Virtual Sports: More Than a Fleeting Betting Opportunity

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The 2020 Virtual Grand National was hailed as a great success: It had a television audience of over five million people; it raised several million for NHS charities; moreover, for our purposes here, it was a satisfying event for punters. Sure, the majority would have liked to see the real Tiger Roll hunt down Red Rum’s record of three Grand National titles, but, taken out of that context, this was an intriguing event for punters to sink their teeth into. 

If you weren’t aware of it, the Virtual Grand National is a simulated race. The outcome is based on an algorithm that factors in all the usual details a bettor looks for in racing – form, weight, precedence, jockey, trainer, etc. Potters’ Corner, an 18-1 chance, came home in first place, with the favourite, Tiger Roll, back in fourth. The algorithm even threw in a dramatic fall from leader Aso at the second last fence. 

Virtual betting is growing in stature 

Racing punters were glad to have the opportunity to have a flutter on the UK’s biggest race this year. Yet, it should be noted that the virtual race is no flash-in-the-pan stand-in for a cancelled event. This was the third running of the Virtual Grand National, and it will surely be back in 2021 when horse racing schedules return to normal. 

Betting on virtual sports isn’t new, of course. But it has arguably been underappreciated down the years. Most online betting sites will have a virtual sports section in some shape or form; horse racing and greyhounds are the most typical options, although you will find that more diverse options like football, tennis, speedway and trotting are also available on MansionBet’s virtual sports section. The level of detail has evolved considerably in these virtual sports events, with a bigger focus going on statistics and strategy. The graphics are pretty top-notch too. For instance, developer Playtech spent a year working with motion-capture technology specialists to recreate the realistic movements on the court in its Virtual Tennis game. 

Some punters will need to be convinced 

But let’s be frank about it: Many punters will need some convincing that virtual betting has some merit. In a sense, it’s a matter of perception. There is a feeling that something is lost, perhaps, when you are betting against a piece of software or an algorithm. The results might be predetermined as such, but that does not necessarily mean that there isn’t a strategy to be applied. Moreover, when it comes to algorithm-based events, there is an argument that it is a purer form of betting. The outcome is driven by data and not just happenstance. That means the result is theoretically predictable, even if a sophisticated algorithm is almost impossible to beat. 

And, therein lies the key to virtual betting’s bright future. The fact that somewhere within all the data there is the answer to the betting puzzle could attract punters to bet on virtual events. That was the case for backers of Potters’ Corner, but horse racing is not the only sport pursuing this avenue. Boxing, which recently had a fantasy virtual match up of Joe Frazier vs Lennox Lewis (Frazier won by KO), is going down a similar route. You really could envisage something like a virtual soccer match between the Brazil 1970 World Cup-winning side and the all-conquering Barcelona team under Pep Guardiola. Something like that would be a massive betting event, not to mention an incredible sporting spectacle. If you are listening, coders and software developers – make it happen. 

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