Brands engaging with esports

Why brands are no longer asking "why" but "how" to engage with esports and their players

With global audiences of over 500 million, the question facing brands and advertisers has evolved beyond whether they should engage with esports to how they should maximise engagement. A question which can often prove difficult to answer for non-endemic brands, especially those which don’t know their ARPG from their elbow when it comes to video games as a whole. 

For context, the esports industry is projected to reach more than US$1.6 billion in market revenue by 2023. It is no longer a niche interest of a predominantly young male audience with lower levels of disposable income, in fact gamers and esports fans as a whole are now a much more diverse demographic than most expect. In reality esports is a fragmented community, with thousands of subcultures that change rapidly as new games, platforms and technologies are introduced - which contributes to the fact that its audiences tend to be largely advertising resistant and hard to reach, particularly using traditional media.  

Esports fans tend to view video content through streaming rather than through more traditional channels such as TV. Similarly they get their music through streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music, meaning radio is not really an effective engagement platform. And as a demographic more steeped in digital than most, digital advertising isn’t as effective as it might seem, as these audiences are largely numb to it. For brands looking to reach them and engage in a meaningful way the problem is less about how to “break through” this barrier, and more about approaching this audience in a way that blends with their interests. 

That means there are a myriad of ways to engage that are worth considering.

Much like in sports, brands can choose to sponsor tournaments and events, creating a brand association similar to the Barclay’s Premier League. Sponsoring major esports teams is an adjacent option, plus there is scope for brands to start their own esports teams (think Red Bull in Formula 1). We have seen this most recently with ecommerce giant Shopify founding its own esports team - Shopify Rebellion. 

Away from the traditional sports parallels, partnerships with esports influencers, particularly streamers, are one of the most common ways to reach a specific slice of the esports community, with all streaming platforms offering a range of options from which brands can choose to maximise effective engagement. For brands looking to be more involved, there is the option of creating esports events and to own esports arenas and spaces, using this as a place to build a community which can evolve over time into brand advocates. Here at Challengermode we offer just such spaces for brands to own and grow in the long term. 

This all needs to be considered alongside which portion of the ever growing esports space a brand is planning to reach. MOBAs attract a different audience than RTS games, which attract a different audience to FPSs, etc. Even within types, the audiences can vary greatly with Battle Royal games like PUBG and Fortnite attracting distinctly different viewerships. 

If this all sounds like a lot to keep in mind to engage with esports audiences, it is.

But it is really not that different to other media sectors. It just requires a tight focus on specific game platforms, geographies and age groups to narrow the scope of a campaign to deliver against the core objectives. Approaches here might involve building out a specific esports arm dedicated to maximising the opportunities in the space, or partnering with existing esports organizations that are plugged into the esports ecosystem and connected with its many stakeholders. 

This is true for gaming adjacent brands and for non-endemic brands. The misconception that gamers only care about games is changing along with the wider gaming audience. With over 2 billion people playing games worldwide, outdated stereotypes about what the gaming audience is are as useless as the broad generalisations people fall back on to justify not engaging with them. Gamers are people too, with concerns and cares wrapped up in every facet of modern life. The non-endemic brands that have succeeded in esports have been the ones that have understood this, and reached out to gamers on their terms in their spaces - adding value to them and the esports ecosystem by the very nature of their participation. 

By Phil Hubner Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode.