At this point, most brands- endemic and non-endemic – understand that esports represent a huge opportunity. The data about the appeal of the esports audience is well documented, as are some approaches that could work to get non-endemic brands interested enough to invest. But there’s definitely more room to help the process of incorporating more brands into the esports world. Growing sponsorship investment dollars into the esports business requires both a high level understanding of potential roadblocks on the sponsor’s side AND a granular understanding of specific questions your brand-side esports champion will face.
While it’s impossible to predict EVERY potential roadblock, there are a few areas of concern that come up frequently enough to warrant solid answers. Brand safety, complexity of activation, accuracy of analytics, and differentiation come up time and again as areas of concern, so here are a few thoughts to address them.
Is My Brand Safe with this Fan?
Before any marketer – endemic or non-endemic – spends a dollar on something, the first question must always be “Is this a safe investment?” Before considering ROI, technical/creative requirements, or media relevance, you have to know whether there’s a way this investment could produce a negative result. There are too many examples of this to list here…just google “2018 marketing fails”, and you’ll get the drift. So if your gig involves bringing new sponsors into esports, this should be the first thing on your mind. Showing successful sponsorship examples just won’t be enough. To give your brand-side esports champion a better chance at success, be specifically proactive. If you’re pitching an event, be specific on the detail of the games being played there; ESRB ratings, player demographics, even Amazon reviews or Reddit threads can all be used to head that concern off at the pass.
Players and teams should come armed with this data as well, in addition to anything that could help mitigate the concern associated with attaching a brand to the (potential) antics of “unruly kids.” If you provide media training to your players, provide a summary of it along with some audio/video examples of players interacting with the media and the public. If you have morality clauses in your contracts, show the language. “As more ‘traditional’ sports teams get involved with esports, having this information available to potential sponsors is critical,” explains Starke Taylor, President of eGency Global. “Ensuring that esports players and teams meet the quality standards of blue chip sponsors is becoming just as important for esports as it is for their traditional sport sister teams. If Brand X sponsors an NFL team and then invests in the team’s esports organization, missing the mark on one jeopardizes the sponsorship of the other.”
Sponsoring an event of any kind brings a very specific set of challenges with it. Events are time-bound, and anything short of perfection is immediately visible (and, to be sure, noted by at least a few people). The good news is that most “major” brands have at least some experience in the event sponsorship space, so the need to “sell” the idea of an event is not the primary challenge. The challenge is in selling an ESPORTS event. While many of the technical and creative requirements to activate an esports event are similar to traditional sporting events, there are many that are esports-specific. Understanding the delta between these 2 sets of requirements and effectively, succinctly communicating them will help remove a lot of potential friction. “Esports fans have some expectations on sponsors that are proprietary to the sport,” says Starke. “While there are plenty of opportunities to sign sponsorships in traditional ways i.e., jerseys, signage, there is an expectation on esports sponsors do things that enhance the experience for both players and spectators.”
The brand will need the usual things in order to execute an esports sponsorship: physical signage, digital signage, booth build-out, staff for the booth, etc. The most significant esports requirement is “always-on engagement,” which brings a host of technical and creative challenges not typically associated with other kinds of traditional sports sponsorships. Event days are long, but game matches are relatively fast. This produces a lot of downtime for event attendees and viewers, most of whom will be shifting their attention elsewhere the second a match ends. To make the most of an event sponsorship – and provide value-added experiences that both players and viewers will appreciate – brands should be planning for this downtime at the start of sponsorship discussions.
Focus on Fun
While it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of execution when you’re sponsoring an event and/or players at an event, the key is to remember that these are gaming-centric events and people. If they are there in person or if they’re viewing it online, they are looking for fun experiences – experiences that wow them – and ones that they’ll want to share with their friends. When you approach things from that angle, the potential answers to “How do we handle downtime?” become a bit clearer. A native capability of the major streaming platforms is interactivity between streamers and the people watching them. You can use that interactivity to drive contests and giveaways that keep people engaged even when their favorite streamer isn’t playing. The gamification of the event experience is another way to keep your attendees and online viewers engaged. Brands can leverage gamified exploration of the venue – physically and digitally – with the promise of prizes that could include things like brand exclusive emotes or skins. “Gamification of both the physical and digital event experiences represents a big opportunity for esports sponsorships, given the opportunity for brands to provide differentiated experiences before, during, and after the physical event takes place,” says eGency Global’s Taylor. The “authenticity” that is always cited as a requirement for brand involvement in esports becomes self evident if the approach to brand activations is customer-centric. If it will bring a smile to their face or make their eyes pop out because they’re happily surprised, it will be authentic.
Data, Data, Data
Being proactive about potential roadblocks and bringing great activation ideas to the table are only ⅔ of the challenge. To close any kind of meaningful sponsorship, the brand needs to understand how success will be measured and buy off of on the validity of those KPI’s. Another sign of the maturing nature of esports is the fact that several event marketing analytics companies are dedicating parts of their business to the worlds of gaming and esports. In partnership with these companies and their gaming/esports-dedicated toolsets, it’s possible to create proprietary event experiences and tie them to measurable actions. One example that’s been used at several events over the last several years involves the “credentialing” of attendees via mobile app QR Codes, NFC, or UHF RFID. Fans are incentivized to use their codes in order to unlock unique content, functionality, or prizes. Sponsors can then measure the impact of their esports investment. For example, if Company X is sponsoring a cosplay contest on the show floor, fans would have to scan their code upon entry and exit in order to enable the ability to vote. The sponsor would then have an exact measurement of how long that fan was exposed to the branded experience. In aggregate, data like this is more specific and actionable than most “traditional” activation data. “The data we can collect onsite at events is immediately actionable for sponsors, which is great, but the next great frontier for getting usable event data lies with the streaming / broadcast of those events; providing unique, value-added experiences that cause people to want to register for them will magnify the already attractive sponsorship proposition of esports events,” Taylor said.
Sponsorship spending in esports has been happening for 10+ years, but only in the last few years are we seeing the kind of growth that enables sponsors to take a more sophisticated approach to both physical and digital esports events. Leveraging the sponsors’ existing assets to put together differentiated experiences that produce measurable results will only serve to help the esports business as a whole continue to grow at the aggressive rate we’ve seen in the last 2 – 3 years. If you’re a brand considering entering the esports space, or if you’re an esports business looking to draw in the kind of sponsors that will help your events grow, eGency Global has all the talent – from planning to execution – you need, in addition to having one of the most experienced esports agency teams in North America.
To learn how you or your organization can tap into opportunities in esports, please visit www.egencyglobal.com or call 972-323-6354 to speak with an eGency Global esports expert today.