Tom Wade, Co-Founder at SickOdds, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
As massive esports fans themselves, Tom and his co-founder Nick strive to produce and promote legitimate, quality content that we’d want to read ourselves - follow his story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
Back in 2016, myself and co-founder Nick Pateman were both itching to create a platform in the esports space. With Nick’s background predominantly in affiliate marketing and my own in large scale development, we wanted to merge our talents and launched SickOdds; an esports odds comparison engine.
As it was, and still is, an emerging market in contrast to traditional sports it’s been a rapidly expanding market in the iGaming vertical and we’ve loved every minute.
How did you first get into the affiliate space? And, were you always focused on the Gaming space?
From our inception we’ve been solely focused on the Gaming space as our primary source of income. Working closely with a small number of sportbooks that offer esports betting markets, we were able to establish a core offering and then continued to scale this with additional reviews and supporting industry news and tipster content.
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
As a small startup, our company has a relatively flat structure of full time staff. Each full time staff member takes relatively sole responsibility for a different facet of business and delivers. At their core, these facets cover SEO and Content Marketing, Affiliate Relations and Platform Development.
We also work with a number of freelancers, especially in terms of content production, as with the wide range of esports titles and genres, just as you would in traditional sports with Horse Racing and Soccer. As massive esports fans ourselves, we’ve always strived to produce and promote legitimate, quality content that we’d want to read ourselves, so getting that level of quality is important.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
We have found that operators in the esports space that are focused solely, or started solely, with esports as their only offering have been exceptionally well receiving of us as an affiliate and we’re regularly in discussions around potential campaigns and updated partnership deals.
It may come as a surprise that the harder part has been when working with larger, traditional operators. As esports affiliates can only offer a small slice of the pie in contrast to traditional affiliates we are often unsupported, as esports is just another link in their menu with little value. The market offerings are usually limited so it’s hard to promote them above others and they’re not well represented in the esports scene at events through sponsorships.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
Esports is a fantastic industry to be unique in as an affiliate. There are a number of content streamers and video producers that can expand their revenue by partnering as a betting or product affiliate with very little barrier to entry. These creators can have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of poorly monetised followers that are highly receptive.
With regards to a website, there is also still a lot of space to grow. Even after 4-5 years we’re still seeing the numbers grow month-on-month and I feel that one of the key ways to stand out is to have an active voice and to nurture a community. You need a passion to work in esports but it really resonates with your audience.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
We put a lot of effort early on into creating our own esports odds comparison engine. We source the odds feeds of 26 different operators to ensure that we can recommend the best odds to our users. We strive to be data driven at SickOdds and are constantly making improvements to ensure our users get not only the best data but also the best experience when it comes to esports betting.
Are you contemplating bringing in investors to scale or grow your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
I’d be lying if I said both of these weren’t considerations. We have such a huge passion for SickOdds as a platform and we’ve grown it to be a well recognised name in the esports betting industry. There are definite advantages to both approaches, allowing the platform to scale rapidly. We’d be open to both, but for now we’re keeping it nurtured through grass roots.
In regards to an exit, we’re not sure what the future holds but it would need to be a conversation with a buyer that appreciates the growth potential of an esports affiliate, and someone that would give as much love to the esports scene as we do!
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
For me, passion should be valued above all else. Esports is an emerging vertical and it’s quickly apparent who has knowledge of the scene and who doesn’t. This wealth, or lack, of knowledge will also be quickly apparent to your website visitors that have a higher expectation of platform experience. There are plenty of esports fans ready to get involved with businesses, so definitely reach out.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
Right from the start we didn’t want to be just another affiliate website, just peddling the latest bonuses. As we are huge esports fans ourselves we wanted to build a platform that we’d enjoy using. We focused on User Experience and also on building our odds comparison platform. The odds comparison platform, we feel, is a big part of what sets us apart as we compare up to 26 different operators to give the best odds.
We’re still striving to evolve the engine and to continuously become more and more data driven to provide real value to our users.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
One of the most exciting things about esports, and gaming in general, is its dependancy and availability of data. Every single frame of an esports match has hundreds of data points, as the entire infrastructure of an esports title depends on data. With those data points, a number of publishers make API’s available to access these endpoints to allow digital platforms to do some incredible things.
