eSports, while still seen by many as a niche sector, is said to be the world’s fastest-growing spectator sport, and is gathering serious pace across global markets.
To those who aren’t familiar with eSports, its concept, and therefore its unprecedented growth, might initially sound farfetched: why would millions of people want to watch other people play video games? But just like traditional sports such as football, basketball and rugby, eSports has leagues, tournaments, global stars and a base of extremely loyal and passionate followers; some 500 million of them.
According to Newzoo, eSports revenues will reach a value of $1.5 billion by 2020 as brand investment doubles, meaning if brands want to thrive in this rapidly evolving market, it’s important to capitalise on the mass opportunities it presents sooner rather than later. And with an extremely switched-on and vocal audience, it’s important to approach the space with care, consideration and a thorough strategy.
The rise of eSports
Part of the appeal of eSports is its accessibility: to play, or just to watch, all you need is a computer and an internet connection.
What’s more, unlike traditional sports, popular gamers regularly converse and engage with fans. Whether this is through livestreaming or on social media, fans have the opportunity to interact with their idols on a daily basis.
eSports is traditionally watched online via YouTube and streaming platforms, such as Twitch, which allows anyone to livestream themselves playing video games and reports a colossal monthly unique streamers figure of up to 3.2 million, with an engagement rate of 95 minutes being watched per person per day on average.
This has presented players with an opportunity to make some serious money by building up a following and attracting big teams and sponsors. What’s more, they can do so without being confined to the geographic radius that often comes with traditional sports, making the opportunities hugely scalable in the digital age, and the same applies to brands.
So how can brands capitalise?
The dominating demographic participating in eSports is males between the ages of 21 and 35, a group that is rapidly gaining buying power but becoming increasingly hard to reach using traditional marketing approaches.
While on the surface this poses a very appealing opportunity for brands to reach new customers, it must be approached with caution, as gamers are known to be extremely savvy and protective of the space, discarding brands who are seen to be exploiting the sector for quick wins and short-term commercial gain.
Brand loyalty and advocacy, however, can also be achieved by brands who positively contribute to the sector and focus on helping the wider gaming community grow and thrive. The key to achieving this is understanding the eSports demographic and, more importantly, aligning with their passion for the space. We aren’t talking about traditional sports fans here, and plastering your brand across their gaming arena simply won’t cut it.
In a world where brands are everywhere, the challenge is to tap into the culture tied to eSports and make professionals, players and fans engage and resonate with your brand in a way that matters to them, enhancing their experiences without interrupting them, and pushing this emerging sector forward. This poses a great opportunity for brands, in that they can immerse and integrate through organic interaction, earning valuable respect from players and spectators alike.
It therefore takes detailed planning and patience to gain credibility in the community. Ways in which brands have succeeded include organising informative events and experiences, partnering with professionals in creative ways, producing innovative content and introducing new technology and ways to play across a sector that is still highly receptive to innovation. For example, as consumer spending and smartphone usage rapidly increases in India, Digitonic is in the process of launching a free-to-play cricket game, delivered via a mobile app, that will offer brands an opportunity to make rich, conversational connections with consumers via in-play marketing opportunities.
eSports is here to stay
eSports is quickly entering the mainstream and showing no signs of slowing down, with a market size bigger than the music and video markets combined in 2018.
The generation behind this growth will not be taken for fools, but are open to the right kinds of brand involvement, which should be customer-centric, immersive and always hold the space’s best interests at heart.
The brands that will emerge as the early movers and leaders within eSports will therefore talk with the audience, not at them, treat this interaction as a partnership, not a sponsorship, and create meaningful experiences, not adverts.