By Amanda Hechinger, Senior Associate, Mobile Strategy and Life+, Mindshare NA
Twenty-seven million championship game viewers. $11+ million in prize money. Screaming fans. Overflowing arenas.
This isn’t professional football or hockey. This is eSports: where the athletes are energy-drink gulping, head-set wearing gamers. Looking to rank nationally or internationally, these contestants compete on gaming platforms for grand prizes and bragging rights on games like League of Legends (LoL) and DOTA2.
This distinction has transformed eSports from recreational gaming into a new sports category with big branding opportunities.
eSports began in the 1970s with arcade games like Atari’s Pong, ultimately leading to the founding of the Electronic Sports League in 1997. Flash-forward to 2014 where there were 11.5 million more viewers for LoL’s Championship than the average NBA Finals game.
Today, nations are legitimizing eSports with eGames that will run alongside the 2016 Olympics in Rio. NewZoo predicts eSports revenues to nearly double by 2019, topping $1 billion worldwide with a fan base of 345 million.
eSports has been around for years, so how did this industry recently evolve so rapidly into a channel with massive scale?
Better platform technology and social networking prompted top players to surface from their basements and bedrooms to connect with millions of electrified gaming viewers. Once these dedicated players and their invigorated fan base mutually recognized the popularity and growth potential of this community, their passion led to the launch of eSports-specific content channels.
Now, they’re not only online, but filling arenas too. The excitement surrounding this industry catalyzed broadcasting networks and media giants like ESPN to take interest in the untapped potential of eSports. Brands now need to intimately understand how to connect with this tight-knit community before attempting to penetrate this space.
Who’s in the game?
Most eSports players and viewers are Millennials and Gen Z; they’re tech-savvy, extremely visual, and highly likely to share content. They’re valuable consumers for brands; according to EEDAR, eSports players typically spend more across software and hardware for better gaming experiences than the average PC player.
According to research from our Insights group and Spotlight (our sports and entertainment partnerships unit), 65% of eSports fans are 18-34 years old, and 62% overall are male. Interestingly, female fans are more likely than men to watch eSports with friends/family physically in the same room (whereas men are more likely than women to watch with others online). PwC research notes that women engage with eSports from an enjoyment perspective; they’re invested in the social aspect of the viewing experience.
Additionally, from our research, 52% of fans say they watch less TV due to eSports, with 67% making new friends or acquaintances through the games. And 71% say that watching professionals play makes them better players.
Should you play?
This demographic looks for easy access, instant gratification, and unique, innovative experiences when engaging with marketers.
On sites like YouTube and Twitch, fans consume eSports content, bond over their favorite players, and engage with commentators, who have developed into celebrities within this community. Twitch, one of the primary ways to watch eSports competitions, has 100 million visitors per month. Brands as diverse as Jack Link’s, Red Bull, HBO, HTC, and GEICO are using this streaming medium to advertise. They do everything from sampling stations at competition venues and sponsoring large gaming tournaments, to creating special product releases that contain codes to unlock exclusive gaming content.
To play authentically:
- Tune into the eSports consumer’s routine and challenges, connect with them on their familiar interfaces, and deliver additive experiences on their consoles, desktops, and mobile devices.
- Look to sync with related content on other platforms. With the popularity of multiplayer online battle arena games in eSports, gamers and watchers also tend to enjoy TV shows like Game of Thrones and tent-pole events like Comic-Con.
- With that in mind, maintain a strong presence in the fantasy and cosplay worlds to reach the eSports consumer. If brands address lower funnel, gaming-lifestyle quirks, they’ll innately align with sentiments only an authentic eSports fan could know and relate to.
The eSports community is fervent, but fierce. They can detect ingenuity instantaneously, so be respectful, witty, and even praiseworthy towards the intricacies of their way of life and brand loyalty will follow.