Are Esports the Answer to “Future Proofing” a Business?

Twitch’s Nathan Lindberg and Whistlesports’ Jeff Urban weigh in.

In the past few years, esports has blown up in popularity. In 2013 The League of Legends Season 3 World Championship (a video game competition), which was staged in a sold-out Staples Center in Los Angeles, had more than double the views of the World Series and NCAA Final Four.

This gain in popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, just this past week Activision Blizzard officially announced the sale of the first seven Overwatch League city-based team franchises, and among those who bought into the new esports league were New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon. A smart move according to Nathan Lindberg, Director of esports Sponsorship sales at Twitch, who believes esports can help “future proof” a business because of its appeal to a younger audience.

“I think when you look at traditional sports, you’re starting see it aging up and up and up. And a lot of brands need to find that young audience again,” Lindberg explained to VideoInk. “Those young affluent millennials who are going to buy their products for life; not just for the next week, for the next month or five years, but for the next 40 years. And this is where they are.”

Though Lindberg admits that esports is not bigger than sports (as of yet), he is very adamant that the time for brands to invest is now because of the chance to help grow and grow with the industry.

“When you look at brand partnerships and you look at the successful ones in this space, it’s when a brand has stepped in and not only provide financial value, but also has done something to change the space: grow an audience, help more people get into the space, help leagues be more structured,” Lindberg explained. “And that has a really big impact on how users [. . .] view the brands. You’re seeing brand affinity scores that are higher than traditional sports, and that’s because brands are going the extra step to connect with the audience.”

As Lindberg mentioned, esports is huge among the younger generation, but it should be noted that when comparing esports to traditional sports, online gaming networks aren’t geographically restricted in the way traditional broadcast media is. It is possible that more people would have tuned into the 2013 NBA finals if viewing was easier, or if it was more broadly distributed. In certain areas, the NBA League Pass can cost nearly $400, which could stop a lot of fans from tuning in.

But that hasn’t stopped companies like Whistlesports from getting in on the esports action.

“We’re supper bullish on esports,” Whistlesports’ Co-founder Jeff Urban revealed to VideoInk. “It’s one of our fastest growing verticals. In particular the focus for us has been on FIFA gamers”

Whistle Sports’ first signee in this space was Air Japes, a YouTube creator that specializes on FIFA videos. At the time of his signing he boasted 337,668 subscribers and garnered nearly 65 million views on his channel.

“The viewership for eSports athletes is far too large to ignore,” Ben Lindemer, Whistle Sports’ Partnerships Coordinator, told SportTechie back in 2015.

Now major networks are starting to follow suit including ESPN, NBC, and TBS, all who regularly air esports programming. But this newly found pastime isn’t just for the “big dogs” of entertainment. Lindberg thinks this is a perfect opportunity for brands to get in on the action at a low cost and high payout rate.

“Brands have an unbelievable opportunity right now in esports. If you think about what you wanna do and where you wanna be in 20 or 30 years, the opportunities that you can get into today, at a fraction of the cost, are their to move forward with.”

Esports may not be America’s favorite pastime just yet, but looking at the way its popularity has exploded across the globe, it’s not crazy to think that one day soon it may be the world’s favorite pastime. Meaning, for any brand looking to stay relevant it wouldn’t hurt to consider dabbling in the world of competitive online-gaming.