Competition remains one of the purest forms of drama; and a source of memorable experiences for its participants and spectators. The competitors, their personalities and stories, are at the heart of this script. While names and faces change from era to era, the concept of star power continues to create fans and audiences, alike.
The rise of electronic sports has given birth to a new form of star power, one etched across a digital backdrop, and governed by millennial sensibilities. Non-endemic brands and companies seeking to connect with eSports audiences must understand the nature of star power in order to leverage it within marketing efforts.
The land before PR and commercialism
The notion of influence and “popularity” in eSports remains untouched by powerful commercial interests. Whereas popular figures in traditional sports are able to achieve various levels of widespread fame, eSports is primarily structured as a community; a reality that places a premium on raw authenticity. Traditional sports have evolved a matrix of public relations, media and profit-seeking forces whose interest is in maintaining athletes as key influencers. This creates a welcome home for the sport marketing mix.
On the other hand, electronic sport audiences, mostly consisting of the 30-and-under demographic, are highly sensitive to overt commercialism. For example, recent research suggests that ad blocking software usage is highest amongst 18 – 24 year olds.
The reality behind these numbers complicates not just advertising, but all forms of marketing. While endemic brands have been able to leverage the enthusiasm and sentiment within eSports, by resonating with its core complexion. Non-endemic brands cannot rely on an inherent connection to the competitive gaming community. In order to reach target eSports audiences, in an effective and meaningful manner, non-endemics must integrate connections to key influencers.
Making sense of popularity
Understanding star power and its effect on influence in the world competitive gaming begins with a look at its top professional players (see figure 2). While monitoring the number of fans and followers across Facebook, Twitter and Twitch does not paint the complete picture, it is a very valuable step in the right direction. The data, provided by eSports Marketing Blog, demonstrates several key points:
A beginning of the growth curve
Even though reach for top eSports pros pale in comparison to semi-popular figures in the world of sports and entertainment. This is actually strength not weakness. Lacking widespread recognition, eSports still relies on an organic social network to generate followings. As the size and boundaries of this network continue to expand over the coming years, so will the following and influence of its top notables. Electronic sports is years away from even nearing market saturation, a fact that bodes well for growing popularity and influence.
Typically associated with fiction books, TV and movies, fandom in eSports is the essence of its community. The fever pitch enthusiasm and passion exhibited by its followers sets the cultural tone for the scene. A lack of corporate interference also leaves scant barriers between stars and their followers. In fact, the color and candor of individual personality is celebrated as opposed to the carefully crafted layer of celebrity, present in other domains.
Live streaming is a game changer
Few mediums, outside of face-to-face communication, provide the degree of accessible connection that live streaming does. The ability to watch top pro players broadcasting live is what separates eSports from any other competitive scene on earth. The sky-high levels of engagement and interactivity generated by live streaming are an indication of how valuable the avenue is in connecting communities around a shared passion. Real-time, and often unscheduled, content is a goldmine for maintaining a direct connection to and reach across a widespread audience, free of cost.
Bonus: You can download the Excel file regarding the above data here.
Despite its latent potential, star power in the world of electronic sports, is a largely untapped resource. While sponsors understand the value of various influencers, very little has been done to creatively leverage this cross-channel. While the emergence of eSports on TV (ELEAGUE on Turner) and on larger media platforms (ESPN) offers opportunity, a winning strategy entails embracing the shift away from traditional content outlets.
Likewise, a successful approach to courting influence in eSports starts with setting the correct expectations. Most importantly, any product or brand seeking a gateway to eSports audiences must integrate itself into the overall dialogue between “stars” and fans. Offering to pay for ill-fitting endorsements or plugs is not the way to go. Instead, influencer marketing should proceed as follows:
Learn the pitch and tone exhibited by the influencer, interaction style with his/her following, and the actual engagement levels generated. A large reach doesn’t always produce equally large levels of engagement, and vice versa.
The cult of personality is alive and well in eSports. Followers demand raw, authentic content from star influencers. This equation cannot be altered.
There are no results without performance measurement. This includes integrating historical data and trend analysis into the picture, early and often.
Identifying the stars
Last but not least a key challenge lies in identifying which stars in the eSports solar system are a good fit for influencer marketing. Unfortunately, talent representation in eSports is scarce, at best. When coupled with a highly segmented competitive scene, featuring multiple game titles and audiences, marketers face a free growing garden of opportunities, with few tools to cultivate. Even the prospect of engaging organizations/teams, which contract players, is complicated by extremely high levels of player turnover and general instability.
— eSportsMarketingBlog (@eSportsMBlog) February 15, 2016
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Image Source: © eslgaming.com, Photographer: Patrick Strack