Engaging eSports fans can be a huge success for brands when done right. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that eSports is a scorching-hot industry, and with revenues predicted to approach the $1 billion mark in 2018, it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Marketers who recognized the potential value of eSports as an activation platform early on have already reaped its benefits, with many more likely to follow suit as competitive gaming continues to make its way into the mainstream.
But despite what some brands and consumers may still consider to be a solo endeavor typically enjoyed in dark basements, eSports is, in fact, a highly social activity practiced in tournaments around the globe—tournaments boasting prize pots worth millions of dollars—and also by fans around the globe. The demographic is passionate and diverse, but it also has an aversion to traditional marketing and advertising. So, how do brands break through? Check out these four tips for engaging eSports fans.
As with any of its traditional sports sponsorships, Coca-Cola aims to provide eSports fans with experiences they can’t access themselves to help build meaningful connections. Case in point: When Coke recognized that major tournaments only take place in a few big-city locations and often sell out within minutes, the brand developed large-scale communal viewing events for those who couldn’t make it to the competition. Teaming up with Riot Games and various cinema partners, Coke executed more than 200 simultaneous viewing parties across the U.S., Europe and Canada for the League of Legends World Championships, where it simulated a stadium atmosphere, complete with limited-edition cups and the “thunder sticks” sold in the arena during the actual tournament. Talk about authenticity. “This is something we believe in, because again, it’s about access, it’s adding value, it’s allowing people to share in a dream,” says Alban Dechelotte, senior manager-entertainment marketing and head of eSports at Coca-Cola.
Digital Engagement is Paramount
Activating at tournaments and other live eSports events is a critical piece of the strategy when it comes to engaging eSports fans, but don’t forget that the digital realm can be just as important to them. It’s an approach Bud Light took to deliver fans quick access to their favorite players. The brand opened up a Bud Light All-Star nominee program in which fans could vote online for their favorite players from four different video games. Sixteen top North American eSports players were ultimately voted onto the team, each of which streamed from Bud Light’s Twitch channel to offer fans unique content during the six-month period that followed. Viewers could even win prizes during the live stream, adding an extra layer of engagement. “We listened to both fans and players, and this year they’ll see a stronger focus on enhanced digital experiences that consistently bring them and their friends closer to their favorite top players in North America,” says Eelco van der Noll, vice president of experiential marketing at Anheuser-Busch.
Don’t Assume They’re Teenaged Boys
Old stereotypes may have you believing that typical eSports fans are in their teens or early 20s and likely still living with mom and dad. But the fact is, more than half of fans are millennials, meaning they are working professionals that often have some disposable income to spend. What’s more, around 38 percent of fans are women, and while most brands tend to stay away from gender-specific marketing these days, this stat offers one more reason to avoid male-centric marketing.
Most eSports fans emphatically tune out traditional marketing, so when it comes to reaching this fickle fan base, influencers are an effective option to engaging eSports fans. Make sure the tastemakers you partner with not only have ample eSports experience and insight to share with fans, but also align with your brand in a way that makes the partnership more authentic if you want to maximize engagement. And don’t forget—most social media platforms have a large crop of eSports influencers, but the one that matters to the gaming community the most is Twitch, so consider beginning your search there.
Truth be told, engaging eSports fans can be complex as the industry continues to evolve. But what we do know is that fans are passionate, discerning, digitally savvy, and—when marketers take a nuanced approach—brand loyal. The challenge will be finding creative, but subtle ways to introduce them to your brand’s personality and messaging. Game on.
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