Winning with eSports Advertising

This piece was co-authored with Hurrah, the world’s leading eSports advertising agency.

Professional gaming is projected to generate $278 million in 2015, according to the latest Global Growth of eSports Report from research firm Newzoo.

Figure 1 Courtesy of Global Growth of Esports Report, Newzoo 2015

Buoyed by interconnected global regions, high profile tournaments with impressive prize pools and an explosion of livestreaming, thru platforms like Twitch, an entirely new entertainment experience has been born. Newzoo is also expecting the industry to generate more than $765 million by 2018 with the number of competitive-gaming enthusiasts reaching 165 million. In that light, advertisers will have to adapt in order to successfully reach the rapidly growing eSports audience as a particular target group.

eSports in the age of ad-blocking

As the online world gains momentum as a primary realm of content consumption, trust in brands trends towards an all-time low; with ad blocking usage reaching an all-time high. For example, Adblock Plus has been downloaded more than 400 million times, representing a 50% year-over-year growth. Meanwhile, video games have emerged as an incredibly popular form of entertainment amongst the 30-and-under crowd. These younger audiences are spending an increasing amount of time in domains that eschew traditional forms of advertising.

Enter eSports, with its overwhelmingly international, social and youthful set of demographics, giving advertisers a funnel into the hard to penetrate world of video games; specifically, even harder to reach target audiences: A Newzoo study, done in the USA, places 60% of all consumers of competitive gaming fall in the age range of 21–35 with 43% belonging to the male millennial group. However, these eSports enthusiasts speak a different “language” from their traditional sport counterparts. Additionally, there are scant best practices for bridging the gap between brands and competitive gaming communities. Consequently, new and creative advertising campaigns are paramount to success in eSports.

A Roadmap for Advertisers

Despite categorization as such, the worldwide eSports community is not a single monolith. In the same way there a different traditional sports, there are several leading eSport titles; each segment with its own intricacies and composition. Effective advertising will recognize the unique elements that correspond to target groups, and need to be addressed differently from conventional audiences. This implies acquiring expertise in the eSports sector. Towards that end, to define impactful eSports engagement and activation here are several examples:

  • Red Bull : Cross-channel advertising integration. The company released earmarked special edition cans of their energy drink at 7-Elevens nationwide with imagery from “Destiny: The Taken King,” an online role-playing action game. Each can contained a code that unlocked player advantages and new content in the game. Red Bull then live streamed not-yet-released gameplay on Twitch. The company also introduced notables from its roster of extreme sport athletes to push the Red Bull Quest campaign. This was an effective example of marrying multiple ad channels, into a single effective promotional push for the brand.
  • HTC: Team and culture integration. The device manufacturer continues to build momentum in the eSports space through tight alignment with both professional teams and community culture. Their HTC eSports division has been responsible for a series of ad campaigns that reflect close ties to the League of Legends competitive gaming culture. HTC has fashioned a commercial presence within the community as a company that “gets it,” and recently launched a series of engraved eSports smartphones that further promotes brand affinity.
  • HBO: Leveraging cross-over appeal. In April 2014, the cable company released ads on the Riot League of Legends eSports site promoting the season premiere of Game of Thrones HBO’s three-week activation, in advance of the series premiere, featured logo bugs and Website takeovers. The cable company also produced a mash-up trailer fit with exclusive sneak peaks. HBO did not have any previous eSports exposure as an advertiser but leveraged Game of Thrones cross-over appeal across key demographics within the League of Legends community.

The eSports Engagement Paradigm

Successful eSports advertising campaigns must, not only accept but, also embody characteristics of the world of competitive gaming. For example, eSports maintains an intimate connection between fan and professional player that is unparalleled in traditional sports. There is no established media layer that serves as gatekeeper to the personalities, stories and information. Instead, these artifacts are built into the universe; campaigns must reflect the culture and values of this flatter landscape, i.e. one that has evolved without overt commercial influence. In order to do so, there are certain intractable realities that must be considered.

Figure 2 Courtesy of EEDAR eSports Consumer Analysis Whitepaper, 2015

eSports enthusiasts define involvement with the greater community through participation, as opposed to consumption. As a result, these audiences expect a higher degree of connection between advertisement and the overall scene. For instance, a leading eSports brand, Coca-Cola, launched a weekly digital series in partnership with IGN in early October 2015. “ESports Weekly with Coca-Cola,” is designed as a 30-minute roundtable program similar to studio shows for traditional sports. In exchange for emblazoning its brand across the show, Coke is committed to bringing consistently, high quality reporting and programming to an eSports scene, missing both. By filling a critical niche, the beverage giant draws an immediate connection with the wider eSports community.

The rise of competitive gaming has been, and will continue to be, fueled by the predominance of livestreaming over the web. Advertisers must accept the distinctive nature of platforms like Twitch or Azubu, in order to leverage these outlets to reach the eSports crowd. A major challenge is adjusting to the requirement of becoming integrated with the community and understanding how to interact with gamers in an authentic manner. Building a knowledge base from expertise is critical to creating the variety of custom activations that will resonate with eSports fans, enthusiasts and viewers.

Originally published at on October 27, 2015.