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Published: 16 Mar 2018

The Future of Gaming: Esports Activate 2018

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IEM San Jose 2014

At the inaugural Esports Activate showcase in New York on March 6, panellists and presenters gathered to discuss the brands, technologies and tastemakers shaping the future of competitive video gaming. With global e-sports revenue expected to hit $905.6m in 2018 (Newzoo, 2017), the time is now for creative brands to move into this burgeoning market.

  • Community Cornerstones: Video games have a reputation as a solitary activity, but panellists emphasised the importance of in-person social events for fostering connections among gamers. "Real-life events take the e-sports world from high tech to high touch," said Sarah DaVanzo, vice-president of consumer and market insight at L'Oreal.

    Emily Sun, co-founder of Boston-based female gaming collective Smash Sisters, argued that women are especially drawn to in-person competitions. These events provide a place to bond over a shared interest, away from the frequently toxic anti-female environments that arise in digital gaming communities.

    Brands can use e-sports events to organically engage with the expanding community. Coca-Cola sponsored US-wide screenings of the 2018 world championships for fantasy game Smite, while German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz brings a fleet of cars to competitions for gamers to test drive. Competitive gaming company OpTic Gaming has also ventured into e-sports tailgate parties. Whereas traditional tailgating parties at American football games bring team communities together to share beer and burgers, e-sports tailgating combines barbecues with game-specific activations, such as cosplay competitions.
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Smash Sisters
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  • Authentic Activations: "E-sports participants don't like logo slaps but they do like brands that authentically engage. They're jaded about traditional advertising, but they're passionate about good content," said Todd Harris, chief operating officer at game developer Hi-Rez Studios.

    While 80% of e-sports viewers use ad blockers, 85% appreciate when brands reach out through gaming and 58% are looking to try new brands (Newzoo, 2017). "Lifestyle brands generally integrate better into the e-sports space because e-sports are a lifestyle themselves," argued Guy Costantini, vice-president of global interactive marketing for gaming company Skydance Media. For instance, OpTic Gaming's president Ryan Musselman highlighted an activation for fast-food chain Chipotle that showed a team of pro gamers fuelling their performance with the brand's food.
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  • Social-Savvy Spectators: E-sports fans are heavy users of social media, which they use to stream games and interact with fellow gamers. Fifty-seven per cent converse on Facebook, 42% on Twitter and 22% on Reddit, in addition to the chat sidebars that pop up in-game (Nielsen, 2017).

    These social habits inform game design. Costantini explained: "We're starting to design games to not just be played competitively, but also to be watched. The viewers want something similar to what sports viewers want – [gaming] can be a social experience for people."
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NBA2K
  • Traditional Dynamics for New Audiences: With over 50 US universities offering e-sports scholarships and prize money pools growing across leagues and tournaments, professional gaming is quickly developing a culture akin to that of traditional athletes. Companies like OpTic have hired coaches to boost player ability and have developed a nutrition and exercise programme to ensure players are at the peak of their performance. According to Imari Oliver, chief executive of New York-based technology strategy company Bond & Play, "these people are professionals, playing 14 to 15 hours a day. They are doing something not everyone can do."

    Vitally, panellists said e-sports give legacy sports brands like the NBA and NFL access to an audience that's distinct from existing sports viewers, as well as being younger and more affluent, with the potential for long and lucrative relationships.

For more on gaming's growth factors, see State of Media: The Fan-First Revolution and our regular Pop Culture Round-Ups.

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