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Why do automotive makers love gaming?

Automotive manufacturers increasingly want a piece of the action in esports

Revenue from the gaming market in Asia Pacific amounted to $72.2bn in 2019, according to Statista. These are attention-grabbing figures and signify spend being pulled from other marketing channels, with automotive makers in particular keen to get in on the action, as we find out.

The immense popularity of racing games such as Gran Turismo and Forza Horizon has seen automotive manufacturers increasingly want a piece of the action in esports.

The likes of BMW, Toyota and Nissan have been involved with global esports competitions including the European League of Legends Championship Series 2017, Overwatch League and FIA-Certified Gran Turismo Championships.

In Asia Pacific, Porsche hosted its first regional esports tournament in 2020, the Porsche Asia Pacific Forza Cup, which reached more than 24.7 million people in the region.

Janine Dietzel, the experiential marketing manager at Porsche Asia Pacific, explains that motorsport is in the brand’s DNA and has been an important part of Porsche since the 1960s.

Shee notes that while the automotive industry is currently undergoing tremendous change, Porsche has no intention to break with this tradition. Events like the Forza Cup exemplify how Porsche is embracing the future while staying true to its heritage, conveying the excitement of the racetrack to the virtual world.

“It has allowed us to reach a young and driven target group and engage with them through an emotional and interactive brand experience. Participants competed on the thrilling and challenging real-life tracks of Bathurst, Nürburgring, Le Mans, Silverstone and Hockenheimring with some iconic Porsche cars,” she explains.

“While online racing is inherently different from physically driving on a racetrack as you don’t have this sense of speed and acceleration, having the motorsport knowledge, endurance and practice are still an advantage.”

German automotive compatriot BMW believes it has discovered the formula for addressing a younger target group when it comes to esports and is keen to invest more in the sport. In addition, it believes esports improves the potential for individual future mobility, which means bringing more people together through the sport.

BMW has partnered with five of the world’s top esports organizations – Cloud 9 (US), Fnatic (UK), Funplus Phoenix (China), G2 Esports (Germany) and T1 (South Korea) – each of which comprise up to 200 players battling it out above all in League of Legends.

“The global commitment supports the positioning of BMW as a brand by enabling us to make a younger and more modern impact,” says Christophe Koenig, the media relations manager for eSports at BMW explains. ”This global commitment allows us to significantly expand our communication activities in sports sponsorship.

“We can implement new creative approaches and interact with a new target group. In the future, we will make greater use of our expertise in the areas of innovation and design and help shape the discipline.”

Over at Nissan, in 2019 the Japanese car marque became the first automotive maker to partner with two of the biggest teams in the space – FaZe Clan and OpTic Gaming.

The partnership saw the Nissan logo appear on each’s competition jerseys and also allowed team members access to Nissan vehicles including the all-electric Nissan Leaf to integrate into social and digital content.

”For any company trying to reach the Gen Z and millennial-minded audience, streaming and esports is an enormous opportunity,” said Robert Cross, the Nissan North America director of media and activation, at that time.

”We believe this partnership presents a new approach in introducing ourselves and connecting with millions of fans through their favorite gamers. Both FaZe Clan and OpTic Gaming bring a unique audience to the Nissan family. We could not have chosen better partners to help Nissan authentically connect with the cultural phenomenon that is esports worldwide.”

Esports grew considerably in 2020 while people found themselves confined to their homes with time on their hands. This saw developers like Activision Blizzard reduce its global workforce as players increasingly choose to connect with its games digitally.

However, Dietzel believes esports consumption can be both physical and online, with a live event in an arena full of thousands of other fans having a unique energy and offering a thrilling atmosphere.

She acknowledges a livestream experience can also be just as exciting through watch parties and live commentators. It is also attractive because of its convenience, while technological advances have made the virtual experience almost real.

“We are looking forward to live events to be safe again, but for now we will continue to enjoy the race in a virtual world,” she adds. ”The grand finale of the Porsche Asia Pacific Forza Cup was a fun night for participants and audience.”

Pre-pandemic, consumer goods brands spent more than $21.8m on sponsorships within the esports market, according to Statista. Among the big-name sponsors of major esports events are Coca-Cola, Mastercard and Intel. It raises the question of whether the esports bubble will pop, as its value could be overhyped.

Dietzel disagrees, saying esports is not a fad, so it is not a bubble that will burst, and that there are real marketing opportunities because of the enormous reach it offers.

She points out that the esports industry was around before smartphones and that by the end of this year there are expected to be 2.9 billion players around the world.

“Esports is starting to be recognized alongside traditional sports around the world and most notably here in Asia where it will debut as an official medal event at Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games. Porsche will continue to bring the adrenaline-filled world of racing to players and viewers alike. We are excited to share the plans for another esports competition here in Asia soon.”

For more on what the gaming sector’s pandemic-propelled popularity means for marketers, head to The Drum’s gaming hub.