Why Are Brands Looking to Sponsor eSports Competitions?

fregetweSports is an umbrella term that describes competitive computer gaming. This increasingly professional field incorporates tournaments, professional players and even dedicated sports agents, and is a lucrative field for the right competitor. On 19 October 1972, the first game competition took place at Stanford University for the video game Spacewar. The students of the Stanford University were invited to take place to an Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics. The grand prise was won by Bruce Baumgart, consisting of a one year’s subscription ticket to the Rolling Stone concerts.

eSports organisation played a crucial role in promoting young talents and video games, by publicising the records in famous magazines such as Guinness Book. In 1983 eSports created the U.S. National Video Game Team, whose purpose was to involve talented gamers in national and international contests, such as Video Game Masters Tournament. Also, several publications such as Life or Time have begun featuring these competitions in their pages.

While gaming has attracted a devoted fan base since the early days of Pong in the 70’s, this new scene breaks away from the traditional image of the hobbyist playing games alone at home. Ticketed events are big business. The IEM World Championships in March attracted 173,000 fans to the stadium in Katowice, Poland, with a further 46 million watching online.

As the popularity of eSports grows, it’s unsurprising that many brands are looking to create partnerships with these huge events, to strategically market content and interact with potential consumers.

A GLOBAL AUDIENCE

Undeniably, the eSports field is a profitable one. According to analysis by Newzoo, esports revenues will grow to over $6.9m by the end of 2017, and $1.5b by 2020.

To their fans, these tournaments are treated in the same way as traditional sports fans would have attended the big game a few years ago. They are calendar events, with online viewings numbering into the millions. Indeed, ESPN has recently launched their own dedicated eSports section on their website, alongside hosting broadcasts of the bigger tournaments.

With a growing global industry, it’s no surprise that companies are beginning to look to eSports for new marketing partnerships. However, what’s interesting is the brand names that are starting to get on board. While traditional computing brands would seem like a natural fit for esports, recent tournaments have partnered with Coca-Cola, Red Bull and Taco Bell, among others.

Other companies instead of using eSports for advertising are getting involved in the production of games. Disney (Tarzan), HBO (Game of Thrones) and Universal (Jurassic Park) have all turned to get their films and TV shows made into online games. These provide avid fans with an opportunity to get extra scenes, back-stage footage and earn money as a reward for winning on their favourite game. The early diversification of sponsorship or production of games shows a strong confidence in the growing esports and betting market with the industry growing 22% annually. As well as confidence the brands have in themselves to explore this previously untapped market. As the target audience age drops, casinos both land and online are introducing skill-based games and esports game within to attract the younger demographic.

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THE DIGITAL AGE

One way of appealing to the growing gaming audience is to look at the hallmarks of esport consumption: eSports have come of age in a digital world. The majority of viewers stream the tournaments online through dedicated sites such as Twitch, and social media plays a large part in the experience. Fans swap game analysis, opinions and strategy – in real time – with viewers on the other side of the planet.

The sophistication of the world of eSports means that brands have begun stepping outside of the traditional marketing campaigns in order to increase their reach. An increasingly savvy market demands increasingly savvy campaigns. It’s no use using adverts when your tech-confident audience are able to utilise ad blockers.

Esport marketing is a way for a company to flex its digital marketing muscles. Many brands have now moved away from adverts to focus on giveaways, live events and community engagement. Coca Cola have begun running their own eSports social media channels – a clever move when you consider that most viewers are watching through online streaming.

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AN EXPERT AUDIENCE

The major trait of eSports is the dedication displayed by its fans. The community is a highly engaged one, with a deep gaming knowledge of their own. Indeed, many professional players are fans-turned-pro, and tournaments frequently include a live chat window to allow fans to discuss the game, offer suggestions and send questions to the player.

With this in mind, brands must seek to respect and build on the knowledge the consumer has, and aim for an active (as opposed to passive) engagement. At an Intel Extreme Masters tournament in California, sponsors Intel provided demo suites for visitors to try out their latest wares – including virtual reality spaces, widely acknowledged as the next big thing in gaming.

This type of marketing works well because it acknowledges the authenticity of the gaming fan. Many gamers have felt marginalised by a media that seeks to portray them as loners or geeks, but most have a deep knowledge of the field and a passion for new technology. With this in mind, meaningful marketing – such as sponsoring players, hosting events or offering tips on improving your game – is a more personal way of connecting with the consumer, and is likely to have increased results.

As gaming technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, it seems likely that the popularity and diversity of eSports are going to continue to grow. As brands seek to exploit this key market, it will be interesting to watch how consumers in turn interact with the brands – and how this impacts the future of marketing in a digital world.

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