How advertisers should play the field in esports

As part of The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive, Roxanne Harley, director of client strategy at Azerion, lays out how brands should consider the esports advertising opportunity.

Gaming is experiencing a seismic shift, from a household hobby to a legitimate spectator sport through the boom in esports.

This is best illustrated by the fact that all of Europe’s main football leagues host annual esports tournaments, with the recent ePremier League final in March concluding in a Norwich City win. Even the Commonwealth Games is piloting the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships this year.

The football industry is just one leading sport re-evaluating its business model to keep up with the digital world. The shift from playing to watching means football clubs now compete directly with streaming services, video games and OTT providers as they move into the entertainment industry.

In light of this, advertisers now have a huge opportunity to reach audiences in a new, and highly attentive, world. It’s well known that in-game advertising is impactful for attention metrics, as ads appear while people are focused and engaged without interrupting the gaming experience.

For example, Bidstack, the in-game advertising and video game monetization platform, has previously worked with Lumen to track the attention of gamers versus standard digital display across a range of brands advertising activity.

Take a recent case study for Duracell – its ad was placed in-game around a football pitch on Football Manager, with the Lumen study finding the ad in-game was looked at by 95% of participants and was looked at 2.3-times longer than standard display. Overall, the ad generated more attention than ads on Facebook and print. This ability to grab attention then also translated into increased awareness as recall increased.

This is important as some believe that Gen-Z has an attention span of eight seconds and a short fuse when it comes to digital ads. Therefore, advertisers hoping to resonate with this exacting audience need to plan media placements that are designed to create a big impact in a short-term attention window. The answer is to follow your audiences – 91% of Gen Z are gamers and spend more than 2 hours on gaming and esports platforms every day.

This creates an unrivaled opportunity for brands to grab the attention for those advertisers willing to move beyond traditional media to find Gen Z on their own terms and in their own spaces.

So these events, like the ePremier League final, provide a space to break down social barriers. The Newzoo trend report details that more than half of Gen Z gamers claim to use social games to just ‘hang out’ without playing. When asked in the report how they expect this to change in the future, all demographics agreed that time spent with the ‘social’ elements of esports will increase. Gaming companies have also successfully integrated social streaming and chat services into their ecosystem.

Much in the same way that a real-life football club creates strong community binds, the esports generation are now enjoying a legitimate way of networking in-home and on-the-go. In a world where simply owning a mobile phone makes you a gamer, advertisers have the opportunity to create the same sense of connection and community that appears with social media.

Gamers are a protective audience, so advertising within games offers a naturally immersive experience for the user.

What’s more, 88% of gamers prefer non-disruptive ads that are integrated into the game and 83% say they enjoy the choice to watch rewarded ads. To make the most of this vast audience, marketers need to ensure they’re providing creativity and delivery with context, to enable the right content to reach the ideal audience at the right time – otherwise, this majority is wasted.

On top of this, 41% of gamers feel that product placements make games feel more real and there is a 30% higher positive impact on gaming app placements versus web banner alternatives. With the right insight, planning, data and measurement, marketeers can secure attention, improve brand health and deliver performance within esports and gaming environments.

Those wanting to harness the attention gained from esports and engage with hard-won audiences will have to embrace the gaming space to connect with this demographic on their own turf.

For more on all the different ways brands can advertise in gaming, from virtual billboards to product placements, social lenses and even games of their own, check out The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive.