The numbers are incredible—eSports has experienced double-digit growth for several years and boasts a global community of 148 million enthusiasts. Sportspersons today make seven-figure salaries and are celebrated like rock stars. Tournaments play in sold-out arenas with tens of thousands of fans.
eSports is a revolution that has helped evolve the modern definition of “sports.”
Yet even the most experienced strategic marketers have questions about the appropriate approach to eSports—how to impact and derive value from the gaming ecosystem.
eSports Industry Background
Technology is the backbone of the eSports phenomenon, providing the perfect structure for the industry to thrive. Nowhere is that more evident than when looking at live-streaming. In the early days of competitive gamingto experience eSports you had to attend a tournament. Now, companies like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and BEAM have filled this gap by facilitating eSports viewership for anyone with a high-speed internet connection. As a result, a proclivity for consuming large amounts of content is one of the defining characteristics of eSports fans, with 51 percent of them watching 8+ hours per week.
"To uncover which specific marketing tactics resonate best with players, we dug deeper into the idea of “brand involvement”"
Some have questioned whether eSports is a fad that won’t catch on with a traditional mainstream audience, or will fade away in a few years. At GMR, we believe eSports has a stable, long-term future as a robust segment of the sports and entertainment industry. It offers access to a tech-savvy consumer and tremendous integration potential as a platform for effective brand marketing experiences.
The Right Brand Involvement
To understand how eSports fans feel about brands’ presence in gaming, GMR asked eSports enthusiasts about their openness to brand involvement within the industry. Fortunately for brands, eSports fans are receptive to brand presence in their sport, even agreeing that it could positively impact purchasing decisions.
A substantial majority (85 percent) of all surveyed eSports enthusiasts were brand-positive, agreeing with one of the following statements:
“I always appreciate when brands try to reach out to me through the gaming world. I might even be more likely to purchase from them in the future.” (43 percent) or “I usually appreciate when brands try to reach out to me through the gaming world, BUT it has to be done properly. Anything overly branded or too corporate is a turn off.” (42 percent)
However, even with this openness to brands, gamers can still be wary of the wrong marketing. Forty-two percent are turned off by overly branded or corporate content. This response underscores our belief that a brand’s initial entry into the ecosystem is critical to how it will be viewed in the hearts and minds of the eSports audience.
Not All Gamers are Alike
For brands, identifying opportunities to authentically connect with eSports fans can be challenging.
As our research supports, gaming is not a one-size-fits-all activity. GMR identified three distinct groups of eSports consumers—the watchers, the players, and those who do both. These groups have different opinions about brand involvement, which should inform brand strategies.
Players are the most receptive to brand involvement. Fifty-nine percent of players always appreciate when brands try to reach out through the gaming world, compared to 33 percent among those who only watch.
To uncover which specific marketing tactics resonate best with players, we dug deeper into the idea of “brand involvement.” Respondents were given a list of 24 marketing activities ranging from in-store displays and coupons to event marketing and sponsorships. We asked them to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, how much each marketing activity would impact two things: their awareness of a brand, and their likeliness to purchase it.
Event marketing was one of the most impactful tactics for influencing purchase consideration. Seventy-one percent of players (along with 51 percent of watchers) ranked event marketing as very effective (a ranking of 4 or 5).
Other demographic variables—such as age and geography—also influence which marketing tactics are most likely to drive brand awareness and purchase consideration.
For example, the coveted—and difficult to engage—18-to-24-year-old male ranks athlete and celebrity endorsements as the number one most influential marketing activity for driving brand/product awareness, a tactic that falls to number 10 for gamers overall.
The ability to identify and target specific segments of eSports fans is critical to a brand’s success. These targeting decisions should directly influence brands’ selection of marketing tactics to achieve sales goals.
Understand How Online and Offline Lives Converge
What do we know about eSports consumers’ activities and interests, aside from the games they play and watch? The answers to this question open up worlds of unique opportunities for brands to connect with eSports consumers in original, authentic ways.
We asked gamers to rank the most common activities they do while also playing or watching eSports. Here’s how they ranked:
1.) Go on social media (69 percent)
2.) Listen to music (64 percent )
3.) Text, video chat, or make a phone call (55 percent )
4.) Hang out with friends or family (53 percent )
5.) Chat with other players or viewers (51 percent )
The eSports consumer may be digitally driven and online 24/7/365, but they’re still quite social. They are more likely to take their social interactions into the digital and gaming worlds. Additionally, these consumers aren’t just early adopters, but maintain interest in these activities and networks longer into adulthood. They don’t only care about the technology, but how they can engage with the content and build deeper relationships.
Based on our findings, brands should strongly consider how they facilitate online and offline social integration and experiences with the gaming community.
Engage Authentically, Add Value
Identifying the most effective, efficient approach for your brand starts with a thorough understanding of the eSports consumer at the intersection of your brand’s business and marketing imperatives.
You should know which activities your audience pair with eSports, understand which marketing tactics resonate with your target demographic, and tailor your outreach to these insights.
eSports fans are as passionate and engaged as fans of traditional sports—perhaps more so. Brands that take the time to better understand the eSports fan and consumer, and tailor marketing activities to the channels and tactics that resonate most with specific demographics within the industry, will maximize their investment and position their brand for future success within eSports.