Esports Viewers Believe Sponsors are Essential to the Success of the Sport

September 25, 2018

Seventy-two percent of esports viewers believe that sponsors are critical to the success of esports.

That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Simmons Research on behalf of Activision Blizzard. The video game producer was looking for information regarding viewer attitudes about the premiere season of its Overwatch League.

“While we’ve been led to believe that viewers are quite skeptical about advertising and sponsorships, we’ve found that the opposite is true when it comes to esports,” Brandon Snow, Senior Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues, said in an article he wrote for Adweek.

Photo Credit: Fortune

“In esports, viewers look for a brand that’s adding value and supporting the ecosystem of their favorite games, players and events. The passion of these fans is evident, but what might not be so obvious is that they wholeheartedly support brands that support them. In fact, a whopping 72 percent of respondents believe that sponsors are critical to the success of esports.”

The research also found that viewers actively hope that brands will come on board to support the games they enjoy watching and the esports industry as a whole.

“Sixty-four percent of viewers think more favorably of a brand that has a co-sponsorship of their preferred esport, and 68 percent admit to being heavily influenced by ads that help support these leagues,” said Snow.

“We’ve also learned that while it is important to curate content and broadcasts to reach viewers on their platform of choice, it is equally important to utilize the tools and opportunities at our disposable to create the best quality broadcast. Six out of 10 respondents believe that sponsorships are helpful to the viewing experience, and 93 percent believe that the quality of the broadcast is the most important factor in watching esports.”

Photo Credit: XY Gaming

This information is consistent with findings from other esports research. For example, the Nielsen eSports Playbook that took a look at the habits and demographics of esports fans in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Nielsen found that the viewing audience for esports is strongest in the United States, where 66 percent of fans say they are likely to stream a live esports event and 42 percent are expected to watch live esports on television. Additionally, of all the fans surveyed, the United States’ audience possesses the most robust favorable perception toward sponsors and brand involvement.

The Nielsen 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. Whether inherently used throughout the course of the esports event or simply appearing as sponsors, the brands receive favorable opinions from fans due to their involvement. 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).

Regarding Snow’s comment about reaching “viewers on their platform of choice,” the digital research firm Superdata’s research, Esports Courtside: Playmakers of 2017, found that the esports market (with a worldwide value of $1.5 billion) is viewed by millions of online spectators. Viewers of esports content are less likely to consume media “traditionally.” They grew up watching YouTube and having content on demand. For this audience, heading to Twitch to watch a match is traditional.

Twitch is currently the most popular online service for watching and streaming digital video broadcasts. Market research firm Newzoo recently analyzed 10 months of Twitch service and found that over 100 million users had streamed 800 million hours of esports.

Photo Credit: Twitch 

Which takes us back to the Nielsen research, which found that fans in the United States are 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 also 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.

Still, the esports audience can be notoriously hard to reach. Esports fans are between the ages of 13 and 40 years old, with an average age of 26. That makes this group primarily comprised of millennials who are very savvy at avoiding traditional advertising by using ad blocking software when online and cord cutting when consuming media.

They are also very good at avoiding non-traditional advertising. Yet another study found that, as Facebook became more adept in targeting its social media advertising, the average user of the platform began to trend older. This means millennials began jumping ship when their feeds started filling up with ads.

Wait, doesn’t that last stat run counter to the rest of this article?

No. A targeted ad on Facebook is an entirely different animal than an esports sponsorship. The Facebook ad is seen as an unwanted intrusion. The esports sponsorship is seen as a critical component in helping to ensure that something they enjoy thrives.

There’s a recurring theme that pops up in all of the kajillions of studies that have been done on millennials: by and large, they came of age during the Great Recession. This makes them keenly aware of the fragility of systems and the importance of finances. This is an audience that fully comprehends that esports – while it is more popular than ever and growing – needs brand sponsorships to succeed. It only makes sense that these viewers would, in turn, patronize esports sponsors – they are genuinely appreciative.

Of course, it very well may be that sponsors also need esports to survive.

Photo Credit: Esports Insider

“Have you met a 12-year old recently?” Nate Nanzer, the Overwatch League Commissioner, asked in an interview with Adweek. “Because if you have, I’m guessing all they do is watch other people play video games on Twitch and YouTube. And that’s not going to magically change when they turn 35. It’s not like they’re going to turn 35 and be like, ‘Well, I’m a baseball fan now.’”

In his article, Snow advocates for “long-term relationships between brands and our viewers.” This possibility is increasingly likely. The Overwatch League recently added eight new teams (Guangzhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Paris, Toronto, Vancouver, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.). There is now a total of 20 teams that will compete in the league’s second season, nine of which are from outside the U.S. From the outset, a goal for the Overwatch League was for it to be a global, city-based esports league.

According to ESPN, the 12 teams for the inaugural season were purchased for about $20 million each. These new eight teams were sold for between $30 million to $60 million each.

The Motley Fool recently published an article that stated, “The first season of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League was a success by every measure. The game maker attracted major sponsors and a large audience that spent 160 million hours watching Overwatch League matches.”

The article concludes, “Essentially, Activision has structured Overwatch League to be profitable not only for the company but also for team owners. It’s a partnership focused not on the short term but on generating profits over the long term.”

The Motley Fool didn’t mention sponsorships in that paragraph, but it should have. Sponsorships are a vital focus of the Overwatch League and the overall esports industry.

“It represents a maturation of the viewer-sponsor relationship that is continuing to trend upward,” said Snow.

If you are thinking about an esports sponsorship, now is the time and we can help. Give eGency Global a call at 972-323-6354.