Brands need to believe in eSports

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In this article, Ollie Silverton, the Ultimate Sports and Entertainment Apprentice winner, at GMR Marketing, who found the position through GlobalSportsJobs, explains that eSports is continuing to grow more rapidly than ever and is generating more and more interest from brands looking to get in on the action. He also shares what he learnt from his time spent in North America shadowing Team Dignitas, a market leading eSports company, and from his interview with Nathan Lindberg, Director, eSports Sponsorships at Twitch, the leading video platform and community for gamers.

Twitch, formed in 2011 and acquired by Amazon for just under $1 billion three years later, has been pivotal to the success of eSports. Over 1.7 million players broadcast their gaming experiences on Twitch to huge audiences. The site receives 100 million unique viewers per month and 8.5 million per day. With the average user spending over 106 minutes on the site, Twitch enjoys better stickiness and retention than both Facebook and YouTube.

European Growth

eSports has become a behemoth in North America and Asia with free-to-play PC games Dota 2, League of Legends and Counter Strike the leading games. In the UK however, the gaming focus lies much more in consoles which is why Call of Duty is the only game in that category that has shown any indication of breaking the mould and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the eSports arena. Germany is the exception in Europe due to their very PC centric audience but other countries are slow to follow suit.

We are however likely to see growth in these markets through the integration of eSports with mainstream sports. FIFA currently run the FIFA Interactive World Cup alongside the mainstream tournament and football club VFL Wolfsburg has their own team. Similarly, the NFL are delving in to the eSports market by broadcasting ‘Madden NFL Live’ weekly on and Twitch, which is helping brands and rights holders reach a much wider audience.

Sponsorship Landscape

There are plenty of big names associated with eSports with the likes of Intel sponsoring the Extreme Masters Series and Coca-Cola and Red Bull sponsoring players, teams and leagues. The sponsorship structure is very similar to that of mainstream sports. However due to the genre being in its infancy, there are even more opportunities for brands to be creative and own the eSports space at a fraction of the cost although these costs are rising.

“A sponsorship that cost $2,000 a couple of years ago is now costing brands $20,000 and is likely to rise to $2 million in the next 5 years” said Nathan Lindberg. “Brands need to start believing in eSports. The audience is there, the infrastructure is there, everything is there. We just need brands to say we believe and we want to be a part of it and if that happens, success will follow.”

“I want to be here, this is my audience, and how can I help? This is the mindset and attitude needed if brands want to get involved and succeed.”

With every investment there are risks involved and that is no different here. eSports is very much learning how best to work with brands and there is no definitive answer to how big eSports will become but this presents a tremendous opportunity for sponsors. Just look at the growth of UFC. The brands that get involved early have the ability to build lifetime relationships and achieve long term success. We have seen exactly that in other sports all over the world.

What next for eSports?

Continuing to grow is the challenge for eSports and there are a number of things that must be done to ensure that happens. From the Twitch perspective there needs to be an improvement in distribution. The main focus is very much streaming and broadcasting but working out how to repurpose content for TV is essential. In larger markets such as India and South East Asia the opportunities are huge but there is a lack of internet connectivity and broadband in those regions which is what streaming relies on.

As much as mainstream sports can learn from eSports the same works the other way around too, the boom needs to be consolidated. On Twitch alone there were almost 4,000 tournaments broadcast last year. That is nearly 11 per day and that presents a real risk of overkill and user fatigue. If the sport can be standardised and scheduled with professional and amateur circuits like we see in traditional sports, then people will begin to miss it and keep coming back.

In Closing

Many people struggle to consider eSports a sport but looking back a similar argument was made generations ago. There used to be a belief that you couldn’t make a career out of playing sport and look at how radically that has been changed. Next was the thought that gaming is just a hobby and not anything more but once again we continue to defy the odds. At the end of the day it provides entertainment to the masses and as long as it continues to do that and whilst games are still being made, then the opportunities will be there for brands to associate themselves with the sport. Lindberg ended by stating that “brands wanting to target the millennials have to invest now and take the risk before you lose a generation of potential customers.”

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