Betradar’s first Virtual In-Play product – Virtual Tennis In-Play (VTI) is out now, with further cricket and baseball developments to follow as virtual betting continues to prove a popular part of client portfolios.
We sat down with Betradar’s General Manager of Virtual Sports, Frank Wenzig to discuss when and how the company first established virtuals over eight years ago, the developments in virtual football and the roll out of their landmark Virtual Tennis In-Play.
Sportradar (SR): Can you tell us a little about your background and how virtual sports was first established at Sportradar?
Frank Wenzig (FW): I spent 11 years in a consultancy agency where I worked with a number of different businesses from food to automobile companies. Being a consultant, you always need to be on top of technology and perform to high standards as a third party to several companies. It was very challenging but also very fun.
A good friend of mine, who I worked with at the consultancy agency was founding his own business at the time, recommended Aitainment, which is now Betradar’s virtual sports division.
He was the one who introduced me to Betradar. The company had a number of high-profile sporting partners and were really focused on leading technology. This was a clear next step for me as the company was looking for a Product Owner.
We started out as 12 employees in Sportradar’s Bremen office. The first year was really tough for us. But then we decided to change the strategy. This is when we started the virtual sports meets sports betting on virtual events concept.
This was a really lucky decision for us in that it was the right timing, the right opportunity with the acquisition by Sportradar, with their distribution channels to customers all around the world, and the right offering, as virtual sports was a completely niche product with a multi-million dollar opportunity.
I was then made Director of Product Management within virtuals and now, with our previous Manager Director of Gaming moving on in May, I have been promoted to General Manager.
SR: The company has done a lot in developing products within the virtuals space. Why is this?
FW: Sportradar acquired Aitainment because they wanted to extend their product portfolio. Gaming was a complete blind spot on the landscape and Aitainment was a by-product of an initiative from Bremen University.
The guys that founded Aitainment had won a competition there called Robo Cup – this was a World Championship of football played by robots, it was robotic football. The business model was based on a football match simulation, more or less, in real time. And this remains our core essence still today. We are still simulating real sports events based on real sports data.
We had started with several trials with some products that weren’t that successful. This didn’t necessarily mean they were not good, but either the commercial model was too complicated or we didn’t have the opportunity to leverage against other companies. So, we had to come up with a different strategy and this is when we started with virtual sports.
SR: Can you tell us how virtual football has developed?
FW: If we go back about eight years in time to when I first joined, dog racing and horse racing were the very popular in the virtual sports space, especially in the UK. But now football is the dominating sport, together with other emerging sports like basketball.
Our initial idea with virtual football, like all virtuals, was to provide a niche product, with the perception to fill the gaps when and where there are no real sports occurring. So, we implemented a virtual football product as a 24/7 service. The expectation was, whenever there is no real football content, this is where virtual sports would become attractive, especially to our betting clients.
We realised, even with the faster pace of virtuals – virtual football has an event cycle time of about three and a half minutes – we could still make the betting experience the same as real-life, with immediate pay-outs. This is what our virtual sports products are focused on, as close to real-life as possible, using our real sports data and, now, world-leading motion capture technology to make it look and feel as close to reality as possible.
Earlier this year we launched our Virtual Football World Cup, featuring the same teams, player strengths and format as the event, again to make it as close to real life as possible. This proved to be really popular, with a lot of our clients taking up the offering ahead of the World Cup.
SR: Betradar have recently launched their first in-play virtual, Virtual Tennis In-Play (VTI). Can you explain the decision to improve on the company’s original Virtual Tennis Open?
FW: When we first decided to develop virtual tennis approximately five years ago with our Virtual Tennis Open product – we chose to go with the same game logics as football and apply it to tennis.
So, like virtual football, we squeezed a whole tennis match into a very short timeframe of three minutes. But it didn’t hit the sweet spot for clients. For whatever reason, the product, at first, didn’t reach our expectations so we went back to the drawing board and did some investigations and that’s when it became obvious.
The difference between football and tennis is that football is a time-based sport. With football, you can squeeze it into three minutes, show the goals and that is all you need to provide a reality-like experience. However, tennis is a point-based sport, where every point counts. If you squeeze a tennis match, which in reality can last two hours or more, into minutes you skip a lot of the game’s events and highlights. This meant the way we were providing our original virtual tennis experience was different to the real experience.
The reason why tennis is so popular in real sports betting is because of the live betting opportunities, point-by-point betting, based on who will win the next point. Live betting was growing in popularity and live betting in tennis, in particular, was growing. But with our old tennis product we were not able to provide a real point-by-point betting product. As a consequence, the key difference between our new Virtual Tennis In-Play solution, compared with our previous product, is that we have revolutionised the way punters can bet, bringing the experience even closer to reality as possible.
Betradar’s Virtual Tennis In-Play solution is the first real time in-play virtual product and, like all the company’s existing virtual products, is similar in that it replicates a real sport with real player strengths and statistics, whilst offering familiar betting mechanics. For more information on Betradar’s Virtual Tennis In-Play click here. You can view a live demonstrator here.