Esports has recently had a rather astonishing rise in popularity.
Last year, more than six billion hours were dedicated to watching professional gaming. That’s an increase of 19 percent from the previous year. By 2021, global esports viewing is expected to surpass nine billion hours.
The 2015 League of Legends world finals was streamed on Twitch, an online site dedicated to esports and video game streaming, and garnered 36 million unique viewers. Compare that to the 24.5 million-person audience for game five of the 2017 NBA Finals, which aired on ABC.
The sports landscape is changing.
Additional proof of esports’ rise in popularity can be found by looking at the shear number of traditional media outlets that are launching esports programming, both streaming and broadcast.
- ESPN – In 2015, ESPN The Magazine dedicated an issue to esports. “The response was phenomenal,” said editor-in-chief Chad Millman. Based on the success of that issue, ESPN launched an online vertical dedicated to esports coverage. ESPN also counterprogramed the 2017 Super Bowl by airing the Paris regional final of the FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship Series.
- TBS – The station airs ELeague, which is a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league. Matches are shown across TBS and Twitch.
- CW – the youth-oriented channel has an entire reality series centered on esports. Mortal Kombat: Chasing the Cup follows competitive gamers as they compete to win the ESL Mortal Kombat X Pro League Finals.
- BBC – The British Broadcasting Company aired the 2016 League of Legends World Championships.
- NBC – This network is launching a tournament centered around “Rocket League.” The finals will be televised live on NBCSN in the United States.
However, esports is still very new, and most of the sponsors are still trying to figure out how to monetize the events. Part of the issue is that the millennial audience for esports has proven to be acutely aware of “inauthenticity.”
As a result, the most successful esports sponsors will be those that can forge a connection with the product. That means committing to grass-roots sponsorships and actively attending and supporting esports events. It may also mean accepting the early years as brand-building years without seeing much in the way of monetary return on investment.
The good news is that the esports landscape is new and ever changing. If you can find a niche, the time to become part of the scene is now. Esports will look very different in just a few years. Sponsors who wait will risk appearing like bandwagoners and alienating the very audience they seek to impress.
However, sponsors who become active and engrained at esports events, streams, and broadcasts now, are those that will be trusted because they supported it early on.
In addition, as noted above, some big names are paying attention to esports today. Names like ESPN, which has taken some significant financial hits lately. If entities like ESPN can find value in esports they will take as much of the market share as they can. The barriers to entering the esports space are only going to get more difficult.
If you are interested in hosting or sponsoring an esports event, you may need to rethink how you’ve traditionally pitched your brand. If you need some assistance finding how you fit in the esports landscape, call The Trade Group at 800-343-2005. We have years of experience helping brands authentically integrate in areas that once seemed outside the norm.