Orginally published on AW360 by Mike Murphy O’Reilly.

While professional sports have gone dark in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s one form medium that is growing and helping both athletes and fans alike to fill the void — Gaming. From casual to competitive, everything from playing themselves, watching influencers, to competitions moving online, gaming consumption has grown across all areas. With people being driven inside their homes, many are finding a thriving, positive community in a world that is increasingly confusing and negative. If this is any indication of the future, online gaming and streaming platforms are about to become a lot more popular, providing brands with direct access to a growing global audience.

For brands that have flirted with the idea of investing in gaming or esports in the past, many are now seeing it as a viable option to spend marketing dollars. But for brands that take the plunge, it’s important to do it right. Here are a few things to consider when investing in gaming.

Have some purpose

Gaming thrives on community, and now is the perfect opportunity for brands to capture the hearts and minds of fans by doing something that helps those in need. Gamers have shown that when done right, they will engage with a brand that makes an effort. Instead of logo slapping a Streamer for some impressions and capitalizing on a global pandemic, consider doing something more meaningful. Whether it’s providing a unique experience or content to give people a reason to smile, or being more philanthropic by matching charity donations on a Streamers broadcast, now is the time for brands to galvanize the gaming community for good.

Consumption is surging so choose the right platforms

Within the past couple of weeks, gaming platforms and major games are seeing record-high usage. The popular platform Steam hit an all-time high of 20.3 million online users. Counter-Strike Global Offensive hit one million concurrent players for the first time in its history despite being released 7 years ago. And Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone attracted 6 million players in its first 24 hours. In addition, the number of fans watching influencers on live streaming platforms like Twitch are expected to continue climbing. With a multitude of platforms and channels, things can be a bit confusing for new marketers in this space. It’s important to understand that Gaming is just like traditional sports with different demographics, opportunities, integrations, price points and more. Spend the time to understand what is right for your brand and which platforms will deliver the right audience and exposure.

Professional athletes are making the shift online

With the MLB, NHL and NBA sidelined for the foreseeable future, teams and individual athletes are looking at esports for their professional and personal usage. The NBA’s Phoenix Suns recently announced they would be playing the remainder of their games in the NBA 2K virtual league and airing them on Twitch. NBA players like Luka Doncic, Josh Hart and Devin Booker are passing the time they would have spent on the court playing video games at home and streaming about it.  Just like esports teams, professional athletes migrating online are poised to bring their droves of fans with them. This gives brands a way to use existing brand ambassadors and sponsorships to enter this space without needing to completely rework their marketing strategy. Similarly identifying athletes who love gaming but may not be known for it, give brands an opportunity to do something unique with influencers endemic to the gaming and esports industry.

This isn’t a fad, it’s a movement and brands have a role to play long term

Gaming will be here for the long term. Esports is expected to earn over $1.6 billion in revenue by 2021, and the majority of that growth stems from brand investments.  Over 600 esports sponsorship agreements have been signed since 2016, and though the majority of them have been made by endemic brands, non-endemic brand sponsorship and advertising is also on the rise (think Coca Cola, Red Bull, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and McDonald’s). Amid this flurry of activity, there are countless opportunities for additional brands to get involved in the ecosystem whether its casual gaming or hardcore esports.

While the current professional sports suspension has left fans looking for other means of entertainment, esports and gaming provides a real opportunity for brands to engage with a new and ever-growing audience.  Esports could be one of few bright spots in the sporting world, connecting existing fans and gamers with traditional sports fans, professional athletes and brands that want to reach them. But take the time to understand the different platforms, games and opportunities to find the right fit for your brand.