Esports is still in its infancy, but it’s growing up fast and boasts some eye-watering statistics.
Here are a couple that stand out:
- Revenues to top $1 billion in 2019.
- Professional gamers in top leagues could earn upwards of $1 million per year in salary and sponsorship.
With viewership rapidly increasing and brands looking to invest big budgets in sponsorship, advertising, apparel and more, getting to grips with esports’ current state of play and where the trend is headed is essential.
The potential is massive. We know many young people engage with esports, so how can brands engage with this cohort?
We invited experts from the esports and gaming sectors to discuss their industry experiences at our event, Playing to the Esports Crowd.
We presented our own data-driven insights about the behaviors and perceptions that define this group, after which, our panellists took centre stage.
Here’s what they had to say:
The esports and gaming industry is “heavily community driven”, according to Craig Santicchia, Partnerships Manager at Fnatic, one of the world’s leading rights holders in esports.
The games provide a communication medium in themselves, but, as Evgeniy Roshchupkin, Marketing Director at Gfinity explains, “there’s so much content outside the games that brands and publishers can capitalize on”.
Our data highlights that the community aspect of gaming and esports is something this group really crave, and brands that add to the conversation will be readily received.
In fact, esports fans in the UK and U.S. are 2.6 times more likely than the average internet user to purchase a product or service simply for the community experience that comes with it.
As Natasha Stone, Emerging Markets & Gaming at JustGiving points out, for third-sector brands, esports communities can also be a vehicle for driving charity donations.
“Harnessing the attention of esports followers and influencers has the potential to raise money for good”.
Having a clear picture of where these subgroups are engaging with esports (and one another) informs brands of the most appropriate entry point.
The sheer size of the market offers a huge opportunity for brands, and it’s important to note that individuals within these networks are highly communicative and receptive to peer-to-peer recommendations.
Diverse but connected
As Craig points out, “Gaming is borderless. What other activity allows you to engage so freely with people from all over the world?”.
Despite this being a well-connected group, globally, it’s important to bear in mind that there are multiple subgroups with differing behaviors and perceptions, as well as attributes.
Being joined together by a mutually shared activity does not equal total solidarity. Unique subcultures in different groups means brands have to dig deeper into the behaviors, sentiments and interactions that make every subgroup tick.
As Evgeniy states:
“Each game has its own communities that speak different languages and have different interests”.
Martyn Whistler, Lead Analyst, Media & Entertainment at EY, sums this up neatly, stating, “it doesn’t matter if you’re approaching esports as a retailer, consumer goods company or media company. It’s all about relevance.
Achieving a high level of segmentation and granularity gives brands confidence in a world where advertising has come under scrutiny for poor relevance and brand association.”
Women in esports
Discussion of the growing role of women in esports has gained significant traction recently, introducing a new angle to the conversation about diversity in the industry.
The panel explain that opportunities for women to become professional gamers are currently limited, and female figureheads in the industry are lacking.
Natasha draws on her own experience at esports events, saying that although more women are present than expected, they are treated as an unknown quantity by males.
In an effort to make esports more inclusive, a movement to remove what the industry describe as ‘toxic behavior’ is underway, with sexism and other online descrimination under the spotlight.
The panel agree there is a growing space for women in esports, and brands which ignore this are limiting themselves greatly.
Stories should be carefully crafted so they contribute to gaming media conversations in a meaningful way, and should cater to the interests of different subgroups.
Brands should remember three things when it comes to content creation: time, format and personality.
“Try to communicate with esports communities in an organic way,” says Evgeniy, “so they feel a part of the esports world and build on that feeling of community”.
Telling an authentic story is a good policy, not only because it builds relationships with the individuals who will later become brand advocates, but because this group are also prone to taking action against irrelevant content.
Our data shows 60% of them have used an ad-blocker in the last month because of irrelevant or intrusive advertising.
Authenticity and relevance are king when it comes to content. As Evgeniy states, “content should add meaning to the industry and value to gamers.”
Esports and sports: closing the gap
‘Brands, especially publishers, love to have complete control over content.’ says Martyn, ‘but with esports it’s much more complicated because the rights to games, leagues, sponsorships all belong to different parties.”
So the question is:
How can brands get more control, so they can monetize in new ways?
At the highest level of the industry, the largest investments have demonstrated that esports is following a traditional sports model in terms of growth and monetization.
We’ve seen sponsorship schemes pioneered by the likes of Nike, who signed a four year apparel sponsorship deal with China’s League of Legends Pro League team.
This is the first time the brand has formally sponsored an esports team or competition – similar to NFL and NBA, essentialy validating esports as a sport.
At a consumer level, we found significant crossover between esports and the wider sports industry.
98% of esports fans are interested in other sports that GlobalWebIndex track.
“The gap between esports and sports is closing, and now it’s about understanding why the audiences are different”, states Evgeniy.
Future projections for esports
The panel agree that the future looks bright and lucrative for brands wanting to enter the esports arena.
But it’s not without its challenges.
This group have proven to be highly engaged and interconnected, but despite their shared interest in esports, the micro-communities belonging to each game and league, as well as regional differences mean messaging needs to be highly targeted.
Brands that are meticulous in their understanding of their audiences and respect the nuances of this rapidly evolving industry will see great returns.
Once they demonstrate their value to this highly communicative cohort, word will spread fast.