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From Red Bull to G2: action sports marketer Mei-Ling Rider explains the esports boom

G2 Esports, the German competitive gaming brand, recently snapped up a top Red Bull marketer to lead its assault on the lucrative US market and help swell the ranks of those engaging with the blooming medium. Mei-Ling Rider explains her move from action sports marketing at Red Bull to grow an already formidable esports brand.

G2 claims to be the ‘most-watched esports team of all time’. In 2019, it claimed that 2.5bn minutes of G2 content was viewed on Twitch, with a further 1.5bn impressions on its social channels and 93m total social engagements. Whether vanity metrics impress you or not, the scale of the operation is huge – but its ceiling is still a long way off.

It’s tough at the top, and today’s leaders could find themselves lagging behind as the esports sector looks to grow at a rate (according to Nielsen figures) that has traditional sports brands envious.

Let the games commence

As the new marketing director at G2 esports, relocated from Red Bull's Salzberg, Austria to Berlin, Rider forms the sharp end of its assault on the US market. Amid the pandemic, there’s been little time for her to bed in to her new job.

“It’s been straight into the role, particularly with partner and brand activations, content development and working with our professional teams.“

On day one, she was looking ahead to the League of Legends 2020 World Championships – the hottest property in the esports market. The G2 team will compete in Shanghai; last year, the team’s semi-final clash with SK Telecom apparently hit a peak of almost four million concurrent viewers.

League of Legends draws the biggest audiences, despite being ten more than years old, but G2 also operates teams across properties such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, and iRacing. Each of these titles attract lucrative and discrete gaming audiences.

While top competitions remain the main draw of esports, in the fallow periods between these peak moments savvy operators have been looking to develop “gaming entertainment brands” using athletes as influencers, engaging relevant content, and output that puts gaming culture on the wider radar. On YouTube, videos like the highlights package below will average tens of thousands of views and peak in the hundreds of million.

“Carlos ‘ocelote’ Rodriguez, our exceptionally driven chief executive, wants to push esports into the mainstream and make it available across mainstream culture. It’s an incredibly exciting mix and one that I wanted to be part of,“ Rider says.

The esports strategy

Rider boasts 16 years of experience growing brands through strategic audience development and brand building in digital, first at Sony, then Vice, and later in action sports during her four years at Red Bull. It was there that she learned how neatly gaming ties into action sports.

“Ensuring credibility within your core audience, whether it be skateboarding, snowboarding or gaming is obvious .The same elements of supporting and being part of your community and building loyalty are prevalent within esports.”

She’ll also coordinate with athletes and artists to help draw out their creativity. The pandemic hasn’t changd her strategy, but some elements are on hold.

“The ways in which we reach our audience may have to evolve quickly. For example there are no live esports events, and production teams haven’t been able to travel, but overall G2 looks to where our audience is and brings even more to the party. Exploring a way to interact with our audience on a personal level is at the forefront."

Breaking the States

Rider is tasked with building the “first-ever truly trans-Atlantic esports team”, a difficult task to consider when at the same time, UK brands like Fnatic and Excel are leaning into their British roots.

She sees a geographic opportunity. ”The top international teams in the US are primarily based in LA, so we are aiming to be the first esports brand to truly own the east coast. 20% of our fan base is already in the US, and that’s before we’ve launched any activity there. We’ll also be providing an opportunity for brands to collaborate with G2, streamers, creators and of course Carlos, and deliver some really creative partnerships.”

League of Legends remains hot, Fortnite is still in the news cycle and (thanks to the addition of the Avengers to its sprawling metaverse), and we’ve seen a surge in Sim racing.

“It had a lot of mainstream exposure over the summer due to events and competitions like Formula 1 not happening for a period of time. It’s a natural fit for drivers like Max Verstappen,“ she says.

She was first introduced to Sim racing years ago at Extreme Sports Channel, noting that back then it had a “surprisingly high amount of female players”.

Games rise and fall and tapping into the next big thing has its benefits. A case in point is G2’s latest charity-deal with new multiplayer platformer Fall Guys to get skins into the game.

“Esports has created its own media ecosystem that is increasingly being bought into and grown daily. Just look at Twitch. The esports audience is hyper-engaged, passionate and in the 18-30 sweet spot which can be incredibly enticing for brands and media. There is so much content being made daily – hours and hours of engaging, funny, dramatic and creative content that is slowly being introduced to the wider media.”

Becoming a household name

There are a few household names in gaming at the moment. Soon there will be more. Rider says that Ninja (Tyler Bevins), the American Fortnite streamer, pro gamer and YouTuber us top of the pile.

“I would say Ninja is very much a big name now especially with the younger members of the household. He held a 12-hour New Year’s Eve Twitch stream from Time Square. That’s certainly some pretty strong mainstream exposure.”

“Faker is an esports iconic superstar and probably the most prominent League of Legends professional player ever. The Netflix show 7 Days Out, particularly one episode which follows the build-up to a League of Legends tournament, is a good introduction to him and how big a star he is, plus how epic this industry is.“

And this is all in service of opportunities for brands. G2 sells gaming reach and sometimes fame to brands like Pringles, BMW and Rider’s former haunt Red Bull.

Rider concludes: “The business has grown very fast, reaching into a variety of areas that can now come together perfectly to drive our brand further into the entertainment area. The main objective here is to take our content as far and wide as possible, working with production partners and platforms to develop really engaging esports related content.”

If you’ve made it to the end of this piece, you've clearly got an interest in the burgeoning esports space. Why not check out this long-read explainer from earlier this year for a deeper look.

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