As esports has grown in popularity, it has become the target of sponsorship deals for a wide variety of businesses. From fast food firms like McDonalds sponsoring the ESL Meisterschaft tournament, to motor car brands like Audi sponsoring CSGO teams such as Astralis, it seems as though there is something of a goldrush for companies to get involved with the competitive gaming phenomenon.
On paper, there is a little arguing with the thinking behind these sponsorship deals. The growth of esports is skyrocketing with a recent Newzoo report stating that the competitive gaming industry could be worth $1.7 billion by 2021. If you couple this with live streaming figures that state that over 200 million people watched the 2018 League of Legends World Championships, it seems that sponsoring an esports team could be a great idea for any company wishing to boost their brand visibility.
Despite this, it has to be remembered that esports is still a fairly new industry. The competitive gaming phenomenon has been with us for less than 20 years, and it’s easy to forget that it is still in something of a state of flux. As such, it can be incredibly tricky for brands to realise which esports teams and tournaments could be worth backing, and which could soon crumble into dust.
Whilst some of the bookmakers like Betway who have been featured on the betting resource, lolbettingsites.com, can happily spend a six-figure sum sponsoring esports teams like Ninjas in Pyjamas, there isn’t any guarantee that such organisations will still exist in a couple of years. Although traditional sports teams like Manchester United and Bayern Munich have achieved remarkable stability over the decades, we have seen numerous esports teams like Millennium folding with little in the way of warning.
When you couple this with the fact that it can be notoriously difficult to predict which teams will win even the most established esports tournaments like The International, it’s easy to see why a business sponsoring a particular team could be a risky prospect.
As a result, we have seen many firms take the decision to sponsor the actual gaming tournaments. But with even classic esports like Counter Strike Global Offensive not even having a main yearly contest like Dota 2’s The International or the Overwatch League, it also poses the tricky question of working out which competitive gaming tournaments are going to get the requisite audience figures.
This is especially true as we have also seen some promising esports titles unexpectedly falling by the wayside in recent years. Take the battle arena title, Heroes of the Storm, that saw its competitive gaming tournaments axed by its parent company, Blizzard Entertainment in the past couple of months. Such dramatic moves will do little to ease suspicions that the esports industry is still unsettled, and it can be just about impossible to predict whether a title is going to be a breakthrough hit like Fortnite, or a dud like Artifact.
As a result, there has been renewed calls to try and standardise the competitive gaming domain. Blizzard Entertainment have taken the commendable steps of regulating their Overwatch League so that it features a regular roster of teams to provide a touch of stability for sponsors. In addition to this, Blizzard have also ensured that all of the professional Overwatch players receive a minimum salary which will undoubtedly help make these gamers less likely to switch teams and therefore increase their attractiveness to any potential sponsor.
But whilst professional esports stars are certainly having little problem in getting some truly spectacular salaries, this doesn’t mean that their on-screen and off-screen behaviour is guaranteed to make any sponsors happy. What often passes for youthful exuberance can frequently turn nasty, and it’s easy to see why esports has such a bad reputation for toxicity.
From Fortnite stars like Ninja causing controversy by refusing to play opposite female gamers, to Overwatch competitors such as xQc going on homophobic rants, there is little doubt that such behaviour is going to make any brand question their involvement with esports. Obviously, we have also seen similarly antisocial behaviour in the traditional sporting world, but it does seem that esports has a definite problem when it comes to keeping its players in line.
But as esports matures as an industry, there is hope that growing regulation and standardisation across the gaming titles will produce an increased element of stability. Such moves would undoubtedly help to make the often mysterious world of esports much more attractive to business. All sports are liable to upsets and controversy, and it’s such events that make the activities such an exciting spectator experience. And as long as those audience figures continue to rise, we can expect to see many more lucrative esports sponsorship deals being signed in the future.