The symbiosis of esports and skill-based gaming will be on display at the Casino Esport Conference in Las Vegas in two weeks and Next Gaming will be a big part of it.
The conference runs Feb. 27-March 1 at Alexis Park across from Virgin Hotels Las Vegas and will will feature tournaments put on by Next, the skill-based manufacturer. Registration is under way.
Mike Darley, CEO of Next Gaming, said they’ve been a regular at the CEC in recent years, participating on panel discussions, and the tournament is a way to strengthen the connection between esports and skill-based games.
“It seems logical to run some tournaments,” Darley said. “We’ve done this at Binion’s (in Las Vegas) when we have the games there. Head-to-head competitions on our games come with some awards. If people want to play Asteroids, they can sign up and play against each other. If I don’t have a partner, I can challenge someone. Our desire is to show attendees at the esports conference what the opportunities are for our games.”
The first day of the conference will feature practice sessions and the tournament will be held on the second day, Darley said. It will run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. There will also be some fun tournament play during the mixer on the second night of the conference.
“People like to compete,” Darley said. “It’s in our DNA.”
The tournament games include Asteroids, Arkanoid, ZForce, and Bust-A-Move, all offered by Next Gaming in casinos. The prizes include chairs and a station for gamers.
The skill-based gaming industry has been through ups and downs over the years, especially with the onset of COVID-19, but Darley remains optimistic about the future of Next Gaming.
“It’s not if, it’s when,” Darley said. “We looked back, took note of customer comments and data from machines, and we made some modifications and enhancements to our skill-based games to drive the awards to the novice or casual player. A lot want to play the games, but they don’t feel comfortable for a number of reasons.”
Not only has Next altered the reward system for the unskilled player, the company has also installed prompts to help players enjoy the games more.
“We found that instead of catching some of the cool stuff we put in Arkanoid, like the power ups, players avoid it,” Darley said. “That was fairly consistent with some of the initial enhancements, because players sit down and don’t take time to understand the game.”
Next has installed in-game tutorials to assist in the learning curve and the result is players become more skilled, have more fun, and have a better opportunity to win more money, Darley said.
Even with the gaming industry doing well, some skill-based manufacturers no longer wanted to stay in the brick-and-mortar business, which has had an impact on the segment.
“When they didn’t perform as hoped in drawing the younger crowd of Millennials, it made some of the casinos shy of skill-based games,” Darley said. “I still believe that there is a demand out there for skill-based games, but it just hasn’t hit the sweet-spot yet. Three to four years ago, people were scratching their heads wondering what casino esports was. They didn’t see the value in it like they do now. I look at skill-based games the same way and that’s why we’re at CEC. I think we’re getting there. We’re still encouraged about what we’re doing.”
Darley said while there’s a connection between esports and skill-based gaming, it’s not as apparent now as it will be in the future. Esports is people getting together and competing against one another.
“You don’t have that to the degree you do on the traditional slot floor,” Darley said. “What we desire to do is create that enthusiasm and excitement, like when people win a jackpot and are screaming and yelling and having fun. We want to replicate that experience on the casino floor.”
While skill-based gaming hasn’t achieved that level, Next Gaming has had success with its portfolio of video reel games, such as Grumpy Cat and Sunken Fortunes, and a dozen games that fall between skill-based and non-skill-based are in development, Darley said.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to pivot to include video reel games,” Darley said. “The other thing that’s important about our company is that there’s a lot of talk about omnichannel and offering a product in various applications. That’s what our desire is. If you can play Asteroids in brick-and-mortar and on a mobile device, you can also play on a video reel, because you love the brand. Maybe players don’t want the challenge of a skill-based game, but want the entertainment value. You can play Asteroids or any other games in three different applications and there’s opportunity for crossover in each one. That’s really forward-thinking for us.”