Esports is either the best kept secret or the most poorly marketed piece of common knowledge for brands. Do a quick search, watch a few documentaries, and you’ll realize that the esports industry is primed for investment regardless of the connection (or lack thereof) to a brand. Massive audiences, hyper-passionate fans and influencers capable of launching titles to new levels of popularity make it the perfect place to find and cultivate new advocates. But for some reason, most non-endemic brands still struggle to find meaningful entry points into the category. Whether it’s a lack of relevance or simply an unfamiliarity with the space, investing in esports can seem daunting to marketers. Luckily, as more brands move into the category, universal truths start to emerge that can help newcomers better navigate and evaluate the landscape.
Here are seven truths we’ve encountered while helping brands take the plunge into esports.
Give up the (false) belief that gamers are antisocial
The long-standing stereotype of lonely gamers playing from their parent’s basements is hurting your ability to see that this new age of gamer is one of the most connected and community-driven we’ve seen. As you build your audience strategies, remember that just because they converse in a different way than you’re used to doesn’t mean the level of community pride and inclusion they exude is less important.
Think beyond the title
A challenge in esports is the fast-changing preference in titles. Yes, there are some that have bigger infrastructures attached, such as Overwatch (Overwatch League) or Counter Strike (ESL), that will secure their places for a longer period of time. But if/when Drake logs on one night to stream a match of Fortnite with Ninja, and the next day, millions of gamers quickly pivot to the new title, it can make it tough to predict which game to associate with. Instead, embrace the volatility of preference and show your audience you are fans of the space across multiple titles.
Don’t call yourself an “esports expert” because you used to play Mario Kart
A big mistake I see brands make is thinking that because a few of them used to play video games growing up means they have a grasp on esports today. Don’t get me wrong—I love retro games as much as the next person, but this new industry is packed with nuances, unique motivations, complex gameplay, franchises and a thousand other intricacies that you’re oblivious to if you haven’t spent significant time living it recently. Try playing the games they play. Discover your favorite streamers. Wake up in the middle of the night to watch 170,000 fans flood Spodek Arena in Poland for the Katowice ESL tournament. Then it will start to make sense.
Celebrate women in gaming
Yes, the esports and gaming space is heavily skewed toward men, but the reality is that women are one of the fastest growing demographics in game playing and viewership. Sadly, one of the biggest deterrents for women playing online games has been the harassment and attacks they often face from others. But with 40 percent of gamers being women, it’s the perfect time to create an experience that features the amazing women of esports and how they’re not only bucking the stereotype, but winning while doing so.
Look at collegiate organizations
While the majority of esports conversations focus on the professional players and leagues, the reality is that there are a number of collegiate and amateur leagues that have equally strong followings and talent pools. Blizzard Entertainment-owned Tespa, for example, hosts annual tournaments (Heroes of the Dorm) in which they pit 64 of the top colleges against each other in a March Madness-style bracket. These players are just as hungry for sponsorships, and since esports isn’t a NCAA-sanctioned sport, the lack of regulations make it much easier to partner.
Take a team under your wing
While researching the space on your own can be somewhat informative, there’s no replacement for getting your information from the source. A few years ago, we started working with Longhorn Gaming (the University of Texas esports program). We knew that for us to truly grasp what was important to gamers, what challenges they face and what opportunities and experiences could benefit them, we had to build long-lasting relationships with those living it every day. As we worked through a rebrand campaign for their team, the insights and appreciation we gained were invaluable.
Document the journey
For most non-endemic brands, the esports category is new and there is a desire for the first foray into the space to be perfect. As enthusiastic as gamers can be, they can be equally critical of outsiders attempting to exploit what they’ve spent so long to build. This added pressure can often have a paralyzing effect on brands’ willingness to enter the space altogether. Instead, brands should approach esports with a transparent narrative, showing gamers they support the space and are enthusiastic to participate, documenting the things they’re doing and allowing fans to help shape how their support evolves.
With these points in mind, hopefully you’ll feel more comfortable approaching esports. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to engage an agency or consultant with experience that can help bridge the knowledge gap. Much like the early days of social, convincing your organization to enter the category may not seem worth the effort, but also similarly, we’re not far off from esports playing some type of role in the majority of brand exp