Whilst esports started as a relatively niche activity, it has grown to become a multi-million dollar industry in little over a decade. As such, there has been the noticeable entrance of many massive companies investing big money into the competitive gaming phenomenon. From fast food giants like McDonalds, to legendary car manufacturers such as Audi, it seems that the esports market offers plenty of scope for brands looking to broaden the appeal of their products.
But with iconic esports titles like League of Legends and Counter Strike Global initially seeming to be far removed from mainstream tastes, it begs the question of why big businesses are so keen to get involved in such a seemingly impenetrable market?
Targeting the younger demographic
It’s little surprise to find that the core audience of esports is largely made up of young males. Whilst many people outside of this demographic make up the competitive gaming fanbase, it’s a market that has proven to be difficult for big brands to target. Rather than consuming media from traditional sources such as television, most people in the younger demographic now get their news and entertainment from the fragmented online domain.
As a result, many companies will now spend significant amounts of money in getting their brand name featured on the esports tournaments covered by live streaming networks such as Twitch.tv and YouTube Gaming. With a projected 427 million people watching competitive gaming by 2019, it’s clear that there’s plenty to be gained from such exposure.
Many of the largest competitive gaming tournaments now feature sponsorship from well-known brands. The recent Red Bull Conquest tournament in the US not only saw the energy drinks firm sponsoring the contest, but with car manufacturers like Hyundai using the event to show off their new vehicle, it seems that the audience numbers of esports competitions have proven to be hugely attractive to big business.
Capitalising dynamic nature of esports
As competitive gaming is a relatively new phenomenon, then certain firms have found that it offers a much more malleable way to share their brand’s message. The German car maker, Audi, recently stated that sponsoring esports is ‘far more flexible than many traditional sports’, and the company have embraced the competitive gaming trend by sponsoring esports organisations such as FOKUS CLAN and Ingolstadt FC’s esports team.
This is a marked contrast to the tightly regimented realm of traditional sports where regulations over marketing can make it harder for a brand’s message to successfully reach the target audience. Such concerns could have been behind McDonald’s shock decision to abandon their partnership of the German Football Association, to concentrate their resources on teaming up with the competitive gaming tournament, ESL Meisterschaft. McDonalds have also found success in creating special ‘gamer-friendly’ menus with the likes of a ‘noob’ Happy Meal proving to resonate well with the younger demographic.
Whilst traditional sports still holds a huge amount of attraction for advertisers, it seems as though esports is starting to gain greater acceptance amongst mainstream audiences. A quick look at the bookmakers featured on the esports betting resource, http://www.esports.net/, reveals plenty of traditional sports bookies who now offer esports bets on the side, and this is further evidence of the blurring of the lines between sports and video gaming.
Increased professionalism in the esports domain
With esports in its second decade, it has started to gain an extra level of professionalism that makes it even more attractive to big business. With established broadcasting networks such as ESPN and the BBC starting to cover esports tournaments, such moves will be noticed by brands who want to get their message seen by as many people as possible.
Whilst the original esports scene was relatively chaotic, efforts have been made to standardise league formats and ensure that there is consistency in gameplay. The hugely successful Overwatch League has quickly become an esports phenomenon thanks to the efforts of its parent company, Blizzard Entertainment, and this has made it all the more attractive to big money sponsors like Toyota.
As esports audiences grow older and the activity finds greater mainstream acceptance, then there are growing hopes that competitive gaming will find its place alongside traditional sports. Such a move would prove hugely attractive to big business, as there is still a widely held perception that video games are too violent and promote sedentary lifestyles.
But 2019 will see the SEA Games introducing esports as a medal sport for the first time, and there are already plans afoot to include competitive gaming in the 2024 Paris Olympics. And with the news that the Premier League is teaming up with the games publishers, EA Sports, to set up an ePremier League for gamers, it shows that esports is set for an even higher profile in the future.