Esports is at an interesting point in history. To its hardcore audience, the sport has always been captivating and something that is worth the investment of both time and money. To many in the extended audience (read: folks older than 35), the concept of professional video game players still seems like an adolescent fantasy. The fact that it is a job where the best of the best earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year is an enigma to this group. Then there are the brands who often seem caught in the middle, torn between wanting to jump into an exciting new arena and frightened of making a misstep that could torpedo their entire effort and cost them money.
Granted, not every brand has had a difficult time supporting esports. Many, like Intel and Comcast Xfinity, were there from the early days of esports, propping up matches and players. But that was at a time when only endemic sponsors (those products that are used to play esports or operate esports’ events) could grasp the sport’s appeal, as it was largely unorganized and scattered across many different divisions, leagues, and games.
Today, however, esports are becoming regulated and more easily understood by a wider audience. For example, someone looking at the stats for the Overwatch League can easily understand that (hypothetically) the Los Angeles Valiant is currently leading the league with a 4-0 record after four matches played. That’s just sports. Most everybody can understand sports.
Perhaps the biggest sign of esports’ maturity is the interest being shown by such a wide variety of sponsors. As essential as endemic sponsors are, they can also be a limitation to the event or group they are sponsoring because of their specificity. This is due to the fact that the audiences line up so narrowly there is little opportunity for growth. The early sponsorship of esports by endemic sponsors certainly helped the sport survive, but it didn’t help it grow.
What is essential for growth is new eyes, and one way to encourage newcomers to give esports a chance is to activate them through products or brands they trust. This is where non-endemic sponsors become key.
Photo Credit: DSport
These days, there are many reasons for non-endemic brands to be intrigued by esports. The recently released Nielsen Esports Playbook took a look at sponsorship opportunities and found that fans in the United States are the most active consumers of esports and have an overall positive feeling about its sponsors, whether endemic or not.
Nielsen, best known for its rating system of the entertainment industry, measured the habits and demographics of esports fans in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States (the company also released a second report that focuses on Asia, specifically China, Japan, and South Korea).
The report, focused on Europe and the United States, found that 71 percent of esports fans are male with an average age of 26.
Nielsen found that the viewing audiences for esports are the strongest in the United States, where 66 percent of fans say they are likely to stream a live esports event and 42 percent are likely to watch live esports on television. Additionally, Nielsen found that esports fans are among the most active viewers of broadcast programming in general. This audience spends an average of 4.5 hours watching television and 4.3 hours viewing internet videos per week.
Of all the fans surveyed, the United States’ audience possesses the strongest favorable perception toward sponsors and brand involvement. The report found that 58 percent of esports fans in the United States have a favorable view of brand involvement, while only five percent perceive it negatively.
It doesn’t matter if the brands are inherently used throughout the course of the esports event or simply appear as sponsors, the brands receive favorable opinions from fans due to their involvement.
Photo Credit: Tweak Town
When asked about non-endemic sponsors, only 15 percent of this audience had a negative view of these backers (compared to 31 percent of the French responders).
Also, what they considered non-endemic is somewhat fluid. Technology companies, energy drinks, and snack foods being categorized as “semi-endemic”. However, alcohol sponsors and financial services were left in the cold.
Fans in the United States are also most likely to diversify their esports interests. These followers watch an average of 5.7 different game titles, compared to just 4.5 in the United Kingdom and France and 3.8 in Germany. United States fans are the ones most likely to engage with sponsors through social media. The report found that 25 percent are extremely or very interested in following such brands, compared to 17 percent in France, 16 percent in Germany, and 15 percent in the U.K.
So, not only are the sponsorship opportunities available, but there are a variety of channels in which to engage an esports audience, including broadcast and social media. And, for the most part, a company doesn’t have to perfectly “fit” into esports to be accepted by the audience.
Many non-endemic brands are worried that they will have to do a lot of difficult work trying to find their audience and understand the esports ecosystem. But, as the Nielsen Esports Playbook illustrates, these fans are already willing to hear your story. The esports industry has matured enough, and fans are already comfortable seeing non-endemic brands, like Turtle Wax, Coca-Cola, and Mercedes-Benz, for several years. The trust of the audience is already there – you just have to not abuse it. Find how your story fits into the esports scene and the fans will embrace it.
Photo Credit: TNL Media
For companies that are worried about making the leap, it is recommended to partner with a company that has experience in the industry and understands how esports and its audience is unique from other industries.
The esports audience is an attractive one. With an average age of 26, this audience is just getting used to having disposable income. It is also growing at a tremendous pace: 38 percent year-on-year growth according to the research firm Newzoo. However, this group is a notoriously tricky audience to reach through conventional advertising. They stream entertainment while blocking (or blocking out) commercials, use ad blocking software when searching online, and communicate and share news over social media.
Having an “in” through esports is a huge benefit to most brands. However, it is also a relationship that cannot be forced or rushed. Even the whiff of inauthenticity can spoil the potential relationship, so patience and thoughtfulness are required. This is because, while outside investment is encouraged, the audience is often worried that the new sponsors will want to change what they grew to love about esports. It’s important to convey that your brand’s involvement will add value to esports as opposed to interrupting its progress.
The involvement of non-endemic brands is a sure sign of the upward trajectory of esports. There are still plenty of opportunities available in the industry. If you are interested in discovering how your brand can comfortably fit within an esports niche, give one of our experts a call at 972-323-6354.