ESports events like Riot Games’ League of Legends Championship have been able to sell out World Cup soccer stadiums in Korea. With thriving leagues like ESL and MLG, and strong independent developers like Valve, Riot and Wargaming pushing pro gaming forward; there are more opportunities than ever before for brands to connect with elusive Millennials. Even with more mainstream brands like Coke, American Express and Papa John’s getting involved in eSports, there remain huge opportunities for core PC gaming companies to reach their audience.
Razer co-founder and CEO Min-Liang Tan has watched the evolution of eSports over the past decade. He explains why he prefers engaging with athletes on a grassroots level over advertising, and how the brand’s mice, keyboards and headsets have benefited from pro gamer sponsorships in this exclusive interview.
How did Razer first get involved with eSports?
We’ve been a pioneering supporter of eSports at Razer, and we passionately want to see it grow and succeed. Back in 2000 we sponsored the Cyberathlete Professional League with an unprecedented $100,000. We wanted to reward those people excelling in their field, and nurture a solid base on which eSports could grow. Since then, we’ve been a major partner with players and leagues all over the world and still continue to set the standard for eSports sponsorships in the industry.
How have you seen eSports evolve?
The best way to frame the evolution of eSports is to look at its incredible growth. eSports has evolved from local community events held at chain hotel ballrooms to massive global spectacles. In 2013, viewership across all eSports titles doubled, peaking at over 71 million people at the end of 2013. Prize money increased exponentially, with Valve’s The International 4 Dota 2 tournament prize pool reaching almost $11 million.
Because of the money involved, more individuals can consume eSports content on a wider scale, thanks to companies like TwitchTV and tournaments like Riot’s League of Legends Championship Series and DreamHack which create engaging, exciting content for the eSports fan. There are infinitely more opportunities today for sponsors (endemic and non-endemic), aspiring entrepreneurs, and content creators.
Looking to the future, a Super Data Research paper recently predicted that League of Legends will see a monthly active user base of 94 million individuals by 2015, and that in the same period developer Wargaming would reach a revenue of $590 million. Hundreds of eSports teams continue to spring up every month, driven by companies like Razer which look to support and develop the industry from the ground up through careful sponsorship and support. In short, all the numbers point to the continued growth and evolution of the eSports industry moving forward, and we fully expect more companies to jump on board for a slice of the pie.
What opportunities has livestreaming opened up for Razer and other sponsors?
The emergence of companies like Twitch has greatly contributed to the way we all view and interact with eSports on a daily basis, and like us they’re starting to invest significantly in the future of the industry. There are all kinds of content available at our fingertips now which enables players to make a name for themselves and show their value to potential sponsors. Likewise, tournament directors who previously attracted the attendance of people a few towns across, now reach millions across the globe.
What have you learned about the power of working with eSports teams and players?
Right now Team Razer consists of over 300 players spread across 28 teams and 20 countries, so it can be a challenge at times, but ultimately, it helps us create better products that help our millions of fans enjoy their games more. We have a beta program for unreleased Razer devices that gets them in the hands of some of the best players in the world first. We solicit feedback from those players, and ultimately, we’re able to create a better final product. We’ve had all kinds of suggestions for product improvements from this program. It’s a great way to bond with some of the teams, and it helps us to work with them and the video game industry as a whole.
What opportunities have the transition of eSports from LANs and hotel ballrooms 10 years ago to selling out NBA and World Cup stadiums today opened up for brands?
While still a relatively young industry, eSports has shown incredible growth the last few years and provides potential sponsors a number of great opportunities to get involved from the ground up. New research by Super Data Research shows a monthly figure of 70 million unique individuals watching eSports across the world each month, rivalling even the most popular sports in the world. In terms of prize money, this year’s The International 4”saw a vast prize pool of $10.93 million, so there’s plenty to play for.
For us, eSports is in our history. We’ve been supporting competitions in the industry for many years now, since the earliest tournaments started offering significant prize money to competitive gamers. Teams are interesting because of the personalities that resonate with other players – people like Peter “Doublelift” Peng from Counter Logic Gaming, or Lee “Flash” Young Ho from KTRolster. These guys are hugely famous in their own right and command the respect of hundreds of thousands of fans across the world.
With the popularity of livestreaming, what positive impact would you see with more eSports on TV in the U.S.?
Channels like ESPN have already started showing live eSports for events like The International 4, which is awesome to see. By entering TV, eSports would have a chance to reach more people, which we see as an eventuality given the enormity of the gaming community. There are already dedicated video games channels in other parts of the world that are insanely popular. That being said, eSports doesn’t have to migrate to conventional TV in the U.S. to be popular. It’s a quickly growing industry with a vibrant audience that’s captured online.
ESports is global. How has that helped your company reach a worldwide audience?
Pro gaming is absolutely integral to what we do here at Razer so we’ve been actively partnering with and supporting numerous tournaments and players – from small LAN-Parties up to top international events like the DreamHack Open, the Intel Extreme Masters, the World Cyber Games and many more since 2005. We strongly believe that the gear we currently make, which has undergone extensive testing from our professional players, is of such a high standard that both professionals and casual players can equally benefit from the advantages our hardware provides.
How much room do you see for new eSports beyond the popular games out there today?
We’re always really excited to see new competitive titles come through and we work regularly with developers on new games to try to gauge their competitive viability, in both how the games are played, and how they may be received by an eSports audience. We’re always looking to bring in fresh talent to Team Razer and grow the ranks – we don’t just focus on the most mainstream games. There’s a ton of interesting content coming out of the indie development community so we like to keep an open mind and grow and support newly emerging communities that might become the next big thing.
What role do you see leagues like ESL and MLG playing moving forward?
Leagues of this nature are the bread and butter of our community in many ways: they drive the competitive environment for amateur and professional players, and having this structure is crucial to the growth and development as eSports as a whole. Aside from these two specific leagues there are dozens of others of tournaments throughout the year to keep eSports athletes on their toes, with a whole heap of prize money up for grabs. Tournaments like this continually improve their production quality, and therefore the number of fans consuming their content. It’s an upward trend, and we’re excited to be involved from the ground level and on up with regards to eSports as a whole.