A Marketer’s Guide to Esports

Highlighting the Media and Brand Opportunities in Esports

By Scott Elchison and Kevin Rodriguez

As a fast-growing media category, esports is attracting increasing attention from media owners and brands. In this marketer’s guide, we break down the current esports ecosystem, the brand opportunities they present, as well as the three key characteristics of esports that make it so appealing to brand advertisers.

Esports, short for electronic sports, also known as competitive (video) gaming, refers to competitive tournaments of video games, especially among professional gamers, and the entire digital media ecosystem that has spun around it.

Esports is similar to traditional sports, whether it be player vs player or team vs team based competition, but for video games. The most common types of esports video games are real-time strategy, fighting, first-person shooter (FPS), and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA). In recent years, professional esports tournaments are hosted at major sport venues such as MSG or The Barclays Center. Fans flock to these in events in droves to watch professional players or teams compete against one another on a particular game, in real time.

Fans at sports venues to attend esports tournament in person

Of course, competitive gameplay is nothing new, as organized online and offline competitions have long been a part of the video game culture. But it wasn’t until the early 2010s when the video game industry saw an opportunity in harnessing the rise of game-streaming platforms such as Twitch to turn amateur competitions into professional tournaments that are broadcast to all interested gamers. This crucial development significantly boosted the reach of this previously niche media segment and spurred rapid development in the gaming industry.

As a relatively new media category, esports is attracting increasing attention from media owners and brands due to the following three key characteristics.

Esports is growing fast

Since Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014, esports viewership has been growing steadily over the past few years. In April of this year, almost 90 million total hours were watched via livestream for the game League of Legends alone. According to a recent survey by the Esports Ad Bureau, 54% of U.S. consumers have watched esports content in the past three month, and 90% of respondents say they are aware of esports.

Source: eMarketer

Esports is youth-oriented

Esports entertains a desirable audience demo that skews young millennials. According to eMarketer’s latest survey on esports audience, 51% of U.S. esports viewers belongs to the 18-to-34 demographic. For comparison with traditional sports, Newzoo estimates that 22% of American male millennials watch esports, putting it virtually equal with baseball and hockey in terms of viewership among that coveted demographic. They are notoriously hard to reach via traditional ad channels due to their digital-heavy media habits and high usage of ad blockers.

One aspect of esports that makes it so attractive to the younger generation is the fast paced gameplay, where a round might only last 60 seconds. Additionally, there is a very low barrier for this digital-savvy audience to access the content they want to watch at their own pace. Rather than paying for premium cable packages for sports coverage, an esports fan can simply get on Twitch to watch the live stream of their choice.

Esports is global-reaching

With organized events or tournaments that take place on regional and international levels, amateur or professional players from around the world are brought together to compete against each other to create a global spectacle. On the audience side, gaming enthusiasts from all over the world tune in to watch the action via online platforms. According to Newzoo’s estimation, Asia-Pacific region accounts for over half of the global esports audience, with Europe and North America trailing at 18% and 13%, respectively.

Source: Newzoo

Brand Opportunity

The esports and gaming space is under-monetized today with significant room for growth, providing the perfect media opportunity for brands. Brand involvements can range from very low-touch media placements to highly integrated sponsorships of events or teams.

The Electronic Sports League or ESL is one of the major names in esports. They host some of the most prestigious esports tournaments such as ESL Pro Leagues, ESL National Champions and ESL One (offline tournaments series). Brands can get involved through event sponsorship, surrounding media or even producing a custom tournament series, similar to what Mountain Dew is doing.

Taking it down a notch, online esports tournament platforms such as Battlefly, Smash.gg or ATTAQ offer brands the ability to sponsor or host amateur tournaments. These platforms are great if a brand is looking to test the waters and enables brands to provide value to the esports community.

One of the most well-known names in the space is broadcasting and community platform, Twitch. This is the place where users gather to watch people (streamers) play videos games, watch esports tournaments and take part in the gaming community and culture. Twitch offers a well spring of media opportunities including but not limited to pre-roll ads, influencer streams, sponsorships and custom productions.

In addition, traditional ad opportunities to reach the esports community have also emerged through legacy media owners’ coverage of the space, both in terms of TV broadcasts of major tournaments as well as editorial content.

Most notable is Turner’s professional esports league, ELeague. All competitions are broadcasted on TBS as well as on Twitch and Youtube. ESPN also started airing competitions on ESPN2 back in 2015. Now, other traditional TV broadcasters such as NBC, BBC, and BT are following suit and have made deals to schedule esports content in their programming. Traditional editorial content specific to esports is starting to pop up as well, proving brands new channels to reach gaming enthusiasts.

Brand Takeaways

The main takeaway, esports is here to stay and dismissing this industry would be unwise. Overwatch league boasts a $20M buy-in per team and the teams are owned by those with major investments in traditional sports such as Jeff Wilpon (Owner of Mets), Robert Kraft (New England Patriots) and Stand and Los Kroenke (Denver Nuggets). Smart marketers will look at the burgeoning industry on a deeper level and figure out where their brand fits best.

A very turnkey way for a brand to get involved today is working with gaming publications such as DBLTap to surround esports news and content. On the other hand, for brands that looking to go all in, sponsorship of a major tournament or even creating their own league might be the way to go. No matter how a brand decides to activate they need to understand the gaming audience and work to provide a truly authentic experience. If a brand speaks down to the audience, plays on stereotypes or tries to push their own agenda of what they think gamers want, harsh backlash can be expected.


Appendix

Here is a list of major events and tournaments that brands looking to enter esports should definitely know of:

  • League of Legends Championship Series (Riot)
  • Intel Extreme Masters
  • The International Dota 2 Championships (Valve)
  • ESL
  • Overwatch League
  • ELEAGUE (Turner)
  • Rocket League
  • EVO (Capcom)
  • Dreamhack
  • Red Bull Battle Grounds
  • MLG (Activision)
  • Call of Duty World League
  • ESWC (WEBEDIA group)