Advertising in esports: The new champion of engagement
If there’s one industry booming in the current climate it’s gaming, with audiences turning to video games for new forms of entertainment and interaction while spending more time at home. And within the gaming sector esports is seeing a particular surge, making sponsorships and advertising in esports increasingly attractive to brands.
Admittedly the esports market is taking a greater hit from the COVID-19 lockdown than the rest of the gaming industry due to the importance of live events to its revenue model. But this dip is being outweighed by the wider popularisation of the sector. Esports events can be held virtually far more easily than traditional sports, and can reach mass audiences via video game streaming platforms such as Amazon’s Twitch. With everyone from brands and celebrities to major broadcasters getting involved in esports at this time the sector is quickly entering the mainstream. With that in mind let’s take a closer look at the market and explore why advertising in esports is a winning formula for brands.
Introducing the esports market
Any form of competitive online gaming can be classified as esports, but there are a number of top games and leagues that make up the core market as outlined by GamesRadar. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is one of the most popular shooter games, with competitive leagues such as BLAST Premier and ESL Pro, as well as high-profile tournaments such as IEM Katowice 2020 and DreamHack Anaheim. League of Legends (LoL) and Dota 2 compete for the crown of most popular Massive Online Battle Arena (MOBA), with League of Legends particularly popular in South Korea and China while Dota 2 has wider international appeal. Finally there’s OverWatch, the most recent addition to the core esports scene.
Fortnite is a game often associated with the industry but there is some debate as to whether it should officially be considered an esport due to its multiple randomness factors. It certainly falls into the category of a competitive video game but it blurs the lines between professional esports competitions and casual or recreational gaming. There are, however, various Fortnite tournaments with prize pools reaching millions of dollars so most people do consider it to be an esport.
Just like any other sport, the world of esports has its own celebrated athletes, the rock stars of the sector. These athletes are easily accessible to esports fans via their social media channels – which isn’t always the case with traditional sports stars – and there is unique diversity of ethnicity and gender. Top esports stars include South Korean Lee Sang-hyeok a three-time League of Legends world champion whose gamer tag is ‘Faker’, and Brazilian Marcelo David, who is generally considered the world’s best CS:GO player and whose gamer tag is ‘Coldzera’. Last year’s Fortnite World Cup was won by 16 year old American Kyle Giersdorf, or ‘Bugha’ who took home $3 million in prize money.
A secondary esports market exists in the form of sports simulation, and this has seen a particular increase in popularity over recent months, with traditional sports fixtures cancelled or postponed and fans in need of competitive entertainment. Motor racing made particularly effective use of esports during the lockdown period, from the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, which attracted 30 million views across TV and digital platforms, to the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, which reached an audience of over 14 million in a single day. Football also got in on the action with Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio winning the FIFA 20 LaLiga Santander Challenge, a tournament that was watched by over a million viewers.
Brand sponsorships and advertising in esports
Plenty of brands were involved in esports before COVID-19 raised its profile, with Coca Cola and Dominos teaming up for an ‘Esports Moments’ campaign and Louis Vuitton releasing a League of Legends collection late last year. But brand interest in sponsorships or advertising in esports is increasing significantly; with BMW partnering with five esports teams across a variety of games and Gucci working with esports team Fnatic on a limited edition League of Legends watch. Fnatic is also partnering with other brands such as Monster Energy and OnePlus, a Chinese smartphone manufacturer. While Epic Games doesn’t necessarily sell sponsorship for major Fortnite tournaments such as the World Cup, brands such as GrubHub and Wix are taking the opportunity to sponsor teams involved in these events.
The benefits to brands of advertising in esports, or getting involved in other forms of brand activation are immense. It enables them to reach a massive and continually growing esports audience that is often difficult to access via traditional channels such as TV. That audience is highly engaged and enthused, with esports enjoying a strong community of loyal fans that make ideal ambassadors for brands that get it right. Nielsen research into Twitch esports fans reveals less than 40% view television on a weekly basis, but 90% can recall at least one non-gaming related sponsor within esports. There are almost limitless opportunities for brands to get involved – from native in-game advertising that adds to the realism of the gaming environment to sponsorships of an esports league, team or event – and incredible opportunities for creativity and innovation.
But brands must do their homework before diving into the esports industry. As discussed by an expert panel at a recent esports webinar hosted by the UK’s International Advertising Association (IAA), success in esports is about authenticity and consistency. Fans are passionate about esports and naturally protective of the space, so brands need to find an authentic entry point that fits with their core values, and brings real, long-term benefit to the esports community.
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