In June of last year, Comcast announced that it was partnering with ESL and Evil Geniuses to promote its Xfinity high-speed internet products in the eSports space. It’s been almost one year, and Comcast remains one of the largest companies to be involved with eSports, and a branded presence at major events such as the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) and most recently, the Halo World Championship. At its peak, the Halo tournament broke digital records, with 135,000 concurrent viewers across Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, and Beam. In total, over 13 million unique viewers tuned in last weekend on digital platforms (higher than last year) and 10.3 million of them watched the competition via Twitter, marking the first time a Halo eSports event was streamed on the platform.

Matt Lederer, executive director of sports marketing at Comcast, talks with [a]listdaily about integrating the Xfinity brand into the eSports space and how the giant internet company plans to grow its presence.

Matt Lederer, Comcast
Matt Lederer, executive director of sports marketing, Comcast

What initially convinced Comcast Xfinity to invest in eSports?

It was one of the easiest conversations that we have had with executives about wanting to invest and partner in this space, which—candidly—I didn’t expect because maybe some of our executives didn’t feel like they were in the eSports demo. But I think the reason why it was an easy conversation and why it has been so positive for us this past year is the enthusiasm, passion and engagement of this segment.

The segment is really what the key thing is here and why we made this decision. Regardless of what eSports data you look at and regardless of what source, what’s consistent is that it’s—for the most part—young, diverse and predominantly male (although it’s growing in the female space). This is not the easiest segment for any group, advertiser or marketer to reach. When we started thinking about how this segment is important, and that our product—specifically the internet product—is core to the enjoyment and participation of eSports, it became a very easy decision.

How was the Xfinity brand integrated into the eSports scene?

We strategically went with a two partnership approach. We have a partnership with ESL that provides a lot of high-powered, high-visibility branding throughout streamed events. That includes branding on the shoutcaster desk and units inside the livestream. Additionally, ESL provides us with space inside certain events such as the Halo Championships and IEM.

Area two is our partnership with Evil Geniuses. Obviously, all the jersey branding is great, but what really is key is that they have two main houses where their teams play from—one in the Bay area, the other in Chicago. Those are now the Xfinity training facilities. The entire area where they play and compete on a daily basis is branded Xfinity. They have our Xfinity internet game product running to their houses, and they’re competing, playing and winning on our product. They have Xfinity X1 video in the house. When they’re streaming content, they’re doing it with the Xfinity branding in their backdrop. When they’re relaxing or doing interviews, they’re doing it with Xfinity branding. So, it has come to life in a really big way.

We went with a two partnership approach because we felt that ESL was a league level partnership and gave us branding across multiple games, players and events. Partnering with a team allowed us to tap into the excitement and passion that fans have directed toward a specific team or game. This approach has given us a nice, broad branding coverage, while also letting us tap into the passion of Evil Geniuses, Dota 2 or Halo fans as they watch the team play.

What attracted Xfinity to Evil Geniuses, specifically?

For one, they’ve been tremendously successful. We do like to partner with successful franchises, entities and champions. The other thing is their two primary locations are inside important Xfinity markets (the Bay Area and Chicago). We’re able to activate the partnership nationally across streamed events, but it has also allowed us to tap into things globally. For example, the Halo EG team in Chicago was cross-pollinated with our NASCAR partnership. We brought the EG team out to Chicagoland Speedway last September, made appearances at Xfinity Zone, and played Halo against fans there. They also competed against NASCAR drivers in NASCAR video games. That local aspect allowed us to do that.

Out in the Bay Area, we’ve had numerous cases where we’ve had local press go to the Evil Geniuses’ house—with that full branding—and do interviews. They ask these guys, “Why Xfinity?” Taking a look at the house and allowing the players to locally talk about why they chose Xfinity and why Xfinity Internet is in their house, helping them to compete and win on a daily basis. We were able to tap into those local opportunities. Of course, since they’re local and in our market, they both have big service coming in directly from us into their houses.

How did the eSports community take to the Xfinity integration?

We’ve been very happy with the response we got, and I credit the team of people here who worked on the eSports partnership. We’ve been really cognizant of how we brand and message, making sure that we’re not coming in there like we do in a normal sort of marketing and advertising basis. We’re in there, respecting the space, and celebrating eSports with them. When you do those things, and talk in that authentic manner, you’re going to see the positive response. We’ve seen the consideration lift from eSports fans toward our brand, we’ve seen strong social rankings in eSports, and Cynopsis nominated us for the best eSports activation award. So, we’ve been very happy with the reception we’ve gotten from the community, teams and the industry.

What was the biggest lesson you learned about engaging with the eSports community?

Halo_Gaming RoomI’m going to bore you by saying the same word: authenticity. It’s about making sure you respect the fact that you need to talk to this group differently and you need to respect them. You have to absolutely make sure you’re not going in there saying, “I can’t believe people watch video games, but hey, I’m here.” No, this is a passionate group of people. Whether they play or watch the games, we’re celebrating it with them. We want them to know that we’re fans as well.

Authenticity is key, and an example of what we did to play into that was that, through ESL, we had the ability to be at events (PAX, IEM and the Halo World Championships) and set up a booth to interact with fans. Normally, we’d hire local brand ambassadors to stand there and talk about the product. What we learned was that we have a lot of gamers that work here at Comcast. They went crazy when we made the eSports partnerships announcement internally. They reached out, asking how they could help. What we did was, instead of bringing out local brand ambassadors to hand things out, we flew employees out—people who aren’t normally at a booth like this. They could have been technicians, or in media or content deals. Whatever they may have been, they were gamers and they knew our product and why it is core to eSports. So, we brought them out and had them at the booths. Not only did they hand out pamphlets, but when they talked to the gamers, they were able to do it in an authentic manner because they were one of them. That’s been very positive.

How will Xfinity grow its eSports integration moving forward?

We’re never going to allow us to get stale. What’s great about ESL and EG is that they’re always with us and talking to us about new opportunities, and willing to be flexible by allowing us to grow in this space. I think you’ll see us continue to find new opportunities to be there and relevant. Our internet product will remain our core message because it’s so endemic to the sport, but how do we start to bring in some of the other products? How do we start to make our video products relevant to the eSports fan? Who do we work with to get some content up on X1? What company experience can we create there to credibly, authentically and relevantly talk about my video product to this space? There’s work on us to do that, but I believe we’re bullish on this category. We believe growth is coming and we are in it for the foreseeable future.

What advice do you have for non-endemic brands that are interested in entering the eSports space?

You have to respect the consumer and be willing to be flexible in how you market and message to this group. If you do those things, you’ll be embraced. If you’re embraced by this young, diverse and passionate segment, you’re going to have some good things happen to you. But you’ve got to be respectful and not just think that what works in other spaces is going to work here. That’s good advice for both endemic and non-endemic brands.