Game On: What Marketers Should Know About eSports Fans

New Research from Mindshare North America Explores the New Opportunities for Brands

49% of Fans Spend Most of Their Free Time Around eSports

As they petition to become an official part of the Olympics, eSports are throwing their own party in Rio this summer. And no one should be surprised. Mindshare North America, the global media agency network that's part of WPP, today released new research exploring the rapidly growing eSports community and the resulting opportunities for marketers. With eSports poised to become a billion dollar industry in 2019 (source), Mindshare NA surveyed fans across the U.S. using The Pool (Mindshare's proprietary research tool) to find out who they are, how they engage with the sport, and how brands can reach them.

"There is a huge opportunity for marketers right now in eSports," says Joshua Spiegelman, Managing Director, Mindshare Spotlight—the dedicated sports and entertainment partnerships unit of Mindshare NA. "This passion point has an audience of incredibly engaged fans, many of which (for millennials and gen Z in particular) can be challenging to reach through traditional media channels. In addition, given eSports is still in its infancy relative to more established 'stick and ball' sports, there's a lower cost of entry to engage in meaningful partnerships, collaborate with talent to create contextually relevant campaigns, and dominate share of voice."

See highlights in our infographic here: http://mndsh.re/1ZRdAmI

See our eSports video here: http://mndsh.re/1YrrVrg

Your Typical eSports Fan

There's a tremendous opportunity for brands to reach millennial audiences through this medium. When Mindshare NA surveyed eSports enthusiasts ages 18 and up, they found that 65% of fans are millennials (between the ages of 18-34). And it's not all men either: 38% of eSports fans are women. But while there's a misperception that the eSports community is limited to college kids in their early 20's, that's simply not true: the agency found a large portion of fans in their late 20's and 30's; 60% of fans are between the ages of 25-39.

In fact, eSports presents an opportunity for marketers to reach working professionals with significant buying power. Forty-three percent of eSports enthusiasts have an annual household income of $75,000 per year or higher—and nearly one third (31%) have an HHI2 of $90,000 or higher. On top of that, 58% of fans that are ages 25 or older live with kids in their households—indicating that an increasing number of parents are getting into the game.

"Forget the stereotypes—your typical eSports fan isn't just someone playing World of Warcraft in his mother's basement," says Mark Potts, Head of Insights, Mindshare NA. "The eSports community is varied and evolving, ranging across audiences of working professionals, parents, and more. It's important for marketers to understand the nuances and differences in fans based on different eSports games, platforms, and experiences."

Engaged Like You Wouldn't Believe

If there's one word to describe an eSports fan, it's passionate. Nearly half of eSports enthusiasts surveyed (49%) said that they spend most of their free time around eSports. That number increases to 56% for those with an HHI of $50,000-99,000, and jumps to 67% for those with an HHI of $100,000 or more. In addition, 60% of eSports fans are willing to travel to see their favorite games, tournaments, and players. That number increased to 67% for those with an HHI of $50,000-99,000, and jumps to 72% for those with an HHI of $100,000 or more.

What makes fans so deeply engaged? The reasons are plenty. For one, it's a deeply social experience. 67% of eSports fans say that they've made new friends or acquaintances through the games—a number that increases to 72% when surveying men specifically, and jumps to 79% for overall participants with an HHI of $100,000 or more. And depending on how they're watching the games, a significant number like to watch with company. For example, for those fans who watch eSports through a video game console, 51% like to watch with friends/family physically in the same room; that number increases to 58% among female fans. For those who watch eSports on YouTube, 45% like to watch with friends/family physically in the same room; that number increases to 49% among female fans.

There's also an expressed desire for enthusiasts to increase their own skills—71% of eSports fans say that "watching professionals play makes me a better player." In fact, 64% only watch videos of games that they personally play. And 53% of eSports fans say that eSports athletes are on the same level as other professional athletes.

