Buying a luxury car is a huge commitment, and despite the trope of the middle-age crisis Mustang or Mercedes, it is not often an impulse purchase. For many consumers, the desire to own a luxury car starts with posters on a childhood bedroom wall, and car brands have focused on reaching young customers nowhere close to being able to actually purchase one.
These days, that approach means embracing gaming. BMW first entered esports in 2019 by partnering with Cloud9. Now, the company is quintupling down on esports by partnering with an international group of top esports organizations.
“We are professionals when it comes to marketing to our sales funnel and our traditional market group,” said Christophe Koenig, a BMW spokesperson. “When it comes to the younger target group, Generation Y, millennials, we only have [partial] answers on how to reach them. Then there’s, even more important, the future target group of Generation Z—we have almost no answers on how to reach them. Esports, for us, is a channel to reach this group.”
Brands’ sudden interest in esports is all about this tough-to-reach demo. But few esports partnerships have the scope of BMW’s deal. The five organizations BMW partnered with—G2, Cloud9, Fnatic, T1 Entertainment & Sports, and FunPlus Phoenix (FPX)—are all among the world’s biggest.
“We had a long learning journey behind us with these teams,” Koenig said. “We were really impressed with how professionally these teams are working on their social media communication and activating their fan base both physically and digitally.”
BMW is no stranger to sports sponsorships. The company has been a longtime partner of the PGA and competes in a wide variety of motorsports (including iRacing, a growing esport). But for these esports partnerships, the company will take a different path by handing the keys over to these esports organizations to let them connect the brand to fans.
“This will not be the sponsorship approach as we know it from traditional sports,” Koenig said. “Most of the content we will communicate will not be created by BMW. It will be created by the teams. That’s unique for us and a step back for us from a corporate perspective. We are giving much more trust to our partners to use the BMW brand.”
That trust is a testament to how developed these esports organizations have become. Not many brands know how to reach Gen Z, but esports organizations have built fandom on the back of that generation, now brands want to learn the secrets for themselves.
“There’s been a huge change in the last few years where esports and gaming have been legitimized by society,” said Carlos Rodriguez, the founder and CEO of G2, who also welcomed MasterCard as a brand partner last fall. “Brands see gaming and esports as the next form of entertainment, and what better way to connect with younger audiences than partnering with the esports organizations that are closest to that audience?”
G2 competes in six esports, but the organization is most famous for its League of Legends (LoL) squad. In fact, all five organizations operate out of different countries and compete in various titles, but a great LoL team is the one commonality.
Germany’s G2 met China’s FPX in the world finals last year. South Korea’s T1 has the most world championships, and the U.K.’s Fnatic was the first world champion. Cloud9 is the most successful American team on the world stage.
The built-in rivalries over years of battles in League of Legends are part of BMW’s campaign, called “United in Rivalry.”
“League of Legends Worlds will be so much fun for us because we will play up the beef between these teams,” explained Koenig. “The fans are battling against each other, and we will be activating around that. We will be promoting these battles and these beefs against each other.”
Riot Games, the developer of LoL, has brought in major non-endemic brands. Soon after, those brands often partner with an organization backing a top LoL team.
MasterCard became a global sponsor of LoL, then expanded to G2. Nike became the apparel partner of the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) in China, and followed up by partnering with T1. BMW is curating a global presence by partnering with arguably the top LoL team in all the major regions around the world.
“With the esports industry, we finally have an industry where we can truly take in the entire world,” said Koenig. “China, Korea, Germany, the U.K. and the United States are markets that are our top five markets in terms of sales worldwide. Covering our biggest geographic regions was a big part of our decision-making process.”