PandaScore, an esports data and odds provider, use screen analysis and direct data access, combined with AI, to produce near real-time markets and odds far beyond that of traditional providers. As more data becomes available and more affiliates start investing in digital development, we’ll no doubt soon be seeing exciting integrations to draw in bettors with a superior game day experience.
Is the grass greener on the other side - have you considered going down the operator route?
As a small affiliate team we haven’t yet been bitten by the operator bug. It’s always played on our mind when there is an esports match coming up we have users wanting to bet on with no existing operator support, but I think at the moment the headaches would outweigh the benefits!
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2020, and why?
Esports is a constantly evolving scene, so unlike traditional sports there will be new games become mass adopted and others falling out of rotation. There are a number of esports titles that have persisted for over a decade (like League of Legends, Counter-Strike and DotA 2 to name a few), but others like SMITE have fallen out of esports rotation.
For us, 2020 has got us excited for Riot’s new title VALORANT. Essentially Riot’s take at Counter-Strike mixed with Overwatch, we’re already seeing an esports scene developing and API data becoming accessible. We expect to see this become increasingly popular as the scene develops, with betting close behind it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
As any affiliate marketer must know, it can be quite a slow grind at first. With us starting in 2016, esports betting was still in it’s infancy so this was double-y true for us. Build our initial momentum took a little time, but as we’ve gained recognition in the industry we’ve started to grow exponentially. It’s definitely worth the wait, but needs some persistence!
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2020?
In contrast to many other businesses, 2020 has actually been a very good year for esports! The rise of COVID-19 drove traditional sports to cancel, but with esports’ roots being online it was able to quickly revert back to that state. We saw huge leaps in esports betting traffic, and from speaking to operators we’re close with that was definitely mirrored for them.
Titles like FIFA and NBA2k both become extremely popular, with traditional sports fans finding a “gateway” esports title that they could relate to, understand and enjoy. These titles saw around an 80% increase in betting traffic which was great for the esports betting industry as a whole.
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
We speak with a number of operators on a daily basis and generally tend to stick to a few tried-and-tested methods. Skype and Slack are always good for regular ongoing conversations, with the occasional email thread thrown into the mix. Esports-first operators also tend to have a presence on Discord, which is essentially Slack for gamers, so we have more casual discussions on there.
We always aim to attend events like SiGMA and other affiliate conferences to meet with operators in person. It’s always great to catch up and being face-to-face makes it not only more friendly and personable, but better deals always seem to be forged that way!
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
Large iGaming events are always worth attending. Over the past 2-3 years we’ve seen esports continue to grow, slowly taking up more and more floor space and drawing a larger audience. We always try to visit events in London as it’s local to us, but we’ve also ventured around Europe when we can.
In our first visits to iGaming events we focused on making new connections, introducing ourselves to operators and forging deals, saving countless hours of time that would have been otherwise spent tracking down email addresses and waiting for responses. As the years went on we spent less time starting new relationships and more time nurturing and expanding on existing ones.
At ICE 2020 in London we saw the ICE Challenge, an esports event held within the event that was sponsored by GGBet. Every seat in the audience was taken as top esports teams competed for their share of $250,000. For us this was a real turning point in the iGaming industry, proving that esports could and had grown in such a short period of time.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies!
Ever since my dad brought home a Sega Megadrive back when I was 4 or 5 years old, I’ve been addicted to gaming. For the last 8 years my latest addition has been playing League of Legends. It introduced me to the world of esports and I’ve loved every second of it.
After stepping down as Technical Director of a Leeds based digital agency in 2016, I focussed on trying to combine my two passions: esports and digital. Since then I’ve has worked with some incredible esports teams including Misfits Gaming, Ninjas in Pyjamas and G2 to name a few.
Beside geeking out in my office, before COVID-19 I regularly played softball in my local league and tried to get exercise playing at tournaments around the UK. I was not good, but fresh air is always nice!
Which quote do you live your life by?
Although not a religious person in my day-to-day life, I’ve always felt that the Golden Rule from the bible is a verse to live by; the common English phrasing of which is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. What more can you really need to live by?
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