Is eSports right for my business?

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With BT Sport and BBC Three both broadcasting eSports, it’s a hot topic that everyone is talking about, but is it right for you?

The rise of eSports represents a great opportunity for businesses and brands looking to reach new audiences, but there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about how marketers should approach this industry in a meaningful way. The potential for eSports is huge and at Fast Web Media, we are so passionate about the industry that we created a dedicated eSports eBook to help brands better understand this complex and diverse audience, allowing for better segmentation.

In this article, I will provide clarity to some of the most commonly asked questions, and provide my top tips to brands that want to explore the opportunities in eSports.

Does eSports appeal to my target market?

That all depends on who you are trying to reach, but in truth the eSports audience is far greater (and older) than most people assume. There are 1.8bn people worldwide playing video games and as a result, gaming culture - and the eSports culture that's grown out of it - is just too big to fit into a simple and singular demographic. There's not just 'those who play games' and 'those who play games competitively.'

While we must make a clear distinction between these two opposites, the best way to look at eSports is on a sliding scale from pure gamers to eSports engagers. This allows brands to respond to the granularity and fluidity of eSports and create a strategy that can appeal to everyone it needs to appeal to and adapt to changes. For example, a good strategy will understand that eSports competitors can fall away from the pro scene and eSports viewers can achieve pro status.

The most important thing is to determine your core audience and get your message right. Your positioning will vary depending on who you're talking to, their current position in the eSports ecosystem, and where they ultimately see themselves going.

Surely those advertising in eSports are only targeting teenagers in their bedrooms. Why should I get involved if I want to reach anyone over 25?

Have you ever played Candy Crush on your way into work? Or gone for a spin on Mario Kart with your kids? If you have, you’re a gamer.

Gaming is indeed hugely popular among the young, but eSports is no more a young person's activity than football or rugby. Indeed, research has shown that approximately a third of gamers are over the age of 50; nearly the same as those under the age of 18.

As Caroline Miller, director of Indigo Pearl states: “There was a misconception that most gamers were loners in their bedroom, but gaming has become so universal that this view is starting to disappear”.

We run a mid-sized accountancy firm and are self-professed technophobes. Surely eSports isn’t right for us?

eSports isn’t reserved for big, commercial brands. In fact, given the average eSport enthusiast is competitive, anywhere between their late teens to late 30s and a conscientious spender, it is probably a good forum for organisations less associated with the sector, such as accountants, solicitors or banks.

Let’s consider this scenario:

A long-standing bank has recently unveiled a new savings account aimed at 18-25 year -olds. The company’s CEO heard about eSports and is interested in tapping into it to push the new product. He has the budget but is trying to work out how to achieve the best ROI.

He considered the wider gaming audience first, but decided that while not endemic to eSports, its money-management services are of use to players who may struggle to get to grips with their influx of cash. He therefore decides to focus on those already interested in eSports, and brokers a deal to become the banking partner of Blueprint Gaming, the UK’s leading League of Legends team. As part of that deal, Blueprint’s players get a Young Person’s Savings Account and a dedicated Financial Manager, while the bank has branding across the team’s website and equipment.

This type of example is representative of what many brands are considering, and other examples are included in our eSports eBook.

I heard rumours of gender inequality and cyberbullying in eSports. Should I be concerned about the impact that might have on my business?

The mainstream image of gaming and its inclusivity is poor, and this is possibly why only 10% of people who play games identify themselves as gamers. The industry is seeking ways to reduce online harassment and redress the balance as this image simply doesn’t reflect the reality. Neville Upton, CEO of eSports company Gfinity believes that ‘eSporters aren’t the antisocial, angry young men that they are portrayed as. eSports is an energetic community that is about enjoying a shared passion and engaging aspiration.’

I can’t compete with the larger corporations buying direct advertising. How can I get involved without stretching the budget?

Don’t be discouraged by the big brands with the flashy billboards; there are plenty of other avenues open to smaller, niche organisations such as social media (think promoted posts or targeted advertising). If in doubt, get advice on the best route to market to ensure you are spending your budget wisely.

While we would hope that all businesses have millions to spend on marketing and advertising, the truth is there are many SMEs who want to present themselves to target audiences in the most cost-effective way.

I am almost on board with eSports but can’t make up my mind on how to target my audience. What options are available?

There are various routes that you can take to get in front of your audience and they vary depending on budget allowance. Tournament, team or player sponsorship will get your brand on the main stage but there are other avenues; broadcast and media, advertising, equipment, merchandise and ticketing which will also open doors in eSports. If large-scale marketing isn’t an option, you could still engage with eSports through corporate events or other events for staff and customers. From a digital perspective, eSports lives online, so there are numerous opportunities to engage with this audience via content (particularly video), as well as engage with the streaming audience via platforms like Twitch or YouTube gaming; the opportunities are endless!

To sum up, eSports is growing at an unprecedented rate and the opportunities for brands, both endemic and non-endemic, are plenty. However, understanding this audience is vital, and should be the starting point for any brand wanting to get involved in the complex and diverse world of eSports. Our eSports eBook helps brands make a start, and the rest is down to planning and strategising, as well as a bit of trial and error!

Stephen O’Malley is the head of agency at Fast Web Media

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