at Twitter advertising – and we were really surprised by what we found about eSports.

We used big data analytics to investigate more than 800,000 Tweets from 417 gambling operators, along with 600,000 retweets and replies from 170,00 UK followers. We also closely analysed a sample of the images and text to see if operators breached advertising regulations.

Some 41,000 UK under-16s are following gambling advertising on Twitter, along with another 400,000 16- and 17-year olds for whom gambling is illegal.

We identified that lots of the betting Tweets are funny, using gifs and memes that are highly shareable. This technique gets kids who wouldn’t normally even think about gambling into following betting operators. In fact, we found that for eSports, 17 per cent of all gambling followers are under 16 and nearly a third of those who actively engage by replying and retweeting are children. This activity happens out of sight of parents’ eyes, as it all takes place in the privacy of the mobile phone.

Our analysis also suggested that 68 per cent of traditional sports and 74 per cent of eSports Twitter betting adverts contravene the advertising regulations in some way. The Committee of Advertising Practice devotes a whole section of its code to gambling and there are a lot of things advertisers shouldn’t do: for instance show pictures of under-25s, trivialise gambling, imply peer pressure, suggest it’s a way to make money, create urgency to bet or be particularly appealing to children.

All advertising should also be clearly identifiable as advertising – but when gambling operators are circulating funny memes, it probably isn’t obvious to children that the point is not to have a laugh but rather to hook them into thinking gambling is cool and fun.

Since our research, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has written to eSports operators to reiterate the regulations, but many eSports companies sit offshore and unless members of the public complain any contraventions are likely to go unchallenged.

We were taken aback by what we found and I’d recommend parents to check the regulations; chat with your children about eSports and betting adverts they might see on social media; and complain to ASA if you see Tweets luring children into eSports gambling.

For more information about helping young people understand the risks of gambling, visit Parent Zone’s Know the Stakes hub. It’s produced in partnership with GambleAware and includes a resource pack for parents, carers and professionals.

Image: ziiinvn/


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