The world of “esports,” which refers to the emerging business surrounding competitive video game playing, is making its way toward the mainstream. According to research firm Newzoo, the esports market is expected to grow to more than $900 million by 2018. Even better, esports content and events are attracting a highly-coveted audience of male consumers between the ages of 21 and 35. And as consumer attention and spending for esports has grown, interest from advertisers like Coca-Cola, Arby’s, Gillette, Bud Light, and others has also increased. But what strategies should advertisers use to reach esports consumers? Here are three approaches that sponsors are using to find success.
Know Your Media Channels
Although interest in esports is growing quickly, it hasn’t yet reached the mainstream level of awareness necessary to break through on broadcast TV. Ad Age noted in a recent esports feature that one of the most prominent pro esports organizations, ELeague, only saw 316,000 total TV viewers during its Season 2 run in 2016, putting it on par with live sport broadcasts like Major League Soccer. But that’s because most viewer activity surrounding esports happens online via digital properties like Twitch, a streaming game platform which reported more than 292 billion minutes watched in 2017. The advertising opportunities on Twitch vary widely, ranging from partnerships with popular Twitch users (influencers) who enjoy large followings to more traditional banner and video-driven advertising buys. Another opportunity is for sponsors to launch their own Twitch account, offering opportunities to interact with other Twitch users. Old Spice used this approach to great success with its 2015 Nature Adventure campaign.
Appeal to the True Fans
The second learning for advertisers looking to capitalize on esports is the importance of appealing to the right audience. While esports fans are receptive to advertising in some cases, it’s critical that messages targeted to viewers don’t appear overly self-serving or promotional, or they can backfire. Marketers who have invested in esports emphasize that it’s important that brands do their homework, understand what viewers care about, and make the messages feel natural. “If it is, you get unbelievable loyalty and praise,” said Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s VP-entertainment ventures and gaming in an interview with Ad Age. “And if it’s not, you can get some pretty serious toxic backlash.” How can marketers gain this knowledge though? Industry executives stress the importance of spending time to understand the community. It “…boils down to living and being a part of the esports community,” said Riad Chikhani, founder and chief executive officer at Gamurs Group, in an opinion piece for Venture Beat. “Without being gamers, we would never have been able to keep on top of the quick-moving trends in that community.”
Identify Overlapping Interests
As interest grows in esports, more and more brands are looking for opportunities to associate themselves with esports organizations, gamers and media properties. Yet, according to one recent study by Nielsen cited by Digiday, esports fans tend to prefer “endemic” gaming sponsors over non-gaming brands. Does this mean they simply don’t care about non-gaming advertisers then? Not necessarily. Lots of brands like snack foods, car companies, and CPG brands have found success by looking for areas where their products thematically link with gaming topics. Automotive brand Turtle Wax, for example, has been teaming up with esports athletes that love cars to co-produce their esports-related digital content. That strategy has resulted in a huge lift in Turtle Wax sales that executives believe is directly linked to their esports efforts. “Our esports partnerships have helped drive brand relevancy and were a significant factor in our year-over-year sales growth,” said Turtle Wax global marketing director Courtney Lauer in a recent Forbes feature on the brand’s esports campaign.
Growing consumer interest in esports is making the sector an increasingly attractive bet for advertisers. But for those sponsors looking to get in on the esports opportunity, it’s best that they do their homework first. Building a great digital content sponsorship can pay huge dividends in terms of both consumer engagement and sales. But on the flip side, campaigns by brands that haven’t taken the time to understand this emerging content opportunity have also backfired. Will esports gain growing traction with advertisers? Just like playing a video game, the outcome is still uncertain. But expect to hear more about this growing category in the years to come.