eSports: The pathway for brands to engage Generation Z?

By The Earnie Team

eSports (competitive video gaming) is not a new concept. In 1980, over 10,000 gamers in the USA entered the inaugural Atari Space Invaders Championship. The tournament was finally won by Becky Heinemann, a name that would become synonymous with video-game programming. The dedication of gamers in 1980 may well be the same as it is now, but with nearly 40 years of technological advancement in the wind, the world of the Atari Space Invaders Championship is long gone.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the biggest e-Sports tournaments now draw huge prizes, massive fan followings and a raft of opportunities for some of the biggest brands in the business. Last year, two of the biggest eSports tournaments were Dota 2 and Intel’s Extreme Masters. The Dota 2 World Championship offered $20m in prize money, while the Extreme Masters was watched by 100,000 spectators and received 3.2m social media engagements. Surprisingly, the League of Legends final in 2016 was watched by 36m, more than the NBA finals.

Twitch leads the way

The biggest factor in the meteoric rise of eSports is the success of live video streaming. Twitch, purchased by Amazon for almost $1m in 2014, is a social media and streaming service dedicated to gaming. As an efficient, reliable and high definition distribution network, Twitch makes eSports incredibly accessible. And it it is this ease of access that means that the eSports community is projected to be 219m by 2019, while overall eSports revenue expected to exceed $1b by the same date.

Now, eSports is making the transition to broadcast, moving in a direction that is completely alien to traditional sports. As this article by the Drum explains, ‘eSports was born in the digital age. [as opposed to other sports] Moving can sometimes be harder than maturing’, suggesting it may be easier to move from digital to broadcast, rather than vice versa. eSports has already gained traction in the broadcasting arena, with ESPN showing live tournaments. The huge eSports following in Australia (level with golf, netball, horseracing and cycling) led to Fox Sports Australia’s coverage of the 2016 FIFA Interactive World Cup. More recently, BT agreed a deal to televise the 2017 FIFA Ultimate Team Championship series, live in the UK.

Do brands have a role to play?

It wouldn’t surprise you to know that technology brands are heavily involved in eSports, with the likes of IGN, Twitch itself, Youtube, Microsoft etc. in the area. Other brands such as Coca-Cola, Doritos and Red Bull have also thrown their hats into the ring of eSports. These FMCG brands have realised the value that eSports can bring and the fanatical audience that comes with it. Now, you can even bet on eSports, increasing the involvement and opportunities of betting brands. Brand sponsorship in eSports is projected to reach $128m by the end of 2016.

Where is the value for brands?

As already mentioned, eSports has a booming following. More importantly, this following can be tracked with ease as all interactions happen online. Add to this that the majority of eSports followers are between 18-34 (encompassing Millennials and Generation Z) – an increasingly hard audience to target. eSports gives brands the opportunity to reach their audience in an authentic channel they trust, and effectively measure their strategies. As an audience, 18-34 year olds are fragmented and desensitised to huge volumes of content across all social media and online activity. Brands sponsoring eSports have the opportunity to access the audience organically on their favoured channels. eSports commentators, known as ‘Shoutcasters’, also provide brands with an opportunity to tap into niche audiences. With their loyal followers who trust their views, brands can use these influencers as brand ambassadors.

eSports is continuing to grow. More revenue. More followers. More coverage. For brands looking to access 18-34 year olds amongst a world of noisy content, eSports could prove to be the sponsorship pathway worth following.