By Sinead Hosey, Co-founder of esports and gaming agency Epic Global
The esports industry has seen tremendous growth over the years, both in terms of viewership and revenue, with a predicted valuation of $1.9 billion by 2022. Money flows into esports through media rights, live event ticket sales, merchandise sales, and in-game purchases, but most of the revenue comes from sponsorships and advertising. In fact it now matches revenues generated by high-paying traditional sports such as the NBA.
With thousands of fans filling stadiums watching young players win huge prizes, esports has become the interactive and community-driven side of the gaming industry. In fact, by 2024, there are expected to be 577.2 million viewers of esports worldwide, an increase from 397.8 million viewers in 2019. With six out of ten internet users watching esports aged between 16 and 35, and the average age of a fan being 26, esports is the place for brands to meet Gen Z.
So, how can endemic and non endemic brands capitalise on this opportunity to engage Gen Z gamers and integrate esports into their digital marketing strategies?
Your marketing approach will vary depending on whether you’re an endemic brand or a non endemic brand. If you’re an endemic brand, for example a brand who creates products for playing games like headphones or a stream deck, your marketing needs to take a far more functional and practical approach. Gamers want to see your product in action and understand how it can help improve their game or gaming experience. For non endemic brands, i.e. consumer brands that aren’t directly related to gaming, the marketing approach should be far more aspirational and focus on appealing to the audience’s psychological and social aspirations.
Authenticity is key
One of the most important components of any digital marketing campaign is authenticity. Your brand must be presented to the gaming community in an authentic way, whether that’s through a product being used by a gaming influencer if you’re an endemic brand, or an influencer taking a sip of a drink post game, for example, if you’re a non endemic brand. However, regardless of the approach, you need to ensure your brand seamlessly weaves itself into the gaming narrative and doesn’t interrupt gameplay.
Coke’s recent gaming ad ‘One coke away from each other’ is a great reminder of how important authenticity is. The ad was unfortunately slammed by gamers on social media for being ‘inauthentic’ and ‘tone deaf,’ despite receiving positive reviews from the general population. Unfortunately Gen Z gamers are an unforgiving audience, so brands need to ensure they get it right the first time.
Channels to reach Gen Z Gamers
There are a number of channels that brands can adopt to reach Gen Z gamers. From video advertising on Twitch and YouTube, influencer marketing by partnering with top gaming influencers on Twitch, YouTube and TikTok, to sponsoring live events.
Brands can also gain visibility through experiential campaigns to get closer to Gen Z gamers. For example, clothing brand Balenciaga recently joined forces with Fortnite to create a series of in-game outfits and a limited-run physical apparel collection.
Converging with pop culture
More opportunities lie in esports convergence with pop culture, where famous names in the music industry perform virtual concerts as part of online gaming events. Last year, US rapper Travis Scott performed a nine minute virtual concert at Fortnite’s event, which grossed him approximately $20 million including merchandise sales. Closer to home we’re seeing artists like UK MC P Money (PMoney – Twitch) leading the cultural charge merging gaming, esports and music to produce his unique style of entertaining Twitch streams.
It’s clear esports presents a huge opportunity for brands to engage with Gen Z gamers, however understanding what makes this audience tick is a must if marketers want to take advantage of their huge spending power. While ensuring your message is authentic and seamlessly weaves into the gaming narrative is integral to your approach, if you don’t get this right, the impact on your brand reputation among this audience is damaging. But for those that succeed, the opportunities are limitless.