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Sponsoring a Fifa 21 esports team can help TikTok own the gaming zeitgeist

TikTok has partnered with its first esports team, Fifa 21-focused Tundra.

Gaming is popular on short-form video platform TikTok, but the company wants to make itself a home for esports, too. We look at how its new partnership with Fifa 21 esports team Tundra can help it score.

In recent months, TikTok’s been boasting to potential advertisers about its status as the place where culture begins, touting the potential for brands (such as Ocean Spray) not only to go viral on the platform but to be part of the wider internet zeitgeist. While its users love gaming content, esports creators have largely stayed on established platforms like Discord, Twitch and Reddit.

That could soon begin to change. Just last week TikTok announced its first-ever partnership with an esports team, Fifa 21-focused Tundra.

Jana Ulaite, head of brand and partnerships marketing, TikTok Europe said of the team-up: “Our users love to share their winning gameplays, rituals and triumphs, while also watching the best in the business go head to head in international tournaments. We can’t wait to see what team Tundra has in store for us for FIFA 21.”

Tundra brings esports pedigree – it boasts 2018 FIFA eWorld Cup Champion and back-to-back Xbox Champion, Musaed ‘Msdossary’ Al-Dossary, as well as talent from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Poland. And TikTok offers the year-old esports team a big name endorsement.

TikTok declined to offer further comment, but Cyril Etienne, media planner at esports-focused Hurrah Group speculates that the Tundra deal could work as a proof of concept for TikTok in this space. If the esports team can find a footing on the platform, others will swiftly follow – bringing their audiences and advertisers with them.

“It’s about visibility – about showing how [esports] can work on TikTok,” he says.

The focus on Fifa 21 – a game only released last week, albeit as part of one of the biggest franchises in gaming – over other esports properties such as League of Legends or Fortnite, is interesting.

“Fifa has over 3.3.bn views on TikTok to date,” claims Michael Munro, co-founder of Tundra. “The appetite for esports, and particularly Fifa content is already proven, so the partnership is a natural fit and unique in that it flows from the digital through to the physical.”

“It’s the most realistic approach for them,” agrees Etienne. “It’s mobile-centric. It has a younger generation [of players] and a very large audience.”

He notes it sits at the cross-section of several popular genres on TikTok – gaming, sports and fitness – and that the game’s ‘challenges’ map perfectly to TikTok content, providing snippets of content suited its short-form template.

He suggests that console games, typically marketed towards the teen and early-twenties demographics that dominate TikTok, may inform its esports push more than established titles such as Counterstrike or League of Legends that rely on a demographic of older PC users. That Fifa’s long-lived franchise is more family-friendly than many of those titles will also suit ByteDance, TikTok’s conservative-minded parent company.

Sportswear brand Kappa, which also announced a partnership with Tundra last week, draws on similar reasoning when describing its esports strategy. According to Dave Bandell, UK sales manager of Kappa, ”the fit was obvious” given the brand’s heritage in football.

”Esports has become an important part of Kappa’s strategy since last year when we signed our first partnership in the sector,” he says, noting that the company now has 12 such arrangements, including one with Faze Clan. ”We grew our brand equity in the sector off the back of these recent partnerships and we are getting frequent enquiries from other esports teams and organisations. Esports fans are a demographic that perfectly fits with Kappa’s core audience and target group of dynamic and young consumers looking to get most out of life.”

Etienne says that gaming content on TikTok is largely restricted to gaming as entertainment, rather than the more competitive side seen in esports; content from esports creators is still limited to edited footage of matches, inter-player banter or blooper clips. While entertaining clips will bring audiences to the app, esports is particularly popular among the perennially hard-to-reach 18-25s audience cohort, providing an exciting and rare chance for brands to engage – so TikTok will be keen to prove it’s a viable space for the category.

Earlier efforts to that end include joining up with Epic Games to create a new Fortnite Emote and in June, sponsored its first esports competition, the TikTok Cup, on Twitch.

He suggests TikTok aims to increase the overall surface area of esports on social. “They won’t start to broadcast esports. Twitter and Reddit are the places for hardcore fans to go. TikTok will always be a place for entertainment,” says Etienne. “But they can let brands push esports content on TikTok that wouldn’t be suited to [those platforms]. They can become another social media for those brands to reach that audience.”

Of course, TikTok has already shown bigger and longer-term ambitions in the gaming space. the Chinese startup has shown a willingness to compete with Tencent in China’s gaming market by buying up developers. Former US chief executive Kevin Mayer, who left the firm when it was first threatened with a ban by President Donald Trump, also headed up ByteDance’s gaming concern. His eventual replacement will likely look to pick up where he left off.

Want to learn more about TikTok? Pick up The Drum's latest magazine issue, a guest-edit by six TikTok creators.

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