Are eSports Taking Centre Stage?

eSports by nature is a hugely fragmented marketplace comprising of publishers, games, events, leagues and teams which each come with their own opportunities

By Anna Shaw | January 26th, 2017

So whilst the industry represents a unique opportunity to carve out and tell an authentic brand story to a hugely sought after target audience (namely millennials), even the most innovative and creative brands have been cautious to fully embrace the available benefits…so far.

What is clear however, is that whilst many still view eSports as a premium media buy, it is an industry that can provide suitable sought after content and assets that when coupled together can create genuine partnerships. Similar to traditional sport partnership considerations, the benefits associated with partnering with a team versus a league for example will differ. Taking the time to understand which rights and assets are going to facilitate your commercial strategy is vital.

eSports Turns up the Heat

Successful partnerships need to be mutually beneficial, as such, it is interesting to see the recent emergence of rights holders from traditional sports partnering with or purchasing eSports teams and organisations with the assumed twofold benefits of targeting a new and expansive audience as well as capitalising on the growing popularity of the professional gaming industry.

Whilst eSports is the generic term used to describe competitive, professional video game playing it covers many different genres including, multiplayer online battle arenas, real-time strategy, first person shooter, fighting as well as sport.

Earlier this month, Miami Heat acquired a stake in European eSports organisation League of Legends team Misfits. The two organisations have entered into a partnership, which will see the Heat offer Misfits assistance across a number of areas, including branding, promotion and sponsorship activation. By providing this additional support, Misfits will be able to operate more like a commercial business operation which they hope will ultimately secure additional revenue for both parties.

The Miami Heat’s entry into eSports follows a number of similar deals around the NBA. In 2016 the Philadelphia 76ers purchased the Apex and Dignitas teams, who play multiple games including; League of Legends, Fifa, and Starcraft. While former NBA stars Magic Johnson, Rick Fox and Shaquille O’Neal have also all invested in the sector, securing a controlling interest in Team Liquid, who also specialise across a variety of games.

It is too early to tell whether this is a commercially sound strategy as player burn out and fluctuations in game popularity is rife. Furthermore, unless the players or teams being pursued are however integrated into a wider commercial plan there is the chance that these partnerships will become unexplainable ‘bolt on deals’ that are unaligned with the strategic direction of the club and will therefore seem to be a quick fix solution aimed at latching themselves onto the eSports movement. There is no question that the world of traditional sport and eSport are becoming more interconnected, determining how to create partnerships and revenue generating opportunities that benefit both parties however is still up for debate.

eSports by the Numbers

So why is everyone getting so excited about eSports when they don’t necessarily understand how it could specifically benefit a brand or business?

There are 205 million people globally that watch eSports. These viewers can be divided into 4 distinct categories with occasional viewers making up the largest group with a total of 117 million people. There are 56 million frequent viewers and 20 million that also play eSports sometimes. There are a total of 13 million active eSports participants across the globe.

So how does this compare to traditional sports viewership?

Whilst eSports is still a long way behind football, the most popular sport with an estimated fan base of 2.3 billion, interest is growing at an unprecedented rate with enthusiasts recorded at 58m in 2012 and growing to a predicted 145m in 2017.

And there lies the fascination…as eSports awareness and understanding continues to grow and partnership opportunities become more than traditional media buys whereby brands simply pay for on screen eyeballs, eSports can pave the way for new authentic and integrated partnership platforms that combine mass reach drivers alongside brand storytelling content opportunities packaged in a way that fans crave and naturally consume.

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