In August 2018, a sports tournament was held in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. The total prize pool for the participants was more than $25.5 million. (The winning team took home more than $11 million, while the second-place team walked away with just over $4 million.) Nearly 20,000 people attended the event, while another 15 million watched online.
The event was not a traditional sporting event. It was an esports tournament, specifically The International – an annual Dota 2 world championship. The 2018 event set the record for the largest esports prize pool, beating out the previous holder, The International 2017. In fact, the five most recent Internationals have all, at one point, held the record for the biggest esports prize pools.
To put this year’s awards into perspective, here’s how they compare other 2018 sporting events:
- The 2018 U.S. Open – $53 million prize pool, a record for the event, with approximately $20 million going to the Men’s and Women’s singles tournaments
- The 2018 PGA Championship – $11 million prize pool, nearly $2 million awarded to the winner
- The 2018 Daytona 500 – $19 million prize pool (a record high), with $1.5 million going to the first-place driver
While The International’s prize pools are comparable to some of the year’s biggest sporting events, what’s even more interesting is that they are primarily funded by Dota 2 players and fans. An annual, in-game “Battle Pass” provides exclusive features and rewards to anyone who buys it, and a quarter of the cost goes directly into The International’s prize pool. This year, Battle Pass sales accounted for more than $23 million.
In fact, after witnessing the crowdfunding success of The International, some other esports tournaments have taken similar steps to keep their jackpots competitive. This is the power of the esports audience: a young, digitally savvy crowd with disposable income currently sitting at just under 400 million people but is expected to reach 600 million by 2020.
For brands, more is needed to reach the esports consumer. This group doesn’t want to be sold to; they want to be engaged. Consumers, in general, do not relate to brands in the same way they did even a few years ago. Young consumers, in particular, respond to brands differently than previous generations.
To create a bond with esports fans, a thoughtful approach that encompasses and complements the content they love is required.
Experiential marketing (a campaign to build brand loyalty by creating experiences that forge an emotional relationship between a brand and consumers) has been utilized by a wide variety of brands. For esports, experiential marketing is a natural fit because, in many ways, consumers already experience esports when they play.
There are many ways that experiential marketing can be brought to esports. For example, at the 2018 E3 convention, Facebook Gaming wanted to showcase its various offerings. So, it had an exhibit with several distinct spaces, including a live stream stage, Instagram pod, Oculus stations, streaming pods, and a VIP lounge. At E3, attendees could find many ways to interact with the brand and learn more about what Meta has to offer.
E3 – 2017
At the same show, Dell Gaming and Alienware provided a variety of interactive experiences, including a virtual reality showcase and a shoutcaster desk.
Experiential marketing can also include huge activations, such as The Riftwalk.
The Riftwalk made its first appearance in 2016 at PAX East in Boston. The experience recreated a snaking path through the Summoner’s Rift – League of Legends’ main battleground map – and provided several opportunities for fan interaction.
Visitors were given RFID wristbands that allowed them to fill out information online and reserve spots in advance, register their favorite characters and share their favorite parts of the game. During the event, the RFID wristbands would trigger monitors in each station of the exhibit and present content related to information provided by the attendees while allowing fans to share their experiences on social media.
The journey also included several photo opportunities:
- An animated GIF at a Blue Platform where visitors could choose from a variety of prop weapons.
- A slow-motion video at a Red Platform.
- A 180-degree, bullet-time video featuring a 14.5-foot Baron Nashor sculpture.
- A 13-foot Thresh puppet where a forced perspective would make fans appear as if they were standing inside Thresh’s signature lantern.
The visitor’s RFID wristband connected to each of these photo ops, and a professional quality video was sent to attendee emails.
Partner with Twitch Live Streamers
Streamers have an unprecedented amount of access to their audience. If you can create a partnership with a live streamer, you will be able to get your message in front of an engaged audience coming from a voice they trust.
Founded in 2011, Twitch has become the most popular online platform for video game streaming, with over two million unique streamers each month. Newzoo, a market research firm, recently analyzed 10 months of Twitch service and discovered that over 100 million users streamed 800 million hours of esports.
What this means for brands is that there is a ton of content out there. However, research is necessary to find the right personalities to suit your needs. No two live streams are exactly alike. Some streamers are family-friendly, while others work a little blue. Some will coach viewers as they play along with the streamer, others offer training sessions, and still others provide commentary during game walk-throughs. Live chats throughout the session enable real-time communication between the spectator and streamer, which helps to forge the bond with the broadcaster.
Brands can partner with streamers on Twitch in several ways. Branding can be added to a page, and the streamer can mention sponsors during chats and commentaries. Also, Twitch has an ad-revenue-sharing program. The way it works is when a streamer needs to take a break, he or she will announce that an ad is about to run. Then the streamer will typically implore the audience to stick around for the ad, reminding them that these ads help the streamer to provide their content. Due to the streamer/audience relationship, the majority stick around for the ad.
Provide Branded Content
Creating esports videos and content that provides essential information can be a great way to earn audience loyalty. A simple acknowledgment that this information was supplied by your brand is typically enough to create the recognition you desire.
There are two essential points to remember when creating this content. First, it is not about selling your brand. Anything that comes across as pushy or salesy will seem inauthentic and hurt your goals instead of helping them. Second, the content must be relevant and helpful. Fluff pieces will not attract the viewership you need.
Be creative and relevant – that’s the way to reach this crowd. By fulfilling a need, you will build brand loyalty and consumer relationships.
Sponsor a Team or Event
This is more traditional than the other suggestions, which means it is the most difficult to use as an engagement tactic. Research has shown that the majority of esports consumers have a favorable view of brand involvement. It doesn’t matter if brands are inherently used throughout the event or simply appear as sponsors. Brands receive favorable opinions from fans due to their involvement with esports.
Adding logos to a team’s jersey or banners throughout an event will increase your brand’s visibility during broadcasts, but you should also see what partnerships you can form that will increase fan engagement as well. Working collaboratively with teams and events can be a win-win.
If you want to reach the esports consumer, we’re ready to bring your goals to life. Give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005.
Photo credit: Pexels