MillerCoors is hoping to attract a new and growing audience with its first sponsorship in the world of esports.
The Chicago-based beer company said today that Miller Lite will be the exclusive alcohol brand for Complexity Gaming, the esports sibling of the Dallas Cowboys. The partnership is a first outside of traditional sports for Miller, and will include a sponsored lounge at Complexity’s headquarters as well as a new original content series that will feature Complexity’s players talking about their favorite esports memories.
Miller Lite will also host watch parties through the year for Complexity’s fans—at least those who are 21 years old or older.
“We have spent the last year and half learning as much as possible about the gaming space and introducing ourselves to the community through influencer activations and live-stream media partners,” Anup Shah, vp of marketing for Miller Lite, said in a statement. “While the reception we have received to this point has been nothing but positive, we want to extend our presence in an authentic way and believe that Complexity is the right partner to help us do that.”
The news comes just weeks after Complexity Gaming unveiled a Cowboys-inspired rebrand as it aims to have esports players earn the same notoriety as traditional athletes.
“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome MillerCoors to the Complexity family,” Complexity Gaming Chief Revenue Officer Daniel Herz said in a statement. “The company’s desire to dig in and learn fans’ wants and needs makes MillerCoors an ideal partner. Together, we will take the time to truly invest in the gaming community and culture, so we can better support and enhance gamers’ experiences, rather than change behaviors.”
Esports continues to rapidly grow in popularity both in the U.S. and internationally. According to the market research firm NewZoo, the global esports audience will reach 454 million this year—a 15% increase year-over-year—with 253 million casual fans and another 201 million “esports enthusiasts.”
NewZoo projects that number to grow another 14 percent by 2021 to a total audience size of 645 million. The money surrounding esports is also projected to grow. NewZoo said the esports economy will reach $1 billion for the first time this year, with sponsorship deals accounting for $456.7 million and $189.2 million coming from advertising.
Larger brands continue to sign on. Today, Lenovo North America announced a partnership with the esports club Team SoloMid—the tech company’s first esports sponsorship—and earlier this month Foot Locker and Champion announced plans to collaborate on an apparel line for five esports teams. Meanwhile, the fast food chain Jack In The Box said it’s working with agency David&Goliath to create a web series for the Overwatch League team Dallas Fuel.
Craig Levine, global chief strategy officer for the esports organization ESL, likened the growth of sponsorships in other up-and-coming sports like UFC. Early on, brands like Affliction and 5-Hour Energy were sponsors, but that’s now evolved to include brands like Bud Light and Monster. Levine said esports has already seen that same sponsorship shift: from keyboard companies to Pepsi, Intel and DHL.
“The young audience is attracted to these mixed media and brand partnerships,” Levine said this morning at an ESL press event at Barclays Center. “The gasoline that fuels the economy around traditional sports is now making its way to esports.”
While games are digital, live events have become increasingly in demand, filling up major arenas like Barclays Center for events like the esports tournament ESL One. According to Keith Sheldon, evp of programming at BSE Global, the parent company of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, more than 80 percent of people who consume competitive esports are under the age of 35, making them a prime audience for advertisers.
“The craziest part of this is as big as esports feels right now, right now it’ll be as small as it’ll feel in our lifetime,” Sheldon said.