Why All Brands Need to Care About eSports
Why All Brands Need to Care About eSports

If you are an influencer, a brand, a movement, you need to pay attention to what is happening - and it’s happening everywhere, from your house to your customer's house.

So you are a luxury travel brand - should you care about eSports? Yes.

A B2B SaaS player selling to the Fortune 1000? Yes.

A regional healthcare provider? Yes! 

If you are an influencer, a brand, a movement, you need to pay attention to what is happening - and it’s happening everywhere, from your house to your customer's house.

So let's start with the basics really quick. What is eSports? At its simplest definition it’s competitive gaming at the professional level. Each game is a sport and some of the most popular genres and games include: 

  • Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) - games like League of Legends and DOTA 2
  • First Person Shooter - games like Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Call of Duty
  • Fighting Games - games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Brothers
  • Sports Games - games like NBA 2K and FIFA

Tournaments for some of the larger eSports and leagues are filling up massive arenas and being broadcast across our most popular cable channels (ESPN) and at ridiculous rates online. But audiences are not just watching large eSports tournaments, they are streaming their favorite athletes and influencers every day. Last month (May 2018), there was a total of 760 million hours of content watched on Twitch, the live streaming video platform owned by Amazon whose primary focus has been video game live streaming.

Welcome to the Wild Wild West

About 3 years ago, an investment book hit my desk to invest in an eSports team. While I had a cursory understanding of the industry, I was completely shocked about this phenomena that was happening internationally and was on the brink of explosion here in the US. I dove deeper into understanding the industry, meeting teams, investors, players and the platform and game developers.  

Since then the industry has truly taken off - hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested into teams, leagues and businesses to consult and service these leagues. Brands, endemic and non-endemic, have been pitched countless sponsorship opportunities - some have come to fruition, others have hesitated about making their first impression in a highly protective community. Short-term and long-term media rights contracts have been negotiated. Really smart people across gaming, media and sports have entered the industry. Yet, the industry is still in flux with regards to standardizing measurement, generating revenue opportunities and creating a structure that makes brands and other partners feel comfortable investing.

But the one thing that cannot be denied is the audience. Not only its size and demographics but its level of engagement. Twitch counts 15 million daily users (55% between the age of 18-34) and spending nearly two hours a day watching.   

The hard-to-reach millennial and Gen Zers are spending countless hours streaming. This contradicts everything that the media, media companies, technology firms and many agencies are telling brands about this audience or any audiences for that matter:

  • "This audience can't focus, so short clips and six-second ads are the only way to engage them" 
  • "They will only sit back and binge ultra-premium storytelling like Netflix and HBO"

Yet explain these May Twitch stats from the popular gamer Ninja (who streams off a webcam in his bedroom):

  • He streamed for 371 hours
  • His average live audience during those streams was 101,000 viewers
  • Resulting in 34 million hours of audience time spent with Ninja - also equal to 20.4 BILLION 6-second ads

The difference is this: Ninja and countless other gamers/influencers are connecting with audiences like never before. Not only are they taking an "always on" behavior to content production, they are developing content that is engaging the audience and making them feel part of a community. They are truly acting like one-person media companies. Ultimately they are delivering value that audiences are not getting from brands and traditional CTA advertising.  

It is quite simple: people (across all ages and demographics) have time. 24 hours each day. Never more and never less. They fill that day with stuff. They will constantly say, "I don't have time for that." But the truth is, they will make time for things they find valuable. Does it inform? Does it engage? Is it something they crave or need and can't get anywhere else?

Why should CMOs care? eSports may not make sense for your brand to invest in, but don't deny the fact that the audiences you care about are willing to spend time with things they value. It doesn't always have to do with production value, but it does have to do with a great story. So understand the narrative your organization needs to own every day, think audience first and tell stories that matter to them. The battle is for time and there are only winners and losers. The winners will gain influence and grow market share. The losers will become irrelevant.  

As a final note, for those brands thinking about entering into the eSports world, whether with a team, a league or owning a piece of the story, do not think short-term, but be focused on the long-term and building influence that lasts. For those brands that are looking for a short-term jump with younger audiences but do not care about the eSports ecosystem, think twice. While your money will likely be accepted by teams who need to prove out investment theses to investors, the community will be wary of you and it will pollute the marketplace and the long-term success opportunities of the ecosystem. eSports teams need real partners now more than ever and help in building their team's brand versus just being the name on a popular gamer's jersey. There is an opportunity with teams for true alignment and this will go beyond traditional sponsorship deals and more into longer-term storytelling and building communities, ultimately driving large monetization opportunities for the brand, team, athletes and investors.

eSports is here to stay and will only grow. Start with the narrative you can own and define the storytelling whitespace that will make you valuable.

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