Seemingly overnight, eSports – defined by eMarketer as organized gaming competitions among professional players and teams – became a global phenomenon with much at stake for game developers, players, audiences, streaming platforms and live venues. But the swift rise of eSports into mainstream entertainment is now jolting more traditional marketers and TV networks into action, too.
The large and growing audiences for eSports present opportunities for marketers that can go beyond traditional advertising, into a deeper, more engaging connection than the pro sports ecosystem allows. That’s because eSports viewers “tend to be loyal, tuned-in, digitally savvy and more affluent than the average consumer,” according to eMarketer. But marketers need to learn what works for eSports fans and how to reach them on their terms.
So, who are eSports’ fans? As expected, they skew mostly male, mostly young (researchers divide age groups differently, but early 20s to early 30s seems to be the peak fan age). They are also better educated and better off than average consumers, according to industry executives and a study by GlobalWebIndex. Less expected is finding that eSports fans are also family-oriented. Industry experts say that some fans have gravitated towards eSports as a way to connect with their children, and some have aged into parenthood and continue to experience eSports as a pastime activity with their family.
eMarketer expect eSports viewers to grow by 52.5% between 2018 and 2023, reaching 46.2 million at that time. But the publisher points out that there is a much bigger audience beyond the confines of organized competitions. As in 10X+ bigger. The worldwide eSports audience may reach 453 million people by 2022, estimates Newzoo, a gaming research firm. The IAB and On Device Research also measured viewership of eSports and gaming sessions on a global basis and found that 29% of live streaming viewers worldwide watched eSports and gaming videos—a number comparable to those who watched traditional sports.
“We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO”
– Netflix Q4 2018 shareholder letter
Players and fans of gaming video content congregate on digital viewing platforms, and “what they lack in scale compared with broadcast or premium cable channels, they make up for in higher targetability, measurability and engagement,” says eMarketer. Amazon-owned Twitch and Alphabet’s YouTube are the undisputed leaders in eSports viewing in US and Western Europe, used by nearly half of all fans in these markets. But in China and South Korea eSports is much more popular on broadcast TV, second in popularity only to TV series and more watched than traditional sports. Google’s new Stadia cloud gaming service is very likely to eventually integrate with YouTube’s gaming channel and host eSports events and offer viewing capabilities.
Marketers can tap into this growing industry through ads, sponsorships, branded content, endorsements and influencer marketing. The typical approach by brands has been sponsoring individual players or content creators, but advertising is picking up traction. Pre-roll ads are already standard for the free membership plans for streaming platforms and for TV broadcasts. And, now that Twitch no longer includes ad-free viewing in its paid membership, they’re likely to become the norm.
With over 15 million daily unique visitors consuming 90+ minutes of content daily on Twitch and 81 million subscribers to YouTube Gaming, the audience is clearly big enough to be attractive to advertisers. Are marketers ready to get their heads in the game?
From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to consider:
- Nathan Lindberg, director of global sponsorships at Twitch, said “Brands that get it wrong do a logo slap. They are in and out very quickly.” What are some things to keep in mind when planning out sponsorships with eSports players?
- eSports, and livestreaming in general, are co-creation experiences. What innovative things can brands do to co-create with their consumers as eSports fans?