We attended Esports Activate and heard first-hand from industry experts how marketers can go beyond a simple sponsorship to reach esports fans…
There’s no denying competitive gaming’s rapid rise from niche to mainstream. Not only does NewZoo estimate the industry will rake in $1.1 billion in 2019, but the number of 13-35-year-old esports viewers who told us they think competitive video gaming is getting more popular with people their age was nearly unanimous. Sarah DaVanzo, VP of Consumer & Market Insight at L’Oréal, went so far as to say, “It’s harder to find somebody who isn’t a gamer these days than someone who is”—at least among young consumers.
And that’s not even the best part. We found in our Quarterly Trend Report: Esports Levels Up that esports fans are welcoming marketing with open arms as a way for their favorite players and teams to get financial support, and for esports as a whole to get a bigger place on the world stage. Over nine in ten 13-35-year-old esports fans told us they think more brands should get involved. One 21-year-old male even told us, “I think it’s great. If big brands are investing in esports, then that means there’s credibility behind esports,” and others we spoke to shared similar sentiments.
All that said, slapping a sponsorship on a team or tournament is just the beginning when it comes to how brands can get in on this massive marketing trend—and being more creative is what will set brands apart as major players in the industry. We attended the Esports Activate conference recently to get an update from industry experts on all things related to competitive gaming, from what teams are making waves to which brands are making the most of opportunities to engage with a dedicated tribe of tech-savvy gamers and fans. Here are four of our top takeaways on what brands should (and shouldn’t) do when trying to level up their marketing strategy in this emerging industry:
1. Don’t forget female gamers
Esports Activate featured an entire panel on Women in Esports, and if your mental image of a gamer today is a male tween eating Doritos in their basement—you better get your head right. Emily Sun co-founded Smash Sisters, a group of Super Smash Brothers Melee female gamers who meet up to bond over digital brawling. Most marketing is directed towards male gamers, but a brand that can reach out to female gamers (and do it right) could win over the demo early in its growth. One opportunity? Merchandise. Emily Sun explained that “If I want an esports jersey, it’s so hard to find the women’s fitted tee.” Twitch also called attention to female gamers’ lack of representation during Women’s History Month, when they offered grants for the demo and encouraged donations to the cause via an all-female broadcast. Sun sums it up: “When you start to see women and more representation, it kind of normalizes it.”
2. Overlap between esports and traditional sports spells opportunity
The line between traditional sports and esports is blurring. NBA 2K had a major presence at the conference, where player Dimez (pictured) was the keynote speaker and the company behind the game discussed the games’ surprisingly IRL future. Teams are forming up as part of a competitive city-based league, and their first season starts this May. There’s even a draft. And the NBA’s not the only league going digital. The NHL is making a move into esports with the 2018 NHL Gaming World Championship; an esports executive said, “I’m excited that [the NHL is] trying out-of-the-box methods to reach a young audience that might not otherwise be familiar with or enthusiastic about NHL content,” according to ESPN. The integrations aren’t just good news for the fading popularity of traditional sports leagues, but also for brands. The live-streamed games take place in digital versions of their usual stadiums—meaning brands can appear on-screen via jerseys, megatrons, and more.
3. Just because gaming is digital, doesn’t mean experiential marketing doesn’t have a place
Millennials’ preference for experiences over possessions doesn’t stop when they pick up a controller. Esports has a major live component, from large-scale livestreamed tournaments to in-person meetups to play games and compete (lest we forget when Minecraft took over the Sydney Opera House). The chief strategy officer for ESL explained that “Live events are a big piece of esports’ success, and an important way for brands to successfully integrate.” Coca Cola is one brand that added an in-person component to their League of Legends sponsorship by hosting live viewing parties for fans that couldn’t get a ticket to the actual tournament (which can sell out in minutes). They held the events at cinemas around the world, according to Event Marketer.
4. Non-endemic brands can make a play, too
Sure, snack foods and soft drinks have an obvious in when it comes to young gamers, but other industries that may not have an obvious tie-in (or a tie-in at all!) can also have success getting involved. Just take Mercedes Benz. Their campaign for their E class sedan targeted Dota 2 players and became a viral meme. Grooming companies have also successfully gotten in on the game. Gillette is one of the most aggressive brands pushing into the esports space. They have sponsored several teams and leveraged the Influencer Effect by naming League of Legends player xPeke as their first esports global brand ambassador. Perceptive players noticed a Dollar Shave Club sponsorship in an ELEAGUE match earlier this year, as well, while Axe and Old Spice have also made moves in the space.
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