Is there a more omnipresent conversation topic at the moment than the metaverse? Since the concept started gaining momentum last year, when Facebook announced it would be renamed "Meta Platforms, Inc." in a commitment to developing its own virtual universe, the whole world began taking note of the subject. Everyone's got a take to share on its potentials and problems and, depending on who you ask, it might change our life or be a passing trend; connect us in innovative manners or further isolate us from the physical world.
Robert Rippee, Executive Director of the UNLV's Black Fire Innovation Hub, recently told Yogonet that its “potential applications are limited only by the imaginations of entrepreneurs and the development of products to support those ideas”. But what many takes share, both the apocalyptic and favorable ones, is that they often miss what the metaverse is all about.
"I’m not sure that most gambling companies who are announcing metaverse plans even understand what that means," Steven Salz, CEO of Rivalry and meta-entrepreneur, tells Yogonet in an exclusive interview. "I think first it’s important to establish what we think the metaverse is: it is when the percentage of time a person spends looking at a screen is greater than not looking at one."
As co-founder and chief executive of esports-focused sportsbook and media company Rivalry, Salz has been dealing with internet-based entertainment and culture for years now, before hype and buzzwords took over. And now that the gambling industry seeks to jump on the meta bandwagon, he feels the Toronto-based business might have the upper hand. "For Rivalry, this translation is easy because we focus on esports, or competitive gaming," Salz claims, "which in our view is the sport of the internet."
Conversations around the metaverse have been gaining importance as of late. What possibilities does this open up for gambling and sports betting companies?
I think first it’s important to establish what we think the metaverse is. We see the metaverse not as a particular place but a moment in time. It is when the percentage of time a person spends looking at a screen is greater than not looking at one. To us, this is the metaverse.
And when it comes to Rivalry users, which skew to being almost entirely under the age of 30, this is already the case for many of them. So for us adapting to the metaverse simply means executing dynamically both in product and brand in a way that is responsive to internet culture among a demographic that spends the majority of its waking hours there.
It means that traditional forms of marketing will not reach them, it means attention spans are shorter and demand more rapid engaging experiences vs. isolated play, as is common on most sportsbooks, and it means the brand must be flexible enough to stay relevant when taste is changing weekly.
In what ways might the metaverse better satisfy consumers’ gambling needs, and which new ones could it potentially spark? How should we expect gambling to be in the metaverse, and how will it differ from traditional gaming?
We think it will change the tenor of gambling from something that is highly transactional and solitary to something that is more entertainment-based and social. We think average transaction sizes will go down but the frequency will go up. The stigma that still exists around it will go down in our view as a result. It will be viewed as more normal course entertainment behavior.
What this means is the product demands are going to be much higher as it is now going to compete for share of wallet with traditional video game experiences, which are being massively amplified by the metaverse, NFT related games such as Axies, and even crypto in general. It will be mainstream, and that’s a good thing, but it also means the expectations are going to be enormously higher on the experience.
Gambling companies have begun announcing plans for the metaverse. When should we expect a general gambling rollout in the metaverse? Are gamblers actively seeking metaverse-based solutions and offerings?
I’m not sure that most gambling companies who are announcing metaverse plans even understand what that means. Having some avatars and buying real estate with your logo on it in digital worlds is not the metaverse. This has existed since the early 2000s in games such as Second Life where people were making real money being real estate agents well over a decade ago for example. And frankly, those worlds were more dynamic than the ones people are in today that they call metaverse.
In general, we think gamblers are simply looking for ways to better tie their digital identity and experiences to their betting experiences. In that sense from a marketing and product perspective, you could see a greater movement toward more online moments vs. physical, and we expect this to certainly be the trend in the coming years. Some will nail it, and others will miss the mark.
Rivalry, as an esports-focused sportsbook and media company aimed at the new generation of gamers, is positioned to capitalize on the intersection of esports, betting and internet culture. What opportunities does the metaverse open for the company, and how would it approach customer engagement there? Will eSports also be transformed by the metaverse?
For Rivalry, this translation is easy because we focus on esports, or competitive gaming, which in our view is the sport of the internet. If you consider crypto the currency of the internet, esports is the sport. The two go hand in hand, which is why you see crypto so actively sponsoring and engaging in the space. Our view of metaverse activations at Rivalry is about memorializing betting moments digitally and creating brand threads that move beyond our website but can be found across our customers' favorite social platforms, communities, games, and spaces.
From a product perspective, our first casino offering is an originally developed and GLI approved game called Rushlane. This is a world-first massively multiplayer online gambling game, or MMOGG. It’s a multiplayer-only cyberpunk-styled race. We are continuing to develop games in this lore that will expand the universe and have features that allow Rivalry users to just exist and spend time in it. This is world creation that is consistent with what many think of when they say metaverse.
The pandemic has prompted the iGaming sector to grow in an unprecedented way, while new trends within online gaming, such as crypto and blockchain, are gaining momentum. What do you expect of these technologies going forward, and how might they complement the metaverse experience? What role will NTFs play in the metaverse?
A lot of the applications are underpinned by crypto-related technologies. So all of these play a part. NFTs for example most certainly do. A well-known example is something like ZED RUN which is digital horse racing where the horses are NFTs on the blockchain that can also be bred, bought and sold on the blockchain. It takes all the elements people love about physical horse racing and has replicated it online in a more liquid and dynamic environment. This has been a breakout success, amongst others.
I think this will also result in competition coming from different places. Because NFTs are so flexible you will likely see betting-based experiences being birthed out of NFT based games, such as Axies, that come with a massive pre-baked audience, and it is now being translated into a regulated betting experience. So back to my earlier answer on online gambling becoming more mainstream because of these trends, something like NFTs is part of that narrative. It opens it up to an entirely different audience.
What markets do you see better positioned to capitalize on the metaverse opportunities, and what are your expectations for the North American one, in which Rivalry is based? Will the costs of products needed to access the metaverse (headsets, powerful PCs) reduce as demand increases, or will this leave out many potential customers?
The beauty of this whole thing, much like esports, is it just needs a connection to the internet. Some of the most popular NFT based games and metaverse experiences are in lower-income areas vs. higher. The Philippines, for example, has seen explosive growth in Axies and is its biggest market in the world.
So long as you have a smartphone you can participate in these experiences. This is also why we love esports. It levels the playing field. Anyone anywhere can participate. This is the underlying beauty of the internet as a whole. Borders and physical geography are no longer relevant. So from Rivalry’s point of view, this is a massive global opportunity.