eSports [ee-spohrts] noun: competitive video gaming as spectator sport.
We’re currently witnessing the birth of a sport. A sport that sits in a unique position, straddling the professional sporting and video gaming worlds. A sport which is going to be more culturally relevant to the next generation than any other sport.
The times they are a-changin’ and brands better be ready to dive right in if they want to play a part in its success.
There are some seriously big numbers being bandied around for the size of the current eSports audience. According to Newzoo there are currently 250 million eSports fans globally with 44 per cent of that audience being concentrated in APAC.
When you consider that 78 per cent of these fans are male and 54 per cent fall into the valuable, yet hard to reach 18-34 pot, you can imagine how brands are starting to listen in and take notice.
To give you a sense of the scale of eSports, while more than 11,000 athletes recently went to the Rio Olympics to compete for gold, silver and bronze medals, at the same time there were 618 athletes competing at The International Dota 2 championships in America for a prize pool worth $23 million. Even compared to professional sports that dwarfs the SuperBowl, the ICC Cricket World Cup or the UEFA Europe League, and we’re just talking about one tournament.
In total there were 112 major eSports events around the world last year that generated over $20 million in ticket sales and shared $61 million in total prize money. 2015 prize money saw an increase of 70 per cent YOY and there are no signs of it slowing down during 2016.
Broadcast numbers aren’t bad either with the 2015 League of Legends World Championship attracting 36 million unique viewers on Twitch, the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers, and other streaming platforms around the world.
So you get the idea, some pretty big numbers globally but what does it actually mean for brands here in Australia?
The eSports landscape in Australia is so untapped that the right brand could play a significant role in shaping the future of eSports in this country, reaping the benefits of connecting early with this potentially lucrative market.
So in such undeveloped ground where does a brand start? Here are six ways a brand can play in this space, from dipping their toe in the water to shaping the future of eSports.
- The event game
Sponsorship of pre-existing events is probably the easy dipped-toe approach for brands new to this space. The problem at a local level is that there are still very few tournaments currently of any scale.
On the plus side, getting in with these small events now will create a great test and learn experience in this space while also giving a brand the ability to grow with the tournament. As larger and larger events do come to these shores it also gives a brand greater credibility in the eSports space.
- Be there for the gamers
It is the dream of casual eSports players everywhere to become professionals much the same way that as a kid I wanted to play football for Manchester United. Brands can play a valuable role in creating paths for Australian players and teams to turn professional and compete at the big international tournaments.
Identifying the right talent early, like in any sport, will lead to some pretty powerful brands ambassadors.
- Bridge the gap
There is some evidence that up to 40 per cent of viewers of a particular eSports tournament have never played the game they are watching. This demonstrates that eSports already exists as a standalone spectator sport. But there is still a role to be played by a brand or media which will allow eSports to penetrate the wider casual gaming audience.
Many of the most popular games are quite conflicting to new viewers as the level of complexity in character and gameplay is high. However by working with the top casters (commentators) and gamers a brand could open this world to a new audience.
- All about the team
A fundamental barrier to eSports success in Australia is caused by its remoteness and scale. With big game servers generally based in the USA, Europe and South-East Asia, the top players have to be there to have a fair chance of winning. Top teams abroad also train and compete together in sponsored houses.
This is where a brand could really add value to the Australian eSports scene, by providing training camps with top tech in place they would facilitate a higher level of eSports than has been possible before.
- The content angle
Go where the audience is (Twitch/YouTube gaming) and create branded content with the aim of advancing the cause of eSports. A brand could do this by showcasing a day in the life of a caster (commentator) or what it takes to become a professional gamer for example.
There are some well-established Australian influencers already in this space and plenty more who aspire to be like them.
- Own it
Partner with a game developer, broadcaster or eSport organiser and come in loud and proud by sponsoring an entirely new platform. This would allow a committed brand endless possibilities, from creating content, to establishing new prizes to running competitions on their own channels.
Working closely with those already in the game would also add the most legitimacy to a brands cause and likely to be most well received by an eSports fan.
So, as it turns out, there are plenty of ways an Australian brand can plug in to eSports. Whether it be a minor sponsorship or full-blown partnership the opportunities are relatively undefined and soon to be ripe for the picking for those ready to dive right in.
After all, if we really are witnessing the birth of a new sport, one which will soon be more culturally relevant the next generation than any other, then why wouldn’t you want an opportunity to shape that exciting new digital sporting world?