From health nuts to cigar aficionados to concert junkies, marketers are always investigating new ways to reach customers where they're already at. It makes sense: When we love something, we're much more open to anything related to it — brand messaging included. Reaching and engaging consumers through their passion points offers brands a way to intersect in their lives in a meaningful way.
For marketers, competitive video gaming — also known as eSports — represents a huge opportunity to shift consumer perceptions and drive behavior changes. This passion point is on the rise in a major way, and marketers would be wise to sit up and listen.
A Burgeoning Market
You can protest that it’s not a sport all you want, but competitive gaming is a force to be reckoned with.
Once relegated to dusty basements where friends would compete amongst themselves, competitive gaming has transformed into massive tournaments that draw in approximately 300 million viewers, a number that’s expected to leapfrog to 427 million by 2019. And according to marketing research firm Newzoo, eSports revenue — from sponsorships, tickets, merchandise, advertising, and more — will hit $696 million this year.
To get a good idea of just how popular eSports has become, go to your Google search bar and type in "lol." You won't find "laugh out loud" at the top of the page, but rather "League of Legends," one of the most iconic competitive games of all time. In 2016, more than 43 million people watched the League of Legends World Championship online for 370 million-plus hours.
A Valuable Audience
The eSports arena also offers brands a valuable niche audience to explore and engage.
Whereas everyone from your grandmother to your 8-year-old cousin probably tuned into the Super Bowl, the eSports audience is comprised mostly of men under the age of 35, skewing younger than traditional sports like football. An additional 22 percent of Millennial men watch eSports at about the same rate as they do baseball and more frequently than they do ice hockey.
The male Millennial audience is one of the most desirable slices of the market, but it’s also one of the trickiest to ensnare. Millennial men are tech-savvy and know how to steer clear of traditional advertisements via ad blockers and cord-cutting. That makes reaching them a little more difficult.
However, the massive eSports competitions that are broadcast on Twitch.tv and YouTube offer unique access to this audience. Let's look at Twitch specifically. The Amazon-owned streaming platform boasts about 100 million viewers per month. On average, viewers spend nearly two hours streaming on the platform daily, which beats out the time spent on YouTube, and about 35 percent of that viewership is via mobile devices. Twitch reaches more than half of Millennial men in the United States, and a combined 71 percent of its users fall between the ages of 16 and 34.
Getting in on the Ground Floor
Last (but certainly not least), because the audience is not yet as large as the NFL, there’s still plenty of time for smaller brands to get in on the action — and they’d be in very good company.
Professional gamers travel around the world to compete in these tournaments, offering brands plenty of unique opportunities for sponsorship. Brands like Red Bull have jumped into the fray with their own "League of Legends" teams, tournament coverage, and sponsorships. In previous years, Coca-Cola, Intel, and Gillette have been some of the tournament’s mega-sponsors. While 2017’s sponsors have yet to be formally announced, some of the names being thrown about include Logitech, L'Oréal Men Expert, and Mercedes-Benz.
Brands that don't quite have the budget for a full-on tournament sponsorship can engage gamer influencers. Being a pro gamer in and of itself is a tantalizing and seemingly attainable goal for plenty of fans, who will be highly interested to hear their favorite gamer's brand recommendations. Don't think you have to go for the big-time gamers, either. Microinfluencers may have a smaller audience, but it's a much more engaged one. Whoever you choose, you should treat the campaign like a partnership, where you co-create with the gamer influencer.
ESports players and viewers make up a diverse, passionate audience that offers brands unique opportunities for engagement and marketing, no matter the size of your company. Interacting with them on their terms and through their passions will help shift their perceptions of your brand and grow your customer base faster than you can say, "Call of Duty."