This figure is set to increase to almost 300m people by 2022, with a further 347m people tuning in occasionally. The huge prize sums given to these players are also well documented in the mainstream press, with headlines dominating in all countries, telling stories that even children are being made millionaires by turning their love of gaming into a business.
The story for brands has been mixed, however, with some brands flocking to the genre but many cautiously watching from the sidelines. It is translating into revenue and this part specifically is set to rocket, as brands take a more active role in investing in eSports. Market revenue worldwide reached $1.09bn in 2019, according to Statista, rising to $1.7bn in the next two years.
For Lenovo, a brand that makes laptops in its Legion range that are aimed at gamers, it’s perhaps a no-brainer to invest in eSports.
Its ‘Legion of Champions’ and ‘Rise of Legion’ competitions are now well established, with Legion of Champion’s December event being its fourth iteration and, according to Lenovo, was the biggest one yet with 1,000 teams from 12 markets participating, including Australia and New Zealand for the first time.
However, as the genre tips into the mainstream, Lenovo is adapting its strategy around the activation, with the insight that idea of what a ‘gamer’ really is, is evolving.
Ian Tan, head of the gaming team at Lenovo Asia Pacific, tells The Drum: “As eSports is becoming more mainstream, we’re seeing greater interest from gaming enthusiasts who want to explore eSports as a professional career."
"The definition of ‘gamer’ is evolving. Gamers seek to balance work, family and social life like everyone else. This is why many avid gamers tell us that they prefer gaming devices that are stylish enough for a home or office setting but have the hardware prowess to support intense, high-powered gaming."
He adds: "With the Legion of Champions, our approach is to reach out to the broader market of gamers who want to break into the highly competitive field of eSports but may not have had opportunities to do so. Additionally, we are taking steps to encourage and celebrate women in eSports: this year we launched the Legion of Valkyries, our first women’s esports initiative in Asia Pacific.”
The misconception that gamers are a ‘type’ has potentially been holding some brands back from investing but news that Louis Vuitton had partnered with Riot Games title League of Legends last year caused a lot of brands to pay attention.
At The Drum’s Programmatic Punch event in Singapore last year, leaders from L’Oreal, Essence and Adcolony attempted to dismantle the stereotypes around gaming for brands, with L’Oreal marketer Sheenum Kumar admitting that it could be a place for luxury brands to find new audiences.
For Singapore-headquartered telco Singtel, its investment in eSports has been a unifier for its international business and a way to attract new customers into its ecosystem, beyond its traditional telco services.
Speaking with The Drum, Singtel’s international chief executive officer Arthur Lang, says gaming is fast catching up to video as a key mobile entertainment channel.
“It all started when we looked at what we could do on a regional basis. If we just look at the pure telco part of Singtel, it is multi-local as opposed to regional. That’s because if we have a license in Singapore, it doesn't mean we can use that license and operate in Indonesia, for example. This isn’t the case when we talk about digital entertainment and gaming is a big piece of digital entertainment, you can really cross borders with that. What we did was look at our subscriber base, and we realized that one form of content that was fast increasing in prominence was gaming. It was fast catching up with video,” says Lang.
This fast-growth requires specialism and expertise, as many brands don’t know where to start in terms of investing in the eSports audience. This is why advertising and gaming experts joined up last year to formally launch Ampverse, a new eSports specialist business for Southeast Asia.
Since its launch last year, the business has now hired further talent and launched a talent management business. Ampverse now believes it has a business that can help grow eSports for both brands, gamers and influencer talent, with further plans to build out its own IP and media properties for 2020.
One of the Ampverse founders, Charlie Baillie, says that while eSports is growing, in Southeast Asia there’s still a lot of fragmentation, which is one of the challenges Ampverse is hoping to negotiate for brands and talent.
“Brands are still understanding how to participate in this space. In China and US, they're more developed by nature of the markets, so brands being a bit more innovative with how they allocate marketing spend them into this area. That's starting to happen here, but I think the challenge for us, and anyone in this space is how do we help educate the market right around the different opportunities from a brand space perspective?” he asks.
Baillie explains that many of his conversations with marketing managers have a similar line of inquiry, which is interest in the growing scale for gaming but no understanding of how to get started.
“It is the kind of thinking that aligns with the vision of the business. We recognize that, for some brands, who see the noise is around League of Legends and Louis Vuitton deal, which is a big, global, strategic partnership, it is a fantastic partnership, but that's one, far end of the spectrum, and it's a significant amount of Investment,” he says.
For this reason, the company is investing a lot in media channels and talent, such as YouTubers, who bring the eSports world into the lives of the growing audience. This, according to Baillie, is where brands can start testing and learning in eSports but it’ll take some development of talent to make it more attractive to brands.
“The more entry-level is the influencer activation, which just replicates what brands may already be doing. It is great because it's entry-level and it's little barrier to entry, but some brands, they don't want to play in that space. Our strategy, therefore, is to help grow teams, grow content creators and help enhance their ability to produce better quality content, which makes it a much better opportunity for brands,” he explains.
He also believes that more investment in the talent and creating a greater range of IP around the media content on eSports will help to convince people that gaming isn’t just “boys sat in dark rooms”. He says the overall gamer audience is now almost evenly split but the perception will go away faster if the content around the sports if more reflective of this.
It’s a concern that Lenovo has had for a while and likewise invested in itself, which it believes puts Asia Pacific at a headstart against the rest of the world for eSports.
“Gaming is and should be, for everyone. In fact, in the US, women already make up about 30% of the eSports audience, dominate the casual gaming scene at 66% and make up 35% of eSports gamers. What is exciting is that these percentages may be even higher in other markets across Asia," explains Lenovo’s Tan.
"We are likely to see a notable increase in female eSports athletes who are increasingly shaping gaming culture to be more inclusive—and businesses would do well to take note."
He continues: "We hope that through the Legion of Valkyries we will also be able to better understand the real wants and needs of female gamers in Asia Pacific, and gain a better understanding of how we can truly support and empower this community."
The eSports lure may not be one that every brand gets taken in by, but the tools and audiences have hit a point where brands can scale for Asia Pacific and beyond. The question remains, who will win?