The eSports industry isn’t one to underestimate. It’s an industry whose revenue has grown from $130 million in 2012 to $465 million in 2017.
To say that eSports is simply a burgeoning industry is putting it mildly. It is a cultural phenomenon that’s taking the world by storm. If numbers are to be believed, this industry is expected to be worth almost $1.5 billion by 2020.
But What Exactly is eSports all About?
Simply put, it is competitive video gaming. You need more than just fast fingers to win at it. You need to think hard and work out strategies. Most of these games are played as teams. Leagues or tournaments, usually region-specific, are held throughout the year, and it ends with one final event.
The world of eSports tournaments has exploded in the last 14 years. According to esportsearnings.com, what started between amateur players has grown to almost 2000 well-planned, competitive tournaments featuring world-class professional players.
Not just the number of tournaments, even the prize money has seen a huge increase over the years. There has been a 70 times increase in the prize money. At the 2016 Dota2 International with 16 teams and roughly 80 players, the prize was $20 million.
Most of the world’s top eSports players earn seven-figure salaries. This clearly explains why it has become a lucrative career option and not just a passion.
The growth of the games has also led to an increase in their fan base. There are 148 million eSport fans worldwide according to a Newzoo report.
ESports fans generally belong to the 21-35 years old age group. The stereotype of school or college kids with no social lives, playing video games in their basements, no longer holds true. The Newzoo study revealed that half of American eSports fans work full-time, and 44% of them are parents. And if you think video gaming is a male-dominated space, think again. 38% of eSports fans are comprised of women according to the same study.
Even the viewership of various tournaments has seen a spike. The 2016 League of Legends finals had 43 million viewers. A staggering number when compared to the viewership of the Super Bowl and NBA finals.
Most of the eSports tournaments are streamed online through Twitch. Twitch has recently been bought by Amazon for $1 billion. Esports tournaments are also streamed on YouTube.
Sports networks like ESPN and Fox Sports have jumped on the bandwagon too. Even the BBC, not wanting to be left behind, has put their fingers in the eSports broadcasting pie.
The eSports Market
The staggering numbers show that esports isn’t just a fad but a huge cultural trend that will only grow bigger. This makes eSports a potential gold mine for brands and marketers.
Marketers are always looking for the next big thing. A product that will take the world by storm, or a strategy that will set a new benchmark.
Professional sports have created billionaires from athletes. Brands are an integral part of this market. Even in the emerging field of eSports, there are plenty of opportunities.
What makes esports an unparalleled marketing avenue is the niche fandom that it has. As in traditional sports, ardent fans follow eSports teams and players.
With tournaments held across the world, there are immense sponsorship opportunities. Brands like Coca-Cola, Intel, Red Bull, and Samsung have already jumped into the fray.
Coca-Cola has been a League of Legends sponsor for the last few years. It even has a Twitter account, @CokeeSports, with 360,000 followers, its second biggest account after @cocacola.
Running since 2006, Intel sponsors the Extreme Masters tournament. The fifth Intel Extreme Masters held in Katowice in Poland had almost 173,000 people in attendance. More than 46 million people saw the event online. Its social media engagements were more than 3.2 million.
Other brands like Taco Bell and Mountain Dew are also capitalizing on the action. Gillette has also been a League of Legends sponsor for the last few years.
The 2017 edition of League of Legends a variety of major sponsors, from Mercedes Benz to L’Oreal and Logitech. Acer was the official sponsor and partner.
ESports clubs are also not far behind. Traditional football clubs have acquired their own eSports divisions. Clubs including Manchester City, and Ajax have eSports players competing in FIFA.
Paris St Germain has signed players in various eSports, and also collaborated with a French media company to participate in League of Legends. THe Philadelphia 76ers have acquired Team Dignitas.
Esports Influencers and their Impact on Brands
When it comes to eSports marketing, engaging with its audience’s passion point is a must. Brands need to devise an effective strategy to reach these gamers. They are a closed, diverse, and a passionate crowd. It is important that the right tactic is used to infiltrate their digital fortress.
Influencer marketing is a great way to connect with the loyal gaming fanatics. Gamers and their fans are fully invested in this lifestyle. It’s their passion that needs to be understood, and it’s only once you do that you can hope to achieve some success.
Influencers have a tremendous impact in world of eSports. Even micro-influencers with a limited number of followers, but who understand this world, can engage the audience effectively.
One thing to keep in mind while formulating your marketing plan for reaching gaming enthusiasts is that with live-streaming they are more engaged in the whole process. During live-streaming videos, the audience can interact with the broadcasters.
On Twitch, for example, there is a live-chat window where a viewer can interact with other fans. This is also a good learning tool, as the streamer often takes time to explain their decisions to the viewers. This way the viewer also gets a chance to influence decisions during a live match. It is no wonder then that Twitch boasts 100 million views monthly.
Targeting an eSports audience seems relatively easy. Just go online. Mindshare research shows that 49% of fans spend their free time online engaging in eSports related content or watching tournaments. 71% of these fans watch eSports to learn techniques in order to improve their own gaming.
Catching them online to market your brands sounds very simple, but these gamers have an acute sense of community and they are more likely to support a brand that backs their favorite player.
Professional e-gamers have a fairly large fan following on social media. A following that engages with them almost on a daily basis. They are the celebrities for their niche, and if they talk about a brand, it will strike a chord with their fans too.
Not just professional digital athletes, even the commentators, (known as the shoutcasters); presenters; and the gaming organizations are influencers in the world of eSports.
There are many challenges when it comes to identifying the right influencers for your brand. For every genre of eSports from League of Legends to Dota 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, sports games like FIFA, strategy games to fighting games, finding a relevant niche audience is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
ESports influencers don’t belong a one particular category. They range from professional players to writers to presenters, and as Onalytica study showed, even a record producer.
A brand needs to do thorough research and identify the influencer who works best for their brand. Even a successful eSports team is an influencer in itself, with large numbers of fan followers.
The eSports economy will continue to grow in the years to come. Long-term investments are being made in eSports, but currently, the return to investment is relatively low. That is expected to change as the industry continues to grow.
According to a Newzoo study, 41% growth (to about $696 million) was expected in the global eSports economy in 2017. Most of this revenue was from sponsorships, tickets, merchandise and advertising.
This makes eSports a force to be reckoned with. The study also estimated a 74% jump in in brand investment in 2017. The same study also projects a 82% jump in revenue from worldwide media rights.
Clearly, competitive gaming and eSports are popular as the various statistics show, but it is still a very young market. Those who saw this a growth opportunity in its early stages are building huge brand equity.
One of the key things to remember while reaching out to this gaming community is to respect these players and what they mean to their fans. ESports influencer marketing needs to be authentic, and 100% organic to be successful.
Brands need to figure out that what it is that the teams or the players are doing right, and how they became so popular. And once they crack this code, they can partner with them, and have the influencers work their magic to help push the brands to the next level. With eSports, the influencers need to be in the driver’s seat.
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