Brands, Get In The Game and Explore Esports Marketing


I think it’s safe to say that for better or worse, the competitive video-game-playing industry — known as esports — is here to stay.

Consider the turnout for last week’s Fornite World CupOpens a new window , which was the largest video game competition ever: With a $30 million prize pool, three days of sold-out crowds at New York’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and some two million live viewers online, the event rivalled any major analog sporting event.

Marketers should note that represents the viewership for one specific video game tournament. With similarly sized, ever-growing audiences for myriad other games, most marketers are finally accepting that it’s time to take this advertising opportunity seriously.

And they should. Over the past decade, the segment has evolved from a niche gaming subculture addressed by brands looking for highly specific audiences into a mainstream cultural phenomenon that marketers would be foolish not to explore. Consider:

  • Esports is projected to rise to a $1.5 billion market next year, with a Goldman Sachs report forecasting it will reach nearly $3 billion by 2022 — a significant increase from the $869 million revenue in 2018.
  • Esports have a global audience of 385 million people, up from 205 million in 2015.
  • It’s not just major brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s that are getting in on esports. Significant investment is flowing from teams in the NFL, NBA and NHL, along with big-name former athletes such as Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.
  • Fast-growing interest in esports from brands has led to equally fast-growing ad revenue in the space, with digital ad revenues from esports in the US poised to grow 25% to $178.1 million this year, and expected to surpass $200 million by 2020, according to eMarketer.Opens a new window

The esports advantage: its audience

While it’s growing popularity undoubtedly helps, the nature of the esports audience makes it a market rife with potential for digital marketers.

Too many of us hold the misperception that gaming communities — and therefore esports fans as a whole — primarily consist of teenagers in darkened bedrooms and basements.

This long-standing stigma actually does marketers a disservice, as esports fans tend to skew older (males aged 21 to 35). In fact, not only does this demographic have a higher income than marketers generally realize, it’s also an audience segment traditionally difficult to reach through the usual advertising tactics.

While this may be an attractive audience for brands, it’s imperative that marketers strike the right balance of authenticity and transparency in their esports campaigns. Sure, gamer communities can be fiercely loyal to brands that advertise ‘the right way, but they’re equally ready to vilify brands that get it wrong.

Indeed, fans are ready to become loyal supporters of brands that show dedication to helping esports grow by backing teams and tournaments. However, they will easily turn against exploitative brands that seem to only be in it for a short-term gain.

As Nathan Lindberg, director of global esports sponsorships at Twitch, put it: “What gamers care about is altruism, and they want to see the brands doing something that benefits the space, not just the brand.” Lindberg warns marketers from simply opting for a “logo slap” as these are the brands that “are in and out [of the esports market] very quickly.”

In many waysOpens a new window , the demand for authenticity from advertisers aligns with the expectations from social media audiences of the brands and companies they engage with and buy from online.

It’s in line with a growing consumer trait by which digital audiences want to share valuesOpens a new window with the brands they choose.

Get it right, and the dividends are huge, as Coca-Cola has disco red. According to Matt Wolf, who oversees esports for the soda company, to reach esports fans it is necessary to have an in-depth understanding of their behaviors and preferences so that marketing “is organic and natural.”

Moreover, the event, broadcast and influence models behind the main elements of esports are similar to any traditional sport. As Robert Davis rights for AdWeek, “brands can participate via advertising, sponsorships and creative activations much in the same way already they do with any analog sport…The value lies in the surrounding media and opportunities.”

As Davis notes, “fans pack into arenas, devotedly follow their favorite gamers and watch competitions at home via TV and online streams.”

Ultimately, esports is similar to existing markets and presents expanding advertising opportunities for marketers with an engaged and loyal consumer demographic that is difficult to reach. What’s not to love?

Meanwhile, esports viewing platforms are constantly improving, offering marketers the ability to tap into sophisticated and dynamic targeting and measurement capabilities, allowing them to leverage vast amounts of consumer data.

Here’s the catch: The window to enter this market with a strategic advantage is narrowing. So brands interested in advertising in this space need to get started, like, ASAP.