Although eSports have become a global phenomenon, drawing in audiences that rival traditional sports, an increasing number of non-endemic brands have been moved to take advantage of promotional opportunities. These efforts are accelerated by how major video game publishers, including Activision Blizzard and EA, are developing their own eSports divisions while investors from traditional sports are becoming involved with eSports. Additionally, with ESPN, CW, and Turner’s ELeague broadcasting tournaments on television, eSports could soon find a host of new fans from around the world.
The newest report from Newzoo estimates that global eSports viewership will grow to 385 million in 2017, with another 286 million added by 2020, and investments will more than double over the next three years. Revenues are expected to reach $257 million expected this year, with $113 million from sponsorships.
Additionally, Newzoo found that eSports enthusiasts will spend an average of $3.64 each in 2017, which includes all revenue streams. The average spending per fan on merchandise, tickets or subscriptions is $0.33 in 2017 and is expected to grow to $5.20 by 2020. Although that may be low compared to traditional, that’s because most eSports content is available for free and the amount of merchandise is small. The industry would rake in over $1 billion this year if the average direct spend per fan increased to $2.00.
Now, may be the best time for brands to become involved with the fast-growing industry. As Mike Sepso, senior vice president of Activision Blizzard Media Networks, once stated: “Data shows that eSports spectators are more engaged, and will spend twice as much on peripherals, and 30 percent more on hardware and software than players that don’t watch.”
However, potential brand sponsors will need to keep a few things in mind to properly engage with eSports audiences as they continue to grow.
Learning The Game
Like in traditional sports, every eSports fan base has its own unique energy and jargon. Brands need to learn how to best cater to that energy. Secondly, they need to understand why fans attend or tune in to eSports tournaments. Newzoo’s 2017 Global ESports Market Report shows that North America hold the largest eSports market, which could reach $607 million by 2020.
Furthermore, the majority of the enthusiastic eSports audience is young and male, with full-time jobs and a good income. ESports provides a means of reaching the millennial audience, which can’t be found on traditional platforms such as television.
Establishing A Presence
Social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, are critical to engaging with viewers of a specific game. But relying on straightforward commercials to play before, during and after a tournament stream may become increasingly less effective due to how both Twitch Prime and YouTube Red allow paying subscribers to have commercial-free experiences.
Therefore, it’s important to get branding out where viewers can see them. Many will try to have their advertisements appear in the games themselves, but many developers are reluctant to make those inclusions. Instead, it’s far easier to sponsor a league, tournament, team or individual player. Returns from a sponsorship continue as sponsored individuals play off-tournament games on livestreams, which further exposes brands to an audience.
Then there are the physical banners that surround the stadium, which may become more valuable advertising space moving forward when online viewers are able to attend eSports events using VR. Or perhaps in the virtual arena, if VR games become eSports.
Last year, eSports tournaments were a major part of fan conventions such as PAX and BlizzCon, which hosted tournaments for StarCraft II, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch. For the second year in a row, Sony hosted a Street Fighter V tournament, The Capcom Cup Finals, at the PlayStation Experience in December. There are few better opportunities to engage directly with eSports fans than at these large-scale conventions, where they come to meet their favorite players.
However, as nearly everyone who has experience in the field has emphasized, brands entering eSports must work with teams and organizations to establish and maintain a sense of authenticity. ESports fans can quickly sniff out and reject inauthentic brands and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to recover from that.
With that in mind, here are 5 of biggest eSports tournament of 2016:
Dota 2 – The International: When it comes to eSports, Dota 2 is practically legendary, with 16 teams coming together at the Keyarena at Seattle Center last August to compete for a prize pool that was worth over $20.7 million (the largest in eSports history). According to a June 2016 report from Newzoo, Dota 2 was the most-watched eSports game on Twitch.
League of Legends World Tournament: League of Legends remains one of the most renowned eSports games in the world. Last year’s World Championship toured the United States, with events hosted in San Francisco, Chicago and New York City before the Finals were held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The teams competed for a $6.7 million prize pool across 15 days, and the events brought in an average of 396 million total cumulative daily unique impressions, making it one of the most-watched eSports around.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – ESL One Cologne: CS:GO had a spectacular year in 2016, given that it was the featured game for ELeague and other prominent eSports tournaments. Additionally, Activision’s MLG hosted the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major Championship last spring with a $1 million prize pool, selling out the Nationwide Stadium in Columbus Ohio and breaking records with 71 million video views 45 million hours of live broadcast. Furthermore, the event brought in 1.6 million concurrent viewers across OTT, web, mobile and in-game streaming.
Unlike games like Dota 2, there is no single grand CS:GO tournament. Instead, organizations such as Dreamhack, ESL and others host their own annual competitions. One of the largest and most prominent is ESL One Cologne, which had a $1 million prize pool last summer. Over 14,000 live attendees went to Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany to watch the event—and that’s on top of the 68.6 million online sessions across Twitch, Azubu, Hitbox and Yahoo, which totaled 31 million hours of content consumed. ESL also reported that TV broadcasters in Brazil, Bulgaria, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland and other Nordic and Baltic countries brought the aired the event to 31.4 million households in all regions combined.
Smite World Championship (Hi-Rez Expo): Released in 2014, the game involving battling deities launched for Xbox One in 2015 and the PlayStation 4 last year. Smite is still a relative newcomer to the eSports space, but that hasn’t stopped the game from hosting two tournaments (one for PC and the other for Xbox One) in addition to having a Paladins invitational. The championship finals were included in the Hi-Rez Expo in January, which offered over $1 million in prizes across the competitions and reached over one million concurrent viewers online.
Call of Duty World League Championships: Activision announced the Call of Duty World League in 2015, and it grew significantly in its first year. The World League Championship, which featured Call of Duty: Black Ops III, was held in September and featured a $2 million prize pool—the largest in Call of Duty history. Activision said in a statement that “worldwide peak concurrent viewership topped the previous record for Call of Duty eSports events by more than 40 percent, including previous COD Championship and Stage Finals. Combined, the Call of Duty Championship matches surpassed more than 20 million views.”
The Call of Duty World League Atlanta kicked off on February 10 with 176 teams attending to compete for a $200,000 prize pool. The event is one step leading up to the Championships in August, which will have a $1.5 million prize pool. The lowered prize pool comes in response to pro players who expressed how they preferred more tournaments throughout the year with bigger pools instead of one massive prize. Even with the reduction, this year’s total prize pool across all World League tournaments will come out to $4 million.
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