SA Studios has partnered with eSports Arena, which is opening three dedicated pro gaming facilities in the U.S. this year. The marketing and branding agency is now introducing eSports to mainstream brands in an attempt to bring the same types of deals to fruition that real sports enjoy. The company works with Hollywood studios like Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Pictures as well as game publishers like Microsoft, Rockstar Games, Ubisoft, Square Enix and Capcom.

Nate Eckman, vice president of entertainment at SA Studios, has been watching the growth of eSports and the livestreaming boom that has made pro gaming a global entertainment phenomenon. He talks about the opportunities that eSports Arena will bring to marketers in this exclusive interview.

How long have you been watching the eSports scene and why did you decide to get involved now?

It’s really been over the last two years that my focus has shifted from console games to online games. Watching competitive eSports online is part of my daily ritual but when I found out that a dedicated eSports Arena was being built I became obsessed and needed to know everything about it. The enthusiasm for what the eSports Arena will become is what made me decide to get involved.

How is your company working with eSports Arena this year?

We are focused on the lifestyle component of the space and how the eSports Arena will be a destination for not only gaming culture but also things contemporary gamers are passionate about like music and apparel. Our company will be connecting brands that we love to the space, creating custom programming, products and opportunities to get involved in dynamic and memorable ways.

How does having dedicated eSports arenas in the US open up new opportunities for mainstream sponsors?

It really opens the door to mainstream sponsors in a fresh new way as it can exist outside of the typical pop up tournament schedules that come and go. Having a facility that is open throughout the year allows sponsors to really get integrated in a way that offers sustained activity and a platform to react to trends in real time.

What opportunities does the popularity of livestreaming open up for brands?

Livestreaming represents pure on demand media opportunities. Up until now we’ve really seen livestreaming be fairly one dimensional. Typically the viewer has a fixed vantage point on the game play. The dynamic nature of the eSports Arena environment will enable us to show so much more of the social engagement the space has to offer and the variations on storytelling will really expand.

What impact has already seeing Coke and American Express get involved in eSports in 2013 had on other brands?

A significant impact for sure, brands can now see an example of industry leaders putting their trust and vision in to eSports.

Outside of the big three eSports games — League of Legends, DOTA 2 and StarCraft II — what opportunities do you see for other games in attracting an audience and sponsors?

We see exciting opportunities for console games as well. Competitive gaming takes on many shapes. Having a cultural hub with eSports Arena will allow us to have a platform to showcase the lifestyle around a title with launch events, curated experiences and custom programming.

How difficult is it to reach the young male demographic today?

There is so much content and media out there to consume and so many ways they can get it I think it is a complex challenge. However, despite all the intense digital activity out there there is a secondary effect in which they crave experiences, social connectivity, and participating in a community that acknowledges their shared interests. The eSports Arena is designed to reach them but also give them a place to bring their friends.

What has been the reaction when you tell brands about the length of time eSports fans dedicate to livestreams and live tournaments?

The metric data alone is completely mind blowing. The education process to introduce the world of eSports and the culture around the fans to new brands is always interesting, typically met with a level of confusion around how it would be possible for their target consumer to behave in such a way that is completely foreign to their perception and awareness.

What impact do you feel Hollywood embracing eSports recently with the Ender’s Game $20,000 eSports tournament will have on sponsors?

A positive impact, gaining more visibility for eSports in our mainstream media.

How under-the-radar is the eSports phenomenon in the marketing circles?

Fairly under the radar. Marketing is such a specialized industry with a multitude of services and trained experts in diverse fields. ESports represents a new vertical that people either completely get on board right with or they pass it off as confusing and niche.

What impact did the League of Legends Finals at sold out Staples Center have on getting eSports on marketer’s radar?

That day for me was like a line in the sand. I was there that day. I lost my voice from shouting and cheering on the teams! The Staples Center story is an epic one, truly eye opening for marketers across the planet.

What’s your outlook for eSports in 2014 with big name brands coming on board?

I am completely excited for eSports this year, I can’t wait to see the continued growth further enable us to offer the community an even greater experience.