‘We believe storymaking is more valuable than just storytelling’: Mastercard wants in on eSports

The Nexus featured a streaming studio, gallery space and augmented reality activations.

Mastercard is strengthening its position as a global brand and technology company by investing in eSports.

The American financial services giant has been looking at eSports for about two years because it believes it has ‘great synergy’ with the competition and is intrigued with the increasing passion for eSports from hundreds of millions of fans globally. Games like Fortnite attracted 125 million players within a year of launch and averaged an estimated $1m a day in player spend on mobile before its official Android and iOS releases.

Research by eSports marketing intelligence company Newzoo also found Amazon-owned live streaming video platform Twitch generating 2bn hours of gaming content in the first quarter of 2018, 11.6% of which (228m hours) was eSports.

In September, Mastercard finally took the plunge and became the first global sponsor of League of Legends (LoL) and its biggest annual tournament ‘The League of Legends World Championship’, which attracted a global viewership of over 60 million people in 2017.

The following month, in the lead up to the 2018 World Championship, Mastercard harnessed the power of online communities in offline events by creating an immersive pop-up experiential venue called The Mastercard Nexus in Seoul, South Korea, which brought fans and the eSports community together to fully live the LoL.

The Nexus featured a streaming studio, gallery space, augmented reality activations, as well as a-winner-stays-on one on one gaming arena, which provided players with a different experience from what they would get if they played LoL at home.

Like its sponsorship of the Cannes Film Festival, the Grammy Awards, and the UEFA Champions League final, eSports fits in with Mastercard’s ‘Priceless Experiences’ messaging at its core, Raja Rajamannar, the chief marketing and communications officer, and president of the healthcare business at Mastercard tells The Drum.

“Our partnership with League of Legends eSports opens opportunities for us to engage with this global community through onsite experiential activations like the Mastercard Nexus, and in-game through special Mastercard spend and use promotions,” Rajamannar said.

“We’re also engaging with our banking partners to offer League of Legends Mastercard cards in select markets around the world. These are all opportunities to not only drive our brand and reputation but our business as well.”

Mastercard believes its sponsorship of eSports allows the brand to connect with a new and younger audience through curating authentic experiences for the fans. It is consistently looking for ways in which it can engage with people through their passions, like sports or music, and recognizes that eSports fans are amongst the ‘most energetic and engaged of any global sport’.

For example, in the lead up to the World Championship Final, it offered fan opportunities such as the attending the opening ceremony rehearsal, a behind-the-scenes tour, and the chance to play-test the pro gaming PCs. These experiences all sold out on its priceless.com website, giving Mastercard the confidence that it is headed on the right path with this highly engaged community.

“We are developing unforgettable priceless experiences and unique offers through event activations – like The Mastercard Nexus – as well as through priceless.com and in-game promotions,” explains Rajamannar. “Throughout the World Championships, Mastercard has surprised and delighted fans and brought consumers closer to their passion for League of Legends.

“Esport fans are generally younger but are amongst the most passionate in the world and rival fans of any other major sports. As we continue to deliver amazing experiences for our loyal consumers we are equally excited about emerging passions and news opportunities. Innovation is core to our company and that reflects our approach to partnerships as well as products and services.”

On a panel at Advertising Week New York this year, Rajamannar declared storytelling is dead because brands need to engage with consumers in a way that is completely different. That means investing in eSports makes sense for Mastercard because experiences matter more than things, and as such, storymaking is more valuable than just storytelling.

“We look to enable consumers to create their own priceless stories and then they in-turn become our most valuable brand ambassador or brand storyteller,” he says. “With eSport for example, rather than running a series of ads around our sponsorship, we instead are focused on delivering Priceless experiences with fans.”

“By getting fans closer to what they love, we believe that we’ve created multiple stories and unforgettable memories for fans. They will share these stories with their friends, online. We believe that this level of engagement is distinctly stronger than traditional storytelling.”

In other industries, a group of telcos in the Asia Pacific have also invested in eSports after they signed a memorandum of understanding in October to grow ecosystem in the region.

The MOU will see Singtel, Optus, Airtel, AIS, Globe and Telkomsel, who are already collaborating to build an ecosystem of digital services such as mobile payments and gaming for customers, commit to scaling up eSports, content creation and distribution, and collaboration with the broader gaming ecosystem.

The telcos will also work together to develop solutions and services for gamers and fans in the region. This includes access to local, regional, and global eSports competitions, as well as original content and exclusive programming.

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