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For the uninitiated, e-sports might seem like a passive pastime—perhaps a group of “Call Of Duty” fans gathered around a computer to watch others compete in the popular title via video-streaming site Twitch.
It’s anything but. E-sports represents big business, one that could be worth US$2.4 billion globally by 2020, according to research conducted by Newzoo. Three years ago, even ESPN predicted its rise, with tournaments on par with traditional sporting events. “The League of Legends Championship sold out Staples Center in 2013, then sold out the 40,000-seat World Cup Stadium in Seoul a year later while drawing an online audience of 27 million—more than the TV viewership for the final round of the Masters,” according to ESPN.
Whether marketers themselves are gamers or newbies, engaging this fan base represents a lucrative opportunity. Of note, currently a whopping 57% of e-sports enthusiasts worldwide are based in APAC, according to Newzoo.
“The primary audience for e-sports is young Millennials,” added Nigel Smart, chief operating officer of south Australia-based Adelaide Football Club (AFC), which in 2017 acquired e-sports team Legacy eGaming to add to its roster of sporting activities. “In Australia, according to the [Australian Bureau of Statistics], we have around 2.9 million males and females in the 15- to-25-year age bracket, and they represent the core audience for e-sports and gaming.”
E-sports isn’t just for endemic marketers, either. For example, companies such as Singtel are getting on board. As recent as this month, the Singaporean telecommunications company launched an e-sports league, the PVP eSports Championship, in conjunction with hardware manufacturer Razer. The new league will be multi-title and multiregional, with local qualifiers held in Australia, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. The first championship will be held in Singapore in October, with a prize pool of $300,000.
One of the drivers of e-sports growth is the simple coming together of electronic gaming fans with their heroes, said Hwang Young Min, deputy department manager, business development department, at Nexon. Nexon is a pioneer of interactive entertainment, having introduced the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), “The Kingdom of the Winds,” in 1995.
“Developments in technology allow people to share gaming together across the region and permits them to follow teams and e-sports stars,” Min told CMO.com. “Our role is to make a pro-gamer a star player, and to expose them to media and to their fans.”
Computer chip giant Intel is another adopter, with an involvement stretching back 15 years. It recently sponsored the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) in Sydney over three days at the Qudos Bank Arena.
According to Intel, 7,500 fans attended the stadium each day during the event, with the addition of 13.5 million unique online viewers across 56 online destinations in 20 languages.
Anna Torres, marketing director, Australia and South East Asia, at Intel, said the company looks at its involvement in e-sports as a way to connect with enthusiast gamers and to offer them an unparalleled gaming experience. The company’s processors power the majority of high-performance gaming rigs, and its involvement in e-sports pushes Intel to keep innovating, she said.
Getting Into The Game
In 2018, sponsorships were accountable for 40% of the total global e-sports revenue stream of US$906 million, according to Newzoo. This represented a 53% increase year over year.
Indeed, e-sports sponsorship represents a clear way for marketers to get into the game. In addition to Singtel, other companies that have also used e-sports as a marketing springboard include Comcast Xfinity, a U.S. telecommunications firm that sponsors the Electronic Sports League (ESL), as well as the e-sports team Evil Geniuses. Beverage manufacturers Red Bull and Mountain Dew are also involved, with the latter sponsoring a range of teams, including Splyce and Team SK Gaming. Mountain Dew also founded the Mountain Dew League, which helps amateur teams make it to the professional league.
The 2014 World Championship Final in Seoul drew an online audience of 27 million.
As with any sports sponsorship strategy, brands considering backing an e-sports team or event need to understand the e-sports markets, the players, and, most importantly, the core audience, experts said.
“Authenticity is something that always comes up,” Torres said. “We’re a firm believer that if a brand comes into the e-sports space with the goal of truly engaging with the audience, they will find success.”
Marketers should also understand that the way Millennials consume media is changing: Traditional avenues like free-to-air television are falling by the wayside, AFC’s Smart added. It’s also estimated that around 40% of them use ad blockers, rendering traditional online advertising approaches irrelevant.
“E-sports and gamers don’t like being interrupted by promotional content and will shy away from brand marketing,” Torres said. “Done right, gamers will engage, but firstly you need to know your audience, and second, you need to integrate advertisements seamlessly into content that means something to the e-sports audience.
“Providing value and being invested in the community are the keys to success,” she added, “because the e-sports community will let you know straight away whether what you’re doing is working or not.”
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