This element of fandom is apparent in how eSports fans view the players and teams. Sixty-one percent of eSports fans said that they see eSports players (such as Fatal1ty, MarineKing, or Ellohime) as "moderate" or "major" celebrities wielding influence; that percentage jumps to 70% for those with an HHI of $50,000 or more. It also jumps to 72% when surveying Multi-player Battle Arena (MOBA) fans specifically.

And 61% of eSports fans see eSports teams (such as Evil Geniuses, Team Liquid, or Newbee) as "moderate" or "major" celebrities wielding influence; that percentage jumps to 68% for those with an HHI of $50,000-99,000 and 74% for those with an HHI of $100,000 or more. It also hits 73% when surveying MOBA fans specifically.

However, despite the incredible passion these enthusiasts have for the game, 63% say that there is still a stigma around eSports; that rises to 73% for MOBA fans.

How They Feel About Brands—and the Takeaways for Marketers

When eSports fans were asked what they'd like to see brands do to help improve the gaming experience:

  • 42% said they'd like them to give away free stuff (ex: tournament tickets, computer hardware, t-shirts and hats).
  • 41% said that they'd like them to demo new games and maps.
  • 34% said that they'd like them to provide customized in-game experiences/items.
  • 32% said that they'd like them to provide access to exclusive tips and tricks on gameplay from eSports athletes—and that increased to 36% for those with an HHI of $100,000 or more.
  • 30% said that they'd like them to help meet their favorite teams and athletes—and that increased to 36% for those with an HHI of $100,000 or more.

These findings emphasize the importance of adding value to the eSports experience in an organic way, rather than solely driving interruptive spots. In fact, 57% of eSports fans are willing to pay money not to see ads while watching a game—and for those with an HHI of $100,000 or higher, that percentage jumps to 78%.

For marketers, there's several key takeaways to be found in Mindshare NA's research:

Forget the stereotypes. There's a widespread myth that eSports is only popular among teenagers living in their mother's basements or broke college kids, but the reality is a much more wide-ranging and diverse community. Based on their levels of engagement, there's tremendous opportunity to reach working professionals with legitimate buying power. Craft your strategies appropriately to reach the wide range of eSports fans, based on how and where they engage with the games.

Enhance the gaming experience. While free stuff is definitely appealing to fans, there's numerous other opportunities for brands to enhance the eSports experience for gamers. Facilitate opportunities for them to meet and socialize with one another, be it online or by helping them travel to tournaments. While both genders spend time watching eSports alone, our survey also showed a higher tendency for female fans to watch streamed games (on YouTube, Twitch, video game consoles, etc.) with family or friends physically in the room versus men, who watch more often in the company of friends online instead. As eSports make their way into broadcast and cable, we anticipate similar viewing behaviors.

And equally important: give eSports fans new ways to pick up pro-tips from the games. The value exchange here is key. 

Borrowed equity. eSports fans see the players and teams as celebrities. Brands can align themselves with these stars, much as they do with other influencers online and on television. And they can enhance the gaming experience by giving fans an opportunity to meet these players or see them live, especially since eSports enthusiasts are willing to travel.

Since a number of fans are willing to pay to avoid ads in eSports, larger-scale sponsorships that provide brands the ability to integrate within an event also presents an opportunity for borrowed equity. It doesn't mean that brands shouldn't invest in 30-second spots, but rather that it should be part of a larger, organic strategy that feels authentic to the game. And on top of that, as more mainstream brands embrace eSports, fans would likely be appreciative if marketers can decrease the stigma surrounding this past-time.

Research Methodology

Mindshare NA surveyed 497 eSports fans nationwide through The Pool, ages 18 and up. In this survey, millennials have been defined as the age group of 18-34.

This research follows Mindshare NA's 2016 Culture Vulture Trends report, released in January, which had identified the "Rise of eSports" as a critical trend for brands and marketers.

For more information about the research, please contact Julie Gomstyn (Julie.Gomstyn@mindshareworld.com) or Jodie Huang (Jodie.Huang@mindshareworld.com).