The esports industry is at a particularly important stage of growth. Fans of the industry are locked in and committed, but can esports appeal to a broader audience? Some steps are already underway, like the League of Legends Championship Series shifting to a franchised league (and away from a promotion and relegation system) and the NBA2K League and Overwatch League attempting to appeal to a regional audience.
Photo Credit: The Score Esports
Another way to reach a wider audience is through sponsorships. Most of the sponsorships in esports today are endemic sponsors. These are brands that are already a part of the esports industry – meaning they are used to produce or play esports games. Endemic sponsors are essential to sustain the esports industry, but they won’t necessarily help it grow because the conversations they generate occur within the existing confines of the esports industry. To reach beyond this boundary, non-endemic sponsors are necessary.
However, it takes much more effort of work with non-endemics than to work with endemics. Endemic sponsors understand the industry and its audience. For non-endemics, often the concept of esports is a foreign one. They likely have an awareness of the industry, but they probably don’t understand it or the potential it has. Frequently, it is up to the esports organizations to educate non-endemic sponsors if they hope to have a chance of working with them. Which is why, for the majority of esports organizations, non-endemic sponsors are mostly untouched.
This is what makes Panda Global’s approach extremely informative. Panda Global is an esports organization that is focused on fighting games. Since the start of 2018, it has landed two big-name non-endemic sponsors – Zippo and Funimation – after having a multi-year relationship with a third, Geico. The efforts that Panda Global undertook to partner with these organizations could be instructive for every esport organization.
“There’s no non-endemic sponsors that really, truly understand the value of esports,” Alan Bunney, CEO of Panda Global, said to The Esports Observer.
“Working with non-endemic sponsors requires a lot of thinking outside the box and flexibility. They don’t know esports and don’t always understand how traditional esports activations work. With sponsors like HyperX there are clear guidelines and plans with how best to work with each other since we both have experience in the space. With non-endemic sponsors, things are constantly shifting for where their priorities lay or how best to do something.”
Photo Credit: The Esports Observer
Often this plays out where a company may have an employee or two who understands or is excited about esports. These employees often have to do the legwork to convince the people in charge of marketing or in the C-suite to have a meeting with an esports organization. Then it is up to the esports organization to undertake the often lengthy process of education.
“It’s a mixture of proving value to the people that are trying to learn about it and then helping them prove the value to those above them that still don’t understand esports. It’s not uncommon that someone else gets hired in and we have to teach them everything all over again,” said Bunney.
For his part, Bunney is familiar with achieving a goal through hard work. Burney is a licensed medical doctor who continues to practice despite being a fulltime CEO of an esports organization.
“On busy days I’ll literally be tweeting between patient rooms, and sometimes I can’t report on stream matches because I’ll be called away for an emergency in the middle of them,” he said.
“Keeping up with both medicine and esports, staying at the forefront of each, burns the candle at both ends so to speak, but I can’t imagine giving either up.”
Perhaps it’s this drive that makes Bunney willing to put in the extra effort to court non-endemics.
“When approaching non-endemic brands, I think the two Ps are extremely important: passion and professionalism. I’m a physician, and David Wu (Panda Global’s co-founder) is a CPA who worked in Fortune 500 companies before, so I think we bring a level of professionalism from outside the industry that helps establish ourselves as individuals they can trust.”
Panda Global is in an exciting spot in the esports industry. The organization recently made an announcement that it would be primarily focusing on 1v1 esports titles (mainly fighting games, but not exclusively), even though some of the most popular titles are team sports. However, while this move will keep Panda Global away from crowd-pleasers like League of Legends, it may actually improve their chances with non-endemic sponsors. That’s because, while the mechanics (and even the appeal) of a game like League of Legends may not be immediately apparent to most non-endemics, they can easily understand the objectives and follow the action of games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros.
Additionally, being, as Bunney puts it, “the premiere esports organization for 1v1 games” gives Panda Global a marketing edge with an easily identifiable moniker and differentiator.
Panda Global’s first non-endemic brand of 2018 was the anime licensing and streaming company Funimation. Initially, Funimation was skeptical that there was any crossover between anime and esports audiences. In fact, the negotiation period lasted 18 months.
Photo Credit: The Esports Observer
What ultimately helped to seal the deal was Panda Global creating a series of anime-related posts on its main Twitter page. Bunney was able to show Funimation, through the traffic generated by the posts, that there was sufficient audience overlap.
“We’re incredibly excited about working with Funimation,” Panda Global’s chief financial officer, David Wu, told ESPN in a statement. “Almost everyone on the team grew up watching anime, and we think our audience loves the titles that make Funimation great, so there is plenty of synergy.”
The next sponsor was the lighter manufacturer Zippo. However, while it may be best known for its iconic lighters, Zippo makes many other products – and it is one of these that sparked the partnership with Panda Global. Zippo is now the exclusive hand warmer provider of Panda Global.
“When we connected to Zippo for their electronic hand warmers, we were very excited for a superior alternative,” said Bunney. “The team at Zippo is also keen on learning about esports as we help them navigate the space through Panda Global.
“Zippo marks the third non-endemic brand that Panda Global has exclusively brought into esports and the fourth non-endemic brand that is on our jerseys today. We know at PG that we can continue to push esports into the next level, we’re both humbled and proud to know that so many brands trust us to do so.
“PG does things differently than other esports teams, and we think that is evident at every level of our organization. From the way we choose players to the way we present ourselves, we have our own way of moving forward.
“Our forward momentum is incredible right now, with no signs of slowing down. So, you’ll definitely see Panda Global continuing to innovate and push the industry forward.”
Non-endemic sponsors entering the esports industry is always good news. Multiple non-endemic sponsors signing with a single team is incredible news. It is a clear sign of growth for Panda Global and a hopeful sign of evolution for the industry.
If you’re interested in making your organization appealing to non-endemic sponsors, give eGency a call at 972-323-6354.