Ontario Sports Betting: Esports on the Menu in Province’s New iGaming Market

Ontario is set to host one of the biggest esports events in the world this year just months after the province makes legal sports betting — esports included — far more accessible.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2022 7:37 PM ET Read Time: 6 min
John Garcia eMLS
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

On the face of it, it seems like nothing new, as thousands of people are expected to pack the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto this fall to watch a professional sporting event. 

This particular event, however, will be a bit different. Instead of the Maple Leafs or Raptors games typically held at Scotiabank Arena, the venue is slated to host the semifinals of the world championship of League of Legends, "a team-based strategy game where two teams of five powerful champions face off to destroy the other’s base," video-game publisher Riot Games says. 

Barring any further pandemic-related setbacks, it will be the first time a League world championship event is held in Canada. It should be a packed house, too. When Scotiabank Arena hosted a North American championship event in 2016, the nearly 20,000-seat facility was sold out.

This time around, though, there could be more than a few people in the crowd with money riding on the outcome of Toronto’s big esports event. What’s more, they may be doing so for the first time legally. 

After all, Toronto is in Ontario, where a new internet gambling market will go live on April 4, increasing the number of legal online sportsbooks and casinos in the province. The rules around Ontario sports betting allow for wagering on esports as well. 

So, in other words, Ontario is set to host one of the biggest esports events in the world this year just months after the province makes legal sports betting — esports included —  far more accessible. It’s a combination that may simultaneously create new fans of esports and esports betting. 

“I went to [the 2016 event] and it was insane,” said Steven Salz, chief executive officer of Rivalry Corp., a Toronto-based sports betting and media company. “It’s going to be even more insane this year because esports is even bigger and the audience here is huge now.” 

The insanity may help drum up interest in wagering on League and competitive video games in general. While the audience for esports is growing, Canada's legal options for wagering on the games haven’t kept pace. 

Ontario has only one legal provider of online gambling at the moment, the government-owned Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. OLG's PROLINE+ sportsbook isn't offering betting on esports yet either, although it is working to launch those markets in 2022. 

Dave Pridmore, OLG's chief digital and strategy officer, noted the League of Legends event slated for later this year and said it was an event for which the company wants to be ready. 

“Esports, I think, will be a great focus for us,” Pridmore told Covers in an interview in December

OLG could find some success. Another government-owned company, British Columbia Lottery Corp., already offers esports wagering on its PlayNow online sportsbook. In November, a BCLC spokesperson told Covers that there was increased interest in “non-traditional” markets. 

“Niche markets such as table tennis and esports experienced significant increases in betting activity on PlayNow.com in 2020 when many professional sports leagues temporarily halted play due to COVID-19, for example,” BCLC’s Matt Lee said in an email. 


In Ontario, though, bettors are about to see a surge in their wagering options. OLG will no longer be the only game in town when it comes to legal online gambling.

One of the new options will be Rivalry. The Toronto-based company began taking bets in 2018 and has received gambling licenses from authorities in Australia and the Isle of Man. 

Rivalry has also received its internet gaming operator registration from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, one of the major steps toward legally taking bets in the province's new online gambling market. The other is executing an operating agreement with iGaming Ontario, a government agency and AGCO subsidiary.

Rivalry’s Salz told Covers they are “very confident” about launching in Toronto on April 4, the first day of the iGaming market. This would mean Ontario customers could at last legally tap into both traditional sports betting markets offered by the online bookmaker and the ones it has for esports such as Call of Duty, League of Legends, and StarCraft.

“It's been extremely bizarre and very odd that we've never been able to legally take a bet in the place where we built the entire business and where we’re all from,” Salz said in an interview. 

Despite that quirk, Rivalry said in its most recent financial update that customer registrations rose to approximately 600,000 through the end of last October on a year-to-date basis, up from 350,000 as of the end of 2020. The publicly-traded company’s betting handle for the first 10 months of 2021 was $66.1 million, up more than 180% compared to a year earlier. 

More recently, Rivalry announced on March 23 that it had added mobile esports betting markets to its book, meaning customers can wager on video games played on smartphones. This is "considered to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry," Rivalry said.

The overall approach of Rivalry is playing a long game.

By focusing on esports, creative marketing (it has an army of content creators on social media platforms), and aiming to provide more of an overall experience, Rivalry's user base is around 10 to 15 years younger than that of other sportsbooks, Salz said. And because of this, he noted, Rivalry gets a high volume of smaller-stake bets. 

“It's definitely built as more of a cohesive entertainment experience versus just a transactional sports betting product,” he said.

Let the (video) games begin

But this approach will be put to the test come April 4, as Rivalry will have to compete with other sportsbooks taking bets on esports. Some operators will be offering eye-catching promotions to get customers to deposit, which is something Rivalry won't be as aggressive about, Salz said. 

Rivalry’s view is that, in five to 10 years, sports betting will have less of a stigma and be viewed as more of an entertainment product, similar to paying for a Netflix subscription, Salz said. A bonus may get someone in the door, but it may not keep them around once the money runs out. 

"If your only competitive advantage is your balance sheet ... eventually you lose,” Salz said. “You haven't invested your time and energy cultivating legitimate brand equity that's sticky to users."

Furthermore, Rivalry could benefit from the return of in-person events, such as the one intended to be held in Toronto later this year.

The company got a bump in the early days of the pandemic — during the first 30 to 45 days Rivalry experienced six months’ worth of growth — but Salz said esports fans started to get tired of watching (for technical and public-health reasons) the same teams playing each other and athletes playing from home. 

Now, fans and bettors alike are getting the opportunity to watch esports again in stadium settings. The excitement could provide a boost for everyone interested in the matches, bookmakers included. 

“Esports needs it as much as any sport, to be honest,” Salz said.

Are you in Ontario? Come join our Ontario Discord channel to chat with Covers personalities in real time to get all the information you need to know ahead of and during launch week.

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