Bud Light continues to market to esports fans. The non-endemic brand has launched the 2017 Bud Light All-Star activation, which consists of 16 top North American esports players from Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone and Street Fighter V as nominees fans can vote for. Fans are able to choose one player from each of the four games, who will ultimately make up the Bud Light All-Stars roster that will be announced in late June.

Bud Light All-Stars has been revamped for its second year to focus more centrally on engaging esports fans digitally. Every Thursday, beginning June 29 and running through December, a different Bud Light All-Star will stream from Bud Light’s Twitch channel during the Bud Light Happy Hour and fans will get to watch unique content while also having a chance to win exclusive prizes. This marks a significant, two-month expansion in the program’s length this year. Additionally, a documentary-style film will be produced for each of the Bud Light All-Stars that will explore their journey to esports stardom.

Bud Light All-Stars will live primarily in the digital space, but Bud Light will continue to engage esports fans through live experiences as well. It will be introducing a trial program this year to work with bars and restaurants to deliver experiences tailored specifically to esports fans, and it recently expanded its relationship with DreamHack to feature a Bud Light Lounge at both DreamHack Austin and DreamHack Atlanta.

Nick Burt, manager of experiential marketing at Anheuser-Busch, explains how the company is targeting esports fans in this exclusive interview.

How did you go about targeting gamers of legal age to drink with the initial activation, and what are the typical demographics for these games you picked from all of esports?

We know from research that esports appeals to a wide and predominantly adult audience, with the average age of an esports fan being in their early 30s. Both this year and last year, through all of our live events and digital activations, Bud Light takes very seriously its responsibility to ensure only people of legal drinking age are able to interact directly with the brand. To that end, there are checkpoints both online and at each live event to ensure the participation is limited to adults of legal drinking age.

How did you choose these four esports from all of the games out there, including the top esports title League of Legends? Did the ages of fans impact which games you targeted?

When selecting esports games for this year’s Bud Light All-Stars, we looked at a number of factors. Ultimately, there were many great options out there, which really speaks to not only the growing breadth of esports, but also its depth. We selected the four titles that we did—Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, Street Fighter V—because they all had significant fan bases of individuals 21 years or older in North America, which as you can imagine is a big priority for us. Additionally, we felt that the communities and players of these four games lined-up really solidly with the Bud Light brand. We’re constantly learning as a brand about esports, its fans, and the games and communities that make it so vibrant a space, and we’re looking forward to engaging across these four games this year and learning even more.

As the first big beer/alcohol company into esports, was there any backlash from parents or anyone? Or is esports now on a level playing field as college sports and professional sports?

Bud Light was received positively overall when it entered esports last year, and we took every possible step to ensure that only fans of legal drinking age were able to interact with our brand, both through our online digital experiences as well as at live events.

Esports is already massive by any measure, and Bud Light has always been a brand that has been a friend of the fan regardless of the sport. Esports is no different, and Bud Light treats the accomplishments of esports players and the dedication, passion, and enthusiasm of their fans as seriously as those of any other professional sport.

What type of ROI did you receive, or if you can’t get into that, how did the first year’s activation impact the Bud Light brand among gamers?

There was an immediate and high level of enthusiasm from the esports community when we announced Bud Light All-Stars in April 2016, which we attribute to being the first-ever beer brand to have entered this space and our creation of a new, unique program.

Fan engagement throughout the 2016 program was incredibly strong, and we saw a positive effect on how Bud Light was perceived by esports fans. In terms of engagement, more than 3.6 million minutes were watched on the Bud Light Twitch Channel during the 2016 Bud Light All-Stars, with more than 1.7 million consumer views of the Bud Light All-Stars streams on that channel. Additionally, there were more than 433,000 YouTube views of the documentaries made about the Bud Light All-Stars

What did you learn from your inaugural All-Star activation that you’re applying to this year’s activation?

We recognized before we launched Bud Light All-Stars that even with all of our expertise in engaging fans across professional sports, as well as the valuable input received from our partners, we were still a new brand to the esports space and that there would be ample opportunities to learn and grow.

We cast a wide net in 2016 in terms of the amount of fans we sought to engage with by selecting All-Stars from across five very different games and genres. Bud Light has tightened its focus in 2017 through a fine-tuning of the number of games (we’re now focused on four) from which All-Stars are nominated and how content will be delivered to fans.

In 2017, there will be a pronounced focus on engaging esports fans digitally. We know that digital platforms are what esports fans engage with most and we’ve dialed up our digital executions this year to ensure we’re bringing Bud Light All-Stars to places where esports fans are already engaged. For example, every Thursday, beginning June 29 and running through December, a different Bud Light All-Star will stream from Bud Light’s Twitch channel during the Bud Light Happy Hour and fans will get to watch unique content while also having a chance to win exclusive prizes. This marks a significant, two-month expansion in the program’s length.

Our documentaries chronicling the lives and careers of our All-Stars last year were very received across the board, and we’re bringing them back again this year so that fans can get a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a Bud Light All-Star.

We also learned the importance of including in our program not only players 21 and over who are excited about it and Bud Light, but are also among the top North American players in their respective games.

Esports fans are digital and mobile consumers, how are you tying into that this year with the voting process?

Fans are able to vote for this year’s Bud Light All-Stars at budlightallstars.com, and the site is available to consumers via both desktop and mobile devices. It was very important that with consumers increasingly becoming mobile-centric that we built a streamlined, simple voting process that was equally accessible across mobile devices

What role have you seen social media play in communicating with esports fans directly from last year? And how will you tap into this for this year?

Social media is a critical way of communicating with fans of any sport, and even more so within esports. Bud Light recognized this when initially heading into the esports space in 2016 and launched a dedicated Twitter handle just for esports (@BudLightEsports), as well as a Twitch account in conjunction with the announcement of Bud Light All-Stars.

Looking ahead to this year’s program, this Twitter handle will be used to keep fans updated on multiple aspects of the program, and the Bud Light All-Stars will engage fans via Twitch streams weekly from the official Bud Light Twitch account. Our Bud Light All-Stars are also extremely active on their own social channels and they will also share news about the program with their friends and fans. We also maintain relationships with our All-Stars from last year who will also be active throughout this year’s program on social media.

What has Twitch opened up for the Bud Light brand as a new engagement tool for esports fans and gamers?

Twitch has been an incredible partner since Bud Light first began developing ideas for our entry into esports more than a year ago. It’s an incredible platform that truly shows the magnitude of popularity that esports has achieved, both from a professional player perspective as well as that of the fans. For us at Bud Light, focusing our efforts on Twitch this year is a testament to how strongly we believe in the ability of it to help connect us to the multitude of esports fans across genres in a way that we really could not do as effectively or efficiently any other way.

Our new campaign “Famous Among Friends” celebrates friendships and a platform like Twitch can truly make an esports player famous among not only their friends, but people around the world. We love the community aspect of friends coming together to play and watch esports on Twitch. This program and partnership are a natural extension of our overall campaign.

Once the winners have been chosen, will there be some type of live event?

Bud Light is very excited to announce the 2017 Bud Light All-Stars in late June, and we’ll have more information on how we’ll be announcing them in the coming weeks.

We’ve seen Buffalo Wild Wings bring ELeague into its chain. How is Bud Light working with bars and restaurants to connect with esports fans?

Bud Light will be introducing a trial program later this year to work with select bars and restaurants to deliver experiences tailored specifically to esports fans. Bud Light has been a leader in creating incredible experiences for fans of other professional sports—football, basketball, baseball, hockey, just to name a few—and its view is that esports fans deserve the same caliber of experiences.

What type of fan engagement have you seen through your DreamHack partnership as that brand expands across the US?

Bud Light has seen a strong connection built between fans and the brand through its presence at DreamHack events, beginning at 2016’s DreamHack Austin where the Bud Light Lounge was first introduced. The Bud Light Lounge, which returned to DreamHack this year in Austin and the upcoming stop in Atlanta, provides fans with a premium experience where they can enjoy a crisp, refreshing Bud Light while having an enhanced view of some of the biggest esports action. Fans have embraced the level of access that Bud Light provides through these lounges, which are free to enter for fans that are 21 and older

What similarities do you see between the current esports fanbase and those of college and professional sports?

Bud Light is the beer that friends, regardless of the sport they watch, reach for and enjoy together. We view esports fans in much the same way that we view fans of other professional sports: they are incredibly passionate about the games, teams, and players they follow, and both Twitch streams and competitions are viewing experiences where Bud Light plays a natural role as the beer that can be enjoyed with friends as they watch their favorite players play the games the love.

What opportunities do you see the rise of collegiate esports opening up for your brand?

Bud Light is focused solely on the professional esports space as part of its Bud Light All-Stars program. As a beer brand, we want to ensure that we’re only engaging with individuals 21 and older, and so the college esports space is not an area that we currently are active in.

What’s the message you want esports fans to connect with Bud Light?

Bud Light’s activities in esports are a natural extension of what the brand has long stood for in sports as well as its new “Famous Among Friends” campaign: we are the friends of the fan and we enhance their sports experiences. We know the esports community enjoys gaming together with friends and we’re committed to being respectful and staying true to everything that makes that community special already while supporting its continued growth.