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Agency Watch eSports for Brand Exposure

Finding new niche areas for brands to stand out is a top agency task – one that gets more challenging every day. A category that more agencies are turning toward for brand exposure these days is eSports. Yes, as in gaming. And it’s coming soon to an Olympics near you!

Agencies have the best/worst jobs around. They help brands understand and exploit relevant trends. And to do so, they need to be ‘on top of trends’ as part of their job description. That can be fun. But it also means there’s a lot riding on which trends they pursue, with corresponding fall-out if they get it wrong. So it’s anxiety-ridden fun, at best.

Next generation AI-powered social analytics helps agencies (and brands) get those choices right. And thank goodness for that! With billions of advertising dollars at stake and an extensive array of promotional possibilities, agencies need a way to confidently narrow down those options for clients. And (it’s important to note) data confidence is certainly a differentiator amongst social analytics tools!

One angle that’s starting to capture the interest of many industry-leading brands is gaming – more specifically, eSports. And the brands that love these eSport Athletes are influential in their own right, and typically lead by example in most things, including marketing.

Brands Sponsoring eSport Athletes

How big are these eSport partner brands? We see Nike, Coca-Cola, State Farm, Totino’s and Mountain Dew are all pursuing eSports partnerships. Probably most surprising though, as brands new to the vertical typically underestimate the eSports potential – each of the brands listed is partnering with a different eSports organization or event.

  • Nike is outfitting the League of Legions Pro League in China.
  • Coca-Cola is becoming the non-alcoholic beverage sponsor of the Overwatch League (OWL).
  • Mountain Dew has an initiative created for amateur teams vying for a spot to participate in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Pro League.
  • Totino’s has become a founding partner for esports organization 100 Thieves’ Call of Duty team for 2019.
  • And State Farm has sponsored popular Fornite player and streamer Benjamin Lupo, aka “DrLupo.”

There are really that many options worth exploring. Lucrative options, at that. With a viewership that’s awe-inspiring:

According to Newzoo, “454 million people worldwide watched esports in 2018: 253 million occasional viewers and 201 million enthusiasts. By 2022, the total audience is expected to increase to 645 million.”

By 2022, the total eSports audience is expected to increase to 645 million

How does eSports stack up against other cultural mainstays online?

How does eSports stack up against other cultural mainstays online

Does it all still sound a bit surreal? Ari Segal, CEO of Immortals is used to that response.

Esports has been stuck in a years-long loop of justifying whether it’s “actually a thing.” A competitive title reaches wild levels of popularity. A spasm of intense mainstream interest ensues, followed by incredulity over the fact that people play video games for money. Repeat

The opportunities for brands – and eSports Athletes, are very real. It’s finding the right ones that’s the sticking point.

Finding Opportunities in eSports

Riot Games, which restructured to be like the NFL, franchised League of Legends in 2017, limiting its competition to 10 teams. And a price tag of $10M per spot.

Today, Riot works “very closely” with brands, as it’s important to them that “both sides of the relationship — the brand partners and the audience — have to benefit.” It’s all about deeper engagement with fans. And definitely not about plastering logos everywhere.

Brands aren’t eager to plaster logos just anywhere, anyway. They understand the importance of casting a wide net, but to a targeted audience. And understanding the eSports disruption helps bring the opportunities for individual brands into perspective.

Quantifying eSports’ Disruption

As Evan Wenger, an Analyst at Liquid Advertising, pointed out in a recent presentation – brands need to understand the size of the conversation; who is participating in the conversation; and, most importantly, what the conversation is about, specifically before making any decisions. And that should apply to any category, not just gaming.

So, before jumping in, brands should quantify the disruption. Then they need to understand the conversation and leverage learnings to inform strategy.

When considering mention volume around Battle Royales, for example, it’s important to have context. First, a battle royale game is “an online multiplayer video game genre that blends the survival, exploration, and scavenging elements of a survival game with last-man-standing gameplay. Battle royale games involve dozens to hundreds of players, who start with minimal equipment and then must eliminate all other opponents while avoiding being trapped outside of a shrinking “safe area”, with the winner being the last player or team alive.”

And when Apex Legends decided to try its hand at the genre, these battle royale newcomers hijacked its popularity (at least initially) from industry leader who had brought the concept to light (or at least to mainstream), Fortnite:

Apex Legends decided to try its hand at the genre, the battle royale newcomers hijacked its popularity

And, as you can see above, it was all easily tracked and quantified in NetBase. With insight you can really dig into, every fluctuation can be investigated for relevance. And that capability matters. A lot.

Digging In To A Gaming Analysis

This understanding goes well beyond timeline fluctuations though. An analysis needs to uncover specific likes, dislikes and player demographics. And NetBase does. We can see who is (and isn’t) talking about Apex Legends or its competitor, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, for example:

We can see who is and isn’t talking about eSports brand Apex Legends or its competitor, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds

Takeaways from the insight around Apex Legends’ fanbase would allow them to create a strategic response to better speak to that specific audience. And understanding the size of Apex Legends’ footprint would inform spending strategy.

Brands seeking partnerships with any gaming company could perform similar insight analysis and uncover audience adjacencies that connect with their own consumer market.

Or, as Casey Adams (Associate Manager, Marketing Analytics) of Warner Brothers Interactive and Entertainment shares, social listening helps them understand how their gaming audience is interacting online – and with who. And they can track this activity on multiple channels – places where these eSport Athletes and other gamers actually are. Their efforts are not limited to Twitter, which was the case when they used another tool:

social listening helps brands and agencies understand how their esports gaming audience is interacting online and with who

And this exploration works both ways. Riot Games seeks to partner with brands that want to “help grow esports and not just capitalize on the spotlight.” And it puts its wallet where its mouth is, investing more than $100 million into global esports.

Top gamers are the same.

eSports Athletes: The New Mega-Influencers

Influential gamers, these eSports Athletes, know their followers love them for the relatability. And they know brands love them for their authenticity with fans. So, it’s a delicate balance they won’t risk toppling.

There are eSport Athletes doing as well as (or better than) “traditional” top influencers. And they’re capable of generating massive consumer awareness for brands. So they expect equally lucrative partnership deals (as traditional influencer).

According to Patrick Wixted, SVP, client services director of Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, “opportunities abound in building brands around the players themselves. These people are sneakerheads, music aficionados, fashion enthusiasts, with the same interests as any professional athlete. And now, with the professional backing that’s flooding into esports, they should be treated as such.”

And increasingly, they are.

So, agencies seeking to better understand how to connect with these up and coming influencers for their top clients would do well to start paying attention now. With the conversation – and opportunities – expanding exponentially with each passing month, quantifying the disruption and leveraging its learnings should be top-of-mind. Otherwise, brands will be facing their own battle royale to compete for these influencers’ attention. And that’s an activity best left to the professionals.

Reach out and we’ll make sure your agency is the last one standing in this race to the top.

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