Visa was at CES to introduce a different kind of eSport to the world. The payment company is a presenting partner for the all-electric Formula E racing and it hosted the Visa Vegas eRace on January 7 at The Venetian Hotel. All 20 Formula E drivers competed in the race, along with 10 sim racers, with $1 million in cash prizes up for grabs. Gamer, Bono Huis, won the $200,000 top prize in the competition, which Twitch broadcast live and Turner featured highlights.
It was the culmination of a global gaming “Road to Vegas Challenge” with rounds in Long Beach, California; Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; and London, England. The top 10 sim drivers, racing on rFactor software in PlaySeats with ThrustMaster wheels, were flown to Vegas for the Finals, which included the real Formula E drivers. It’s part of a bigger push by Formula E into gaming with virtual cars now available in Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 6 and Electronic Arts’ Real Racing 3 mobile game.
It’s also the latest expansion into eSports by Visa, which partnered with eSports team SK Gaming for 2017. This marks the first entry into traditional eSports by the non-endemic brand. Visa brought SK Gaming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, Epitacio “TACO” de Melo and lSK Gaming racer Danny “Husky” Engels to Las Vegas for a series of activities that were promoted across social media channels.
Lara Balazs, senior vice president and head of North American marketing at Visa, told [a]listdaily these endeavors into eSports and the Formula E are not short-term ventures. “Our European division of Visa has been engaged in eSports for a few years,” Balazs said. “We in North America and in other regions of our global footprint are starting to look at eSports and consider how it fits into our overall go-to-market approach.”
“Pro gaming has changed the way we see sports in recent years, opening access to people the world over and creating a surge in its popularity,” Gary Twelvetree, executive director of marketing at Visa, said. “We see huge potential for the industry and this deal sees Visa ideally placed to harness and drive that. We’re looking forward to a successful season supporting the next-gen athletes at SK Gaming to do what they do best: win.”
Balazs said pro gamers use their social and digital channels to connect with global audiences, which aligns well with the global Visa brand and how the company is connecting to that audience through its channels. “Visa equals trust and we are a trusted brand to consumers and millennials,” Balazs said. “By seeing us come to the eSports table with SK, millennials definitely look at this and think, ‘Wow, Visa is talking to me.’”
Balazs said that, just as Visa sponsors Team USA and athletes from traditional leagues like the NFL, eSports is the next step. “You have athletes that embody the brand, are digitally savvy, and they’re truly embodying entrepreneurship and taking it to the next level,” she surmises. “They’re a terrific addition to our marketing.”
Balazs added that SK Gaming is a great partner to launch into this new vertical. “We’re excited about the possibility of eSports given the interest by millennials and our target consumer,” Balazs said. “We’ll see how this SK Gaming partnership goes and then continue to see about leveraging more eSports teams and players.”
Visa was able to merge its two early entries into eSports with a marriage at CES in Las Vegas. SK Gaming was in Sin City to serve as global ambassadors of eSports and take in the virtual simulator eRacing activities at The Venetian on Saturday that Visa sponsored with Formula E.
“Formula E is completely tech-driven and we’re always looking to showcase that we’re a tech-driven brand looking to make things better, easier and safer and there are so many synergies with Formula E,” Balazs said.
Balazs explained how, as the world has gone digital with technology driving this growth, Visa is looking for partnerships that embody that. “ESports has a synergy there and offers a dynamic interactive platform for consumers to experience in a new way,” she said.
The other connection between eSports and the younger audience Visa is targeting is the actual events that are held in sold out arenas, including in Las Vegas. “Millennials care about experiences more than [material] things, and this Visa Vegas eRace truly provides an experiential way to interact with our brand so you’re not advertising to them,” said Balazs. “You’re allowing them to interact with an experience. That’s one of the things that is incredibly compelling about it.”