In the 1980s, game enthusiasts gathered around their TVs to play arcade games such as “Space Invaders.” Then came “LAN parties” in the 1990s and early 2000s, when multiplayer online games became popular and could be played over local area networks.
Today, it’s all about e-sports–multiplayer video games played competitively online for anyone to watch, with professional gamers creating and building huge communities around them.
The global games market is worth US$134.9 billion, with Asia Pacific contributing to nearly half that amount ($66.2 billion), according to Newzoo. Furthermore, a whopping 25% of all consumer spending on games comes from China alone.
But the communities around games are all different–each game has its own fans, culture, and tournaments. If you’re a brand marketer wanting in on the e-sports action, understanding each game and its associated culture is vital.
“Every e-sports audience is distinct,” said Seamus Byrne, host of The E-sports Moment podcast. “So each community has its own flavour.”
For example, Fortnite—a survival game in which players build defensive fortifications—has a funny, over-the-top vibe, while Counter-Strike—in which teams of terrorists battle to perpetrate an act of terror while teams of anti-terrorists try to prevent it—is a much more serious game, reflected in the communities built around it, he said.
Find The Game Your Audience Plays
Anna Torres, Intel’s marketing director for South-East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, said developing an e-sports audience comes down to building a brand’s involvement with that gaming community.
“With Intel Extreme Masters, we have over 13 million people tuning into streams to watch the tournaments,” Torres said. “We separate that into four channels, including Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and we have local ‘casters’ [commentators], giving a local flavour to the tournament. It’s vital to focus on the local audiences and what they like if you want to succeed in this market.”
Legacy E-sports, a subsidiary of Adelaide Football Club, had members play in the Rift Rivals event in Vietnam in 2017, and again when Sydney hosted in 2018. Among the effective ways of developing an audience in e-sports, said Luca Rudolph, a spokesperson for Legacy E-sports, are giveaways, video content that is fun, engaging, and involves the players, and creating a character for the audience on social media.
“[These audiences] are inured to traditional marketing methods. If you can engage in an authentic way, it can provide huge returns,” Rudolph said. “Simple, often humorous engagements can massively amplify the message and the brand.”
Make A Commitment
While the e-sports audience may be sceptical about traditional marketing and advertising techniques, it is open to brands coming on board with a long-term commitment that contributes to the community.
Intel has invested $US100 million in e-sports over three years with the world’s premier gaming league ESL. Torres said this has helped create communities around ESL’s various games, as well as bolstering Intel’s brand within the gaming audiences.
“The key lesson is that ongoing commitment is crucial if you want to build a community and an audience,” Torres said. Audiences appreciate when a brand offers long-term loyalty, he added. “You can’t just dip in and out,” Torres said
Branding can also extend to the audiences themselves. Many leagues and teams offer “skins”–jerseys featuring the livery of a favourite player or team. Game platforms are also storefronts that can offer co-branded content, digital accessories, and access to secondary experiences within the gaming franchise, such as additional storylines and game plans.
Findings from Fortnite
The enormously popular Fortnite, for which about 40 million users log in to play every month, has become the most-viewed game on Twitch, a streaming platform for gaming content. Twitch offers more than 4,500 user channels for streaming games and claims an average of about 140,000 viewers at any one time.
Fortnite’s developers are all about community. Fortnite recently hosted a set from DJ Marshmello within the game, and players had to fight their way to attend. If a player got killed along the way, they didn’t get to the Marshello gig in real time. However, replays of the gig paid off in terms of audience engagement, with 100 million YouTube views of the content and related play in the week after the event.
E-sports Moment’s Byrne said that what happens in Fortnite is now spilling out of the game and creating digital communities in adjacent platforms, such as YouTube and Twitch. “The Fortnite community didn’t just participate,” he said. “They took what they discovered and let it change part of their wider outlook.”
The lessons brands can take from Fortnite is that building a community is about developing content relevant to the audience and offering a long-term commitment to that audience. After all, passionate brands build passionate audiences. For success in e-sports, and in building a community, passion is the key ingredient.