eSports trends brands must be aware of

Dele Alli meets Spencer FC to play Fifa

A few statistics should cause marketing teams to worry about a generational shift that is happening in the world of sport and entertainment.

There are 2.2bn people globally who play video games. That is about the same number of sports fans in the world.

In the UK last year, the gaming market was bigger than the music and video markets combined.

In 2019, competitive gaming, or eSports, will have 454 million participants and revenues of $1.1bn – 26% growth, according to the latest Newzoo eSports Report estimates. By 2022 the report estimates those figures will be 645 million participants with revenues as high as $3.2bn.

This is not just a few geeky kids playing in their attics. This is a generation that is redefining what is sport and what is entertainment.

Brands need to understand the scale of this change because the danger is they underestimate the differences of this community of gamers – or make the mistake of thinking of them in terms of traditional sports fans. The eSports community is something entirely different. Quite apart from being hard to reach in more conventional ways, the level of engagement and immersion in the games they are playing or watching is on another level to that of a traditional fan. Hard to imagine. But true.

Like it or not, eSports and competitive gaming have become a way of life for hundreds of millions of young people. It will continue to grow, the only question is by how much and how quickly. The answer lies in the willingness of games publishers, rights holders, brands and eSports companies like Gfinity to think and act differently, and be prepared to adapt their business models in new ways.

The Newzoo report highlights two trends that we have seen emerging that present interesting opportunities for brands wanting to enter this space.

First, the growing importance of giving fans a ‘reason to care’ and be vested in the teams. Teams and eSports professionals increasingly understand this. To date, most teams have tended to lack a brand personality - there is little depth to the relationship between fan and the ‘stars’. For example, the winner of last year’s Overwatch League was London Spitfire, the London team in the Overwatch franchise.

And yet none of the players come from London or the UK and they rarely visit. While London Spitfire has a global fan base it is going to be important that the team builds a core and loyal UK fan community. This will undoubtedly happen. In a world where there is so much content already available, the challenge is to make the pros and the teams they represent engaging in a way that resonates and matters to gamers. Great opportunity for brands.

The other trend is a growing desire to extend beyond just watching tournament play, either live or via a channel. There is an appetite for new types of shows and competition formats, bringing more of an entertainment approach to gaming. More people on the eSports channel Twitch watch live streaming of their heroes playing popular games than watching the ‘best of the best’ in live tournament play.

What’s next? It will be the growing involvement of professional athletes from the worlds of football, NBA and NFL, as well as entertainers from the worlds of television, film and music who love gaming, pulling their game-loving fans into the broader eSports space. This is where the opportunities for new ideas and content are endless – and where the white space exists for brands to play.

Imagine you like playing the Fifa video game and you get the chance to watch one of your favourite Premier League stars like Dele Alli play the same game against his team mates or star players from rival clubs anywhere in the world. Or for that matter a music or entertainment star. The picking of the teams, the banter, the forfeits, innovative gameplay formats and so on. The gameplay is peripheral. The level of engagement, unbeatable. This is where brands can play and add value.

Gaming will continue to redefine how recreation time is spent. New thinking, partnerships and a pioneering mentality are going to take eSports entertainment to greater levels. The wave of innovative formats driven by sports rights holders is already shining a spotlight on what is possible - the inaugural ePremier League and the third season of F1’s eSports series in June are two examples. But this is only scratching the surface. To raise the bar further there needs to be fresh sets of conversations about how to create exclusive entertainment-based content rights that complement professional events while adding millions of new fans to the games. New ideas, new formats, new heroes.

Some brands want to dip their toes, try a small-scale event and evaluate it through a traditional ‘media buy’ lens. Others believe in what is happening and are investing ahead of the curve for the long term.

The winners and losers in this industry will be those who have their fingers on the pulse of the consumer and those that don’t. And while in marketing that is nothing new, the challenge is not to approach this industry by looking back at what has happened in the past, or through the rearview mirror. Foresight is needed. In the gaming world the rules are still being written and models created.

John Clarke is the global brand and marcomms officer at Gfinity.

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