Why eSports Is A Huge Marketing Opportunity For Brands

Red Bull, Ver­i­zon, Intel, and Nis­san are already on the scene – should your brand invest in eSports mar­ket­ing?

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 1 comment

Esports has become a glob­al phe­nom­