Imagine an entire tennis stadium converting into a bustling, themed gaming ground. At the renowned Fortnite World Cup Finals of 2019, several attractions were replicated from the actual game to create a digital theme park that rewarded winners with an enormous $30 million prize pool.
The rising popularity of digital gaming, more commonly referred to as esports, has taken the world by storm in recent years. We see an increase in the number of participants and the number of spectators tuning in to watch esports tournaments such as the League of Legends world championship (viewership for this spectacle surpassed even the Super Bowl!). Streaming platforms like Twitch, Mixer, and Youtube have also enabled people from across the globe to participate in the gaming frenzy.
The recent spike of interest in the industry has led to many opportunities for brands in gaming merchandise, dating applications, gambling, and even gaming tourism.
An analysis of search behavior tells us what’s trending.
As esports transformed from an engaging past-time for gamers to a more professional and structured entity, viewer and participant interest skyrocketed across the globe. Related search terms such as “mortal kombat,” “esport score,” and “esports rocket league” increased by 129%, 30%, and 37% respectively in 2020 as compared to the same time frame in 2019.
The Covid-19 pandemic and global lockdowns accelerated this trend of online gaming as people had more time for indoor activities. With major sporting events such as the NFL, Wimbledon, and even the Olympics being canceled or closed to the public, the appeal of e-sports for spectators increased multifold. We saw searches for keywords related to merchandise like “best gaming chair,” “dxracer chair,” and “gaming chair with speakers” spike by 65% in the period leading up to March 2021.
Interestingly, we saw a whopping 144% surge in searches for Kippo, the dating app for gamers, indicating the close-knit community that esports has created, especially for those feeling isolated at home.
Our Culture AI demystifies the appeal of esports.
Whether it’s the inclusive nature of the games or the thrill of participating in digital competitions, there are several key motivators of esports for both participants and viewers.
Our Culture AI extracted over 1200 Twitter posts of top brands such as Fnatic, Immortals Gaming Club, and FanUp to understand what makes them stand out and captivate users.
The accessibility factor
People are hooked to esports by virtue of staying indoors for extended periods of time over the last year. With sporting events on hold, fans have turned to online entertainment. Through esports, fans get to experience the same thrill, competitiveness, and team spirit as they would in a football or rugby stadium.
Games such as League of Legends and Call of Duty host monthly and annual championships with over 20 participating teams, much like the NFL and Grand Prix. The best part? They can be watched via multiple streaming platforms, and the viewing experience can be alleviated by investing in gaming equipment and wearable technology.
Socializing in isolation
Living in lockdown has meant that people are craving social interactions. Gaming and esports provide the perfect platform for gamers to connect and interact with peers from different parts of the world, especially during tournaments. On streaming platforms like Twitch, spectators also get the opportunity to interact with others viewing the league — much like cheering together for their favorite teams at a sporting event.
Apart from dating apps that match people based on their gaming interests, top companies are also organizing live AR events and virtual concerts to bring the fan base together and build excitement for tournaments.
Entering a parallel universe
Unlike traditional sports, the creativity involved in esports is mind-blowing. Participants and spectators are intrigued because they can enter a parallel universe, unlike anything they have experienced before. Whether it is taking up the role of a summoner that has to destroy the Nexus of the enemy to win (in the League of Legends) or joining the Dota 2 hero clan to defend one’s ancient — the uniqueness of the gaming concept is a major factor of appeal to gamers and viewers.
Our Culture AI analysis of the most used words in Twitter posts revealed clusters of phrases and brand names that can only be identified by gamers and those streaming esports. For example, “Super evil megacorp,” “duty league team,” and “vainglory” are terms that general non-gaming audiences may not resonate with but is common-speak among gamers.
Alternate career and income opportunities
One of the most attractive aspects of esports, which especially appeals to younger participants, is the ability to earn a substantial amount of income by doing what they love. Prize money from tournaments, sponsorships, and content creation (including review videos) is incentive enough for gamers to consider part-time and full-time career opportunities in this domain. Interestingly, an increasing number of colleges in the United States are offering esports courses to help students maximize their earning potential.
Esports betting and coaching are some of the other revenue streams that are gaining traction among gaming enthusiasts.
Key takeaways for brands
The esports industry was valued at $1.48 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow at 25% annually in the next seven years. With numerous areas of appeal for participants and spectators, the opportunities for brands to leverage openings in the space are endless.
As audiences grow in size and game development companies start incorporating newer, interactive technologies, there’s potential to diversify into related spaces. Given the increase in screen time, brands must focus on gamer wellbeing such as eye protection wearables or even healthy supplements. Another focus area could be the production of gaming content in collaboration with celebrities, influencers, and other non-gaming brands to promote products and services in unconventional and creative ways.
Finally, college esports is one of the fastest-growing spaces. With educational institutions launching related programs and courses for students, brands can explore tapping into this trend to recruit talent for major gaming companies.
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