Here Comes A New Challenger! The Emergence of E-Sports as the next big Marketing Powerhouse.

From secluded basement LAN parties, to selling out sports arenas in minutes. Gaming has been on a tear recently both as an industry, and as a fast-growing spectator sport. Competitive gaming, commonly known as E-Sports, has seen an incredible growth in popularity over the last 5 years. No longer hidden under a veil of obscurity (or within the confines of their grandmother's basement), professional E-Sports and its athletes haven't just emerged, they've engaged flight and taken a commanding presence within the gaming market. E-Sports is now a force to be reckoned with, and there are comprehensive studies and big money to back that up.

Some experts are actually saying that E-Sports could be the next major sport to compete with the NFL, and you should believe them. Why? Some events—such as the DOTA2 International—are already drawing viewership numbers comparable to an NFL game, and some are even selling out major sports arenas. You can be sure that there is some serious revenue being generated around these games. From the athletes that play them, to the sponsors and agencies who support them. Pro gaming has officially arrived as a legitimate competitive arena with millions of loyal fans tuning in to watch their favorite players compete in high-level action on a regular basis—it's probably time that your brand take notice.

 

Photo credit: Robert Paul

There is tremendous entertainment value

The games being played are highly competitive, with almost all of them requiring immense amounts of strategy, reflexes, coordination, and technical skills to play effectively. Whether it's Fighting games or the powerhouse Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, players train incredibly hard to reach the highest levels, and it shows when viewers are tuning in by the millions to watch them compete head-to-head. Tournaments and events are offering ever larger prize pools as a result of the revenue driven in from loyal fans tuning in to root for their favorite player or team. Champions of major E-Sports competitions already make more than SuperBowl or World Series winners.

Viewers come from streaming websites like Amazon's Twitch.tv, MLG.tv, or the newcomer—Hitbox.tv, and they're doing it by the boatload. Twitch, specifically, has become more than just a haven for gamers—it has evolved into one of the focal points of the industry. Twitch, its users, and the number of viewer-hours they partake in each month serve as one of the most compelling indicators that E-Sports has finally arrived. Streaming has delivered gaming as spectator entertainment into every part of our connected lives. Microsoft and Sony have taken notice, and integrated video game broadcasting functionality into their next-gen consoles.

Research firm SuperData's E-sports brief reported that E-Sports viewership in 2013 grew to 72 million, double what it was in 2012. Viewership in 2014 was even higher, topping 101 million viewers and expected to exceed 135 million in 2015. This represents a tremendous opportunity for brands and marketers who step into the arena now to capitalize on the exposure and brand-building power of this powerhouse in the making. The increased viewership each year generates even more revenue and provides further incentive for sponsors and marketers to seed the fledgling industry with increased funding and product endorsements for professional players. From the casual viewer to the die-hard fans, tons of people are watching these athletes battle it out.

 

Huge brands are already showing huge interest

Some of the major brands who provide funding to the pro gaming ecosystem by sponsoring E-Sports events and players include Coca-Cola, Reebok, Monster Energy, Intel, Red Bull, HTC, American Express, and even Nissan. Most recently, Duracell batteries threw their hats into the gaming ring with their "Longest Lasting Tournament", a 26-hour non-stop broadcast for the hit sports game Madden 15, with the winner earning themselves two tickets to paradise SuperBowl XLIX.

It makes perfect sense. Outside of sports on TV, which is now one of the only things people watch live anymore, E-Sports is the best way to reach Millennials. While television audience demographics are getting harder and harder to pin down, E-Sports marketers know they'll have male gamers from 14 to 35 years of age watching. Moreover, the audience for E-Sports is typically affluent and spend-happy. Cost barriers for brands who sponsor E-Sports are lower than that of traditional sports, allowing them to cast a wider net with more focused campaigns than traditional sports advertising which is notorious for consuming entire marketing budgets with single run scattershot ads. Marketers armed with this knowledge are able to unlock more opportunity for building brand loyalty and are able to deploy cross-media campaigns around E-Sports with lower budgets and higher overall reach.

The brand who is most invested in E-Sports thus far is Amazon, whose purchase of Twitch for $970 million in 2014 made a huge statement about their faith in pro gaming as a source of revenue. At the time of purchase Twitch was attracting more than 55 million monthly viewers. What Amazon purchased when they bought Twitch is not only the #1 gaming broadcast platform, but also the primary medium in which this new age of sports media is consumed. When fans watch gaming on Twitch, they are not just watching other gamers, they're watching ultra-talented digital goliaths. The Michael Jordans and Wayne Gretzsky's of League of Legends, Ultra Street Fighter 4, and DOTA2.

Much like traditional social media marketing, a lot of E-Sports Marketing is about community building. The move made by Amazon in 2014 was a daring, yet very strategic investment into the gaming community at large. At what seems like a steep initial cost of $970 million dollars, they have not only secured themselves the top spot on top of the E-Sports marketing eco-system, but the community therein as well.

Yet while brands like Amazon, Coke, and Red Bull are investing so heavily into building brand loyalty through E-Sports, many have yet to discover or realize the potential of this genre of marketing yet. Some brands may be looking at E-Sports with trepidation due to the majority of current E-Sports sponsorships being predominantly computer and technology vendors. The key insight that these companies have yet to make note of is the fact that all gamers lead a life outside of E-Sports. That life is full of holes that any lifestyle, service, commerce, or media brands could fill in for the customer's life should they be willing to invest a little bit of money, time, and a good amount of strategy.

 

Photo credit: Robert Paul

Where does Digital Surgeons fit in?

To many, the E-Sports media landscape is still difficult to parse with only the most forward thinking marketers currently realizing its potential. Pro Gaming, and the events therein mostly revolve around sponsorship models and branded events. As more creative minds recognize the power of this compelling niche, the possibilities for innovative strategies are endless.

E-Sports of almost any genre is an experiential marketers dream. Digital Surgeons sees competitive gaming as an opportunity for brands and marketers to apply sound content/web/event creation as part of an immersive creative strategy. From single event sponsorships or player-brand endorsements, to integrated campaigns which coalesce from cross-media strategies into immersive branded experiences for E-Sports fans around the globe.

Gamers should be a very attractive target group for a lot of companies, and advertising agencies like DS that are on the front-lines of this exciting new industry are able to bridge the gap between brands and the competitive gaming community. Great marketers know the needs of their target audience, Digital Surgeons knows E-Sports and can serve as sherpas for brands as they climb the mountain of international competitive gaming.