Razer, Riot Games and Singtel on how brands can fully exploit eSports ‘Games as a Service’ model

Consumers are now creating communities around their favorite franchises on social networks as well.

The increasing rise of games as a service (GaaS) in eSports over the last couple of years, where game developers offer players pay-gated and on-demand content in games through microtransactions, has seen brands wondering how they can tap into this trend.

This is because GaaS holds a lot of promise in terms of accessibility even in its infancy and brands that experiment with it may reap early rewards when working with gaming platforms or forming a partnership with network operators like Globe Telecom and Singtel.

"As developers expand across multiple platforms it creates an opportunity for brands to reach consumers in multiple places through the same vehicle," explains Tim Lindley, chief experience officer at Yup.gg, an eSports marketplace that helps brands access relevant marketing opportunities.

“This is huge for two reasons. Firstly, it can massively simplify or scale, depending on how you look at it, brand activity by enabling multiple touchpoints through just one game partnership. Secondly, it gives brands a new way to reach and engage their consumers across their customer journey.”

Cindy Tan, the head of marketing at Singtel International Group tells The Drum that GaaS could be in the form of value-added service that comes with some of the telco's postpaid bundles, which includes the likes Netflix and Spotify.

"We are definitely working on this to see how we can roll it out in a very efficient way. From mini-games and very casual games, like Candy Crush and old school games like Snake, gamers may only play one game or spend more time on one kind, but they usually they straddle two or more games," she says.

"For the casual ones, it's more about making games available in some of our products and services. I think the e-commerce players sometimes do that as well with gamification, as a strategy to keep people coming back and to keep them staying."

"An example is Shopee and Lazada, where they have the daily check-in coins to allow consumers to utilize these coins with purchases and enticing people to come back to their platform. During special events like 11.11, there are games like spin-the-wheel and special event drops, making it a whole lot more exciting."

Tencent-owned Riot Games meanwhile, tells The Drum it has been a champion for the GaaS model since the launch of its popular League of Legends (LoL) game, and the company is constantly imagining new ways to innovate and to bring new experiences to players.

Chris Tran, head of eSports for South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Riot Games explains that from introducing new in-game champions to graphic overhauls, the company is committed to supporting the community that has grown around League of Legends and aspires to continue delivering multi-generational games in the same vein.

“During the 10th anniversary of League of Legends last October, we unveiled our plans to expand the League universe through new games and platforms. An upcoming game to keep a lookout for is Legends of Runeterra - a collectible card game (CCG) that will be playable on both PC and mobile, launching later this year,” he adds.

In addition, games like Fortnite, which has pivoted to a GaaS model - users who were once tied to the console are released can access a more optimized environment.

This will ultimately bring an increase in users in the future, predicts Yoshimasa Nakano, senior content manager for OneEsports at Dentsu Inc. On the other hand, he says game developers will be competing in the same field and game development competition will become more intense, which may cause competition for survival within the market.

“Unlike games that are tied to consoles, subscription-based games can be updated at any time; allowing us to make more flexible brand collaborations,” he explains to The Drum. “Therefore, monetization opportunities will increase – and it will bring us stronger game titles that can make more of a boom in the long-term.”

In time, Charlie Baillie, the co-founder and chief commercial officer at gaming and eSports media company, Ampverse, says he hopes to see closer collaboration with brands, game publishers, and talent. He also hopes this evolves from simply selling products to introducing new services that have commercial benefits for all stakeholders within the ecosystem, and most importantly for the gamers themselves.

“At the end of the day, as consumers’ gaming habits evolve, in order to continue to provide value to them, brands also need to match this speed of progression,” he explains.

“When it comes to brands facilitating gamers with access to content-on-demand across platforms, it’s still early days and we need to be patient to see how effective brands will be at building effective multi-platform integrated strategies.”

Engaging players with on-demand content

With live and on-demand video content gaining traction, consumers are now creating communities around their favorite franchises on social networks as well as on new platforms like YouNow, Periscope, Meerkat, YouTube Gaming and Twitch.

Goh Hung Wei, director of global social marketing at eSports brand Razer, cautions that while it is simple to say that brands should go where the audiences are to establish a presence among these communities, for these engagements to be effective, companies should build platform-specific playbooks that deploy strategies organic to the communication medium.

“These engagements, while unique to each other, should still be governed with a strong focus on doing phenomenal brand storytelling and driving authentic interactions,” he explains to The Drum.

“Staying true to our motto of 'For Gamers, By Gamers' and engaging our fans as peers is a big part of our success on social media as we know modern-day consumers do not like to be talked at or have products hawked on media they consume.”

This phenomenon also creates a whole new market for advertisers to leverage, explains Tilman Wendt, senior director for digital and brand marketing for South East Asia at Lagardere Sports, as this market comprises Gen Zs who are willing to watch full-game live streams for hours on end on Twitch and YouTube game replays or walkthroughs.

For fun, short-form content, they will switch over to TikTok and Instagram as there is an appetite for both long-form as well as short-form content online, allowing for flexibility and creativity when it comes to engaging them.

Therefore, he says it is crucial for advertisers to understand this behaviour, this appetite and how eSports fans in this demographic bounce from devices and channels so frequently.

“We see so many brands taking a lazy approach to their content by cutting and pasting and pushing the same content across their entire social media ecosystem,” Wendt tells The Drum.

“It does not value-add anything for fans, and it creates consumer fatigue. Brands need to understand that these platforms are not a one-way communication channel like traditional media.”

He continues: “These allow for greater interactivity where content creators get to share their experiences with their users while receiving real-time responses. Viewers, on the other hand, get to be inspired and learn from these initiators while being heard through feedback channels. This creates a far more close-knit community built on shared experiences and common interests.”

In addition, Wendt notes that indefinitely, partnerships with thought leaders or influencers in the community are ideal when entering the eSports community.

For instance, streamers who are widely followed and listened to could talk to their viewers about brands that they are partnering or collaborating with. If GoPro were a sponsor, they would have a series of techniques to share with fans. Viewers are loyal and are willing to listen to recommendations despite the knowledge of it being a sponsored post.

On the flip side, fans are also able to voice their unhappiness, if any, instead of simply shutting down the brand or the influencer. This space for feedback allows for improvements – a chance for brands to leverage the changes they can make, positioning themselves as brands that are not just there for the sales, but for connecting and giving audiences exclusive deals and access.

Nike and attentive hospitality companies do this especially well, addressing the feedback and needs of audiences well with strong social listening and monitoring teams.

For example, Atari is building eight Atari-branded hotels in the US with real estate developer True North Studio and GSD group, while Nike will be sponsoring teams and players in the T1 Entertainment & Sports organization including the League of Legends team and the gamer known as Faker (Lee Sang-hyeok).

However, Wendt warns that partnerships are limited with so many brands vying for a spot, which is why brands need to find their own means of entering the market.

He says this process does not have to be complex as brands can go back to the basics once again, which is to understand the lifestyle of the audience. For instance, Pringles successfully made it to the world of eSports by offering fans a chance to win free LoL Hextech skins, which are known to be rare in the eSports community, simply by purchasing Pringles and referring to the codes on the tube.

Considered a non-endemic brand, it simply took advantage of eSports fans’ interest in exclusive collectables and the fact that gamers snack often as they play for long hours.

This combination of relevance to the gamers’ lifestyle while giving a chance for audiences to have a new experience is the formula to engaging eSports fans who make up a huge portion of the Gen Z audience who have not yet been fully engaged.

“With the rise of the multiscreen lifestyle where users move from a smartphone, tablets, laptop and smart TV, there are bigger opportunities for activation ideas which make way for a lot more marketing and content creativity. Brands that are able to engage users on various screens will stand out. For instance, treasure hunts by brands where clues are hidden in various social channels or streaming channels are something that fans really enjoy. Prizes include once-in-a-lifetime experiences and exclusive previews of the up-and-coming technology or peripherals,” he explains.

“Brands can also think of a shift towards creating entertaining content formatted for Virtual Reality (VR) as more users seek forms of escapism. This might see more non-endemic brands partnering with endemic gaming or computing brands in order to create more engaging content. So we will start to see more brands thinking out of the box and becoming their own content creators for fans.”

He adds: “The possibilities are endless as brands seek to enter this up-and-coming market, but no matter their format or style of content, it should always be about staying relevant to the lifestyles of their audiences and giving them opportunities for new experiences.”

Recalling his time at Redbull, Yup.gg’s Lindley says the brand started building gaming training facilities and streaming rooms, which has since scaled into Red Bull Gaming Sphere, a fully-fledged event and community space that is now open in London, Tokyo and Stockholm.

He explains this is a sophisticated strategy as it enables the brand to engage grassroots communities as well as providing high-quality environments for pro players to train and compete.

It also doubles up as an event space that is open to the public, operating more like a gaming bar than a traditional event venue, giving Red Bull year-round engagement with the gaming community.

“Brands can also start supporting eSports players and teams. Brand investment helps teams train, travel, compete and scale, either by bringing in better players or by expanding into new titles,” Lindley says.

“This investment is important for the growth of the sport and is hugely valued by the teams, which means that early investments can deliver strong ROI, likely see over-delivery from the teams, and build long term relationships with organisations that are quickly moving towards billion-dollar valuations.”

E-payments in eSports - an opportunity for brands?

Research from Newzoo estimates that by 2022 the eSports industry will have 645 million participants, with over 70% of them being millennials. It also found revenues will reach as high as $3.2bn.

This has seen brands eager to partner with the likes of Razer as the eSports industry moves towards a GaaS model to tap into the fast-growing youth markets globally.

Razer claims that 80% of its 80m registered users are under the age of 35, to tap into the fast-growing youth markets globally.

At the same time, it allows Razer to promote digital payments and increase financial inclusivity for the youth across the emerging markets, starting with South East Asia, which has a large unbanked and underserved population of over 438m and a youth and millennial population of over 213 million.

Razer claims its e-payment wallet, Razer Pay, has experienced tremendous growth since launching over a year ago in Malaysia as a pilot market, with approximately 1m total registered user accounts as of June 30, 2019.

Razer Pay launched a revamped version of the app in February 2019, which it claims has generated robust performance with monthly TPV growth of approximately 1,500% and monthly transaction volume growth of approximately 540% since the revamped app’s release in February 2019.

“Over the years, we created natural extensions to be a part of the global youth and millennial community. This has presented numerous opportunities for us to invest in multiple new verticals of growth,” says Lee Li Meng, the chief strategic officer at Razer and the chief executive officer at Razer Fintech.

“Fintech is one such area where we can immediately build on our Razer Gold fundamentals. Razer Gold has evolved to become one of the world’s largest virtual credits platforms since we entered into the space in mid-2017.”

He adds: “This puts us in good stead as we seek to expand into other markets. At the start of this year, we announced that Razer Fintech has submitted its application for the Digital Full Bank License in Singapore to be issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Razer Fintech will be focusing on the underserved youth and millennials segment for the bid. We believe the creation of Razer Youth Bank is a natural extension of our payments business.”

Nicholas Khoo, the co-founder of Yup.gg, who spent 14 years in the Fintech world working with the likes of Visa, Alipay, WeChat payments, LINE pay, and SEA's Airpay, agrees and adds that eSports is looking increasingly like a key channel to reach the unbanked and underbanked in a number of markets.

That is because, eSports unlike financial institutions, is not as highly regulated.

“Even as millions of dollars have been spent online in games and esports, I personally believe a majority of gamers are still underserved in this area, which presents a massive opportunity for fintech,” he adds.

Singtel's Tan argues the telco's role in eSports is indisputable because gamers need data to play games. She points to the decades-old direct carrier billing model, which allows people who may have access to credit cards or other more advanced modes of payment, and can just bill it to their telco bill.

With the rise of digitalisation and mobile wallets like Singtel's Dash, Tan believes there is a lot of democratisation of gaming experiences, allowing the ease of in-game payments through mobile wallets.

"You see that a lot in Indonesia, with the launch of a QR Code payment service called LinkAja because there are many people who do not have bank accounts there. For Singtel Dash in Singapore, all 7-Elevens accept direct cash, so hypothetically for someone who does not want to use a bank account and wants to purchase in-game, they could actually use that method," she explains.

"Currencies like Razer Gold are the new way of doing things, but in the developing market, vouchers continue to be quite a substantial way of paying. Vouchers, and I'm referring to scratch cards, not unlike Google Store credits, can also be another form of payment."

As gamers spend more time watching gaming content online each week than watching traditional sports on television or watching traditional sports programming online, it is no surprise that the likes of Riot Games and Razer are actively looking at the e-payment space, illustrating just how seriously well-known names in the space want to unlock spend from consumers.

It is safe to say gaming has become a key entertainment channel for a broad cross-section of society where you have casual gamers who play throughout the day for fun and those who actively compete in global leagues, meaning the opportunities for engagement with a number of alternative customer personas are endless.

In SEA in particular, given there is a large number of the gaming population without credit cards, fintech-related solutions could be an extremely effective route for brands, in the same way, the major e-commerce players did when they introduced the cash-on-delivery payment method for online purchases.

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