Thinking about entering the esports space? Sounds like a smart move.
With more tournaments and bigger prize funds, esports is snowballing. And established brands have already seized the opportunity to reach new audiences through esports marketing.
But while esports marketing is a fast-emerging new channel for brands, it can easily be a hit or miss, and therefore requires some familiarity with the gaming culture.
In this guide, you’ll learn what esports is, which brands should consider esports marketing, plus eight ways to get started with it.
Let’s dive in!
What is Esports?
Esports (also known as electronic sports, e-sports, or eSports) is a form of competition using video games. Newzoo defines esports as:
“Competitive gaming at a professional level and in an organized format (a tournament or league) with a specific goal (i.e., winning a champion title or prize money) and a clear distinction between players and teams that are competing against each other.”
Video gamers have always had competitions. Back in 1980, Atari organized a tournament for its Space Invaders game.
But it wasn’t until the late 2000s that professional gamers emerged, watched by spectators via live streaming.
By the 2010s, esports was established in the video game industry. Many game developers started designing tournament-specific games as well as sponsoring the events.
Today, esports is considered a professional sport. It’s even under consideration to be included in the Olympics. Players are athletes in their own right, who have to train physically and mentally to perform at the highest level.
According to Wikipedia, the most common esports video game genres are:
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
- First-Person Shooter (FPS)
- Card Games
- Battle Royale Games
- Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
Twitch (owned by Amazon) and YouTube Gaming are the two biggest online streaming media platforms for esports. Other providers include:
- Facebook Gaming
- Bigo Live
Esports competitions are organized in leagues and tournaments, including:
- League of Legends World Championship
- Dota 2 International Championship
- Evolution Championship Series
- Intel Extreme Masters
- Overwatch League.
- Amazon Mobile Masters
It’s not just pro players and teams that are involved in esports. The eco-system also includes a growing number of fans, viewers, streamers, and sponsors.
Newzoo places viewers in two categories:
- Esports enthusiasts: People who watch esports more than once a month.
- Occasional viewers: People who watch esports less than once a month.
Either way, numbers are on the increase:
Data from Statista predicts the global esports market revenue will reach almost 1.8 billion by 2022:
Statista also estimates that brands will spend approximately 1.2 billion U.S. dollars on esports sponsorships and advertising in 2020.
Asia and North America are the two largest esports markets:
All of the marketing and research data suggests that the esports market will continue to grow.
Which Brands Should Consider Esports Marketing?
Despite the exceptional growth figures, not all brands should embrace esports marketing.
It’s clear that technology brands, such as Intel, HP, and Corsair, are a natural fit for the esports market.
However, it’s already been proven that non-endemic brands, such as Bud Light and Luis Vuitton, can also enjoy successful esports marketing campaigns.
Quick Reference: Endemic vs Non-Endemic brands
Endemic sponsors: brands that create products that are used in the production or playing of esports, such as software and computer component manufacturers and energy drinks, are the most regular sponsors of esports.
Non-endemic sponsors: brands that create products that are not vital to the production or playing of esports, such as Coca-Cola or Geico, play a secondary role to these endemic sponsors.
In esports, over 88% of all team deals and 65% of all event deals analyzed are with endemic brands.
So, what’s the key?
In a nutshell, it boils down to demographics.
According to NJ Games, viewership is split 62% men and 38% women, with more than half the viewers aged between 21 and 35 years old.
AdAge also points out that this demographic is increasingly hard to reach via traditional advertising. It’s a view echoed by eMarketer principal analyst Paul Verna, who adds:
“Fans are typically young, TV-averse millennials who have higher-than-average disposable income. They are open to marketing messages that are embedded in the esports experience, whether those are sponsorships, branded videos, in-game integrations, influencer-driven endorsements, or even traditional ads.”
Examples of Successful Esports Marketing Campaigns
Let’s take a look at three of the successful non-endemic brand campaigns from 2019.
Louis Vuitton x League of Legends
In November 2019, Louis Vuitton collaborated with Riot Games for the annual League of Legends World Championship – considered the most prestigious prize in esports.
Louis Vuitton created an unprecedented, one-of-a-kind Trophy Travel Case to hold the Summoner’s Cup, the trophy awarded to the world champions. They also designed unique champion skins for Qiyana (a character from the game) and a capsule collection, along with other League of Legend digital assets.
Bud Light x Overwatch League
Bud Light partnered with the Overwatch League – one of the most popular competitive gaming tournaments – as official beer sponsor. As part of the partnership, Bud Light also sponsored the homestand weekends with consumer experiences and giveaways. Joe Barnes, director of experiential marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev, said:
“We put them in what we call the Bud Light Watchtower, playing on the Overwatch IP. It’s the most premium seat within all the venues, where we’ll invite guests to hang out with influencers, streamers, and professional gamers.”
Gillette x Twitch
Gillette, the world’s leading expert in men’s grooming, and Twitch, the leading service and community for multiplayer entertainment, created the “Gillette Gaming Alliance,” where a team of 11 Twitch streamers created content for the brand.
Gillette also created the “Bits for Blades” promotion, allowing fans to earn the virtual currency Twitch Bits by purchasing Gillette products displayed and discussed by the team.
How to Get Started With Esports Marketing as a Brand
No matter how big your brand is, you can use esports marketing. Here are some strategies to help get you started.
Find the right audience
Esports, like traditional sports, is divided into different categories:
- PvP (Player vs. Player)
- FPS (First-Person Shooter)
- RTS (Real-Time Strategy)
- MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena)
- MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games)
Each format attracts different personalities, so make sure you target the best-fit audience for your brand. For example, you could try asking your existing social audience what type of games they prefer.
Emily Ketchen, Head of Americas Marketing at HP, advises brands to be authentic:
“A brand should identify an authentic voice within the esports space and be able to provide meaningful interactions and connections for consumers.”
“Find a partner that really aligns with your brand’s goals, its voice, and its audience. Then, through that partner, you can communicate authentically with a new audience and begin to form those relationships within the esports community.”
Identify the best channels
Having found your target audience, you’ll need to identify how to reach them.
Twitch is the most popular platform for eSports fans.
Other platforms include:
- Bigo Live
You can start by placing your ads on a selection of platforms to see where you have the most success.
Collaborate with esports influencers
You can use influencer marketing as you would for other campaigns. Find popular streamers with a huge following to market your brand. For example, on Twitch, you can search for popular channels and categories:
Depending on your budget and the popularity of your brand, you may have to work down the list. But even working with micro-influencers allows you to start building your community of fans and followers.
Note: Esports athletes have grown up with social media, and are incredibly savvy on how to communicate with their fans compared to traditional sports athletes.
Collaborate with Twitch partners
Twitch partners have the option to run video ads before, during, and after their live gaming streams. Plus, they earn a share of the revenue generated from any ads played on their channel. So, you could look for partners with a large relevant audience to collaborate with.
Host giveaways and online contests
Hosting giveaways on social media, especially in conjunction with an influencer, is another way to get your brand noticed and associated with the esports industry. As we saw with Louis Vuitton, you could create limited-edition merchandise, only available for a social media contest.
Start an esports team
You may want to consider starting your own esports team. It’s one way you’re guaranteed to get advertising whenever they stream or engage with their audience, and, as you own the team, you call the shots.
Sponsor a team through agencies
If you have more budget, then you could sponsor an existing esports team through an agency, like:
- Viral Nation
- Flood Interactive
- Game Influencer
- CheeseCake Digital
- Foreseen Media
For example, Turtle Wax used the RevXp agency to promote its brand with professional gamers as well as sponsoring Splyce’s European-based Call of Duty and League of Legends teams.
“Although Turtle Wax may not seem endemic to the esports and gaming world, for many of the biggest personalities (and followers), their cars are an extension of their personality and lifestyle.”
Create and host a tournament
The big tournaments already get sponsored, but what’s to stop you from creating and hosting your own tournament. Smaller events can be an effective way to market your brand.
You could partner with local businesses, such as pubs, hotel bars, or sports bars, to host the event. Or, if you want to scale your tournament, you could partner with a company like Estars Studios.
No matter which esports marketing strategies you decide to use, you need to be consistent. Shannon Simpson Jones, co-founder at agency Verb, says:
“The brands that have a consistent, sustained presence in this space are the ones that win.”
Esports Marketing in a Nutshell
Esports is on the rise and is set to continue growing.
Brands of all sizes, including non-endemic brands, can embrace esports marketing. As long as your brand fits the demographic, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start using esports marketing. Just remember to be authentic and consistent in your campaigns.
But whatever you do, don’t leave it too late to get in.