Weekly Thought-Starter #011: The State of Esports

Date:Monday, February 4, 2019
Author:Charlie Gilbert

In 2018, 826,000 human years were spent watching content on live-streaming gaming platform Twitch. Go back that far in actual time and our humanoid forebears were living among mammoths and getting to grips with stones.

Yet esports, despite having a larger audience share than HBO, Hulu, Netflix and ESPN combined, hasn’t hit the big time just yet. It is merely, in the words of Turner Sports executive VP Craig Barry, a “huge niche”.

A niche it may be, but its surge in popularity – which we explore in The State of Esports, our latest Media & Marketing report – uncovers entirely new, and undeniably exciting, opportunities for brands.

Take, for example, the cosmetic items esports players buy for their in-game characters, and how these align with their real-life interests. This is a space, then, with a real culture that draws huge amounts of people’s time.

And as a culture that its fans value and take pride in, brands broaching esports have to meaningfully serve the space, not just themselves. Which, in lieu of direct relevance and familiarity, can make things daunting.

Opportunities certainly exist in sponsorship, as evidenced by fans at the ESL One tournament in Birmingham, UK in May 2018 chanting DHL’s name. Why? Well, the brand sponsor first showed a video of surprise ‘welcome’ packages being delivered to players; then, it delivered snacks to spectators using a delivery drone.

Further opportunities can be found in fan-player interaction. In China, Doritos’ Beating the Unbeatable challenge – which pitted amateur Chinese gamers against South Korean professional Faker, real name Lee Sang-Hyeok – brought fans closer to one of their idols.

Brands are also acting as mentors for aspiring digital athletes, whether by investing in amateur-to-pro pipelines or standing with underrepresented demographics. In June 2018, for instance, US beauty retailer Sephora announced its sponsorship with Girl Gamer Festival in Lisbon.

We’ll end with a stat that’s absolutely worth pondering. According to gaming market intelligence firm Newzoo, in 2018 esports’ global market value stood at $134.9bn. Who knows how much this will increase in 2019?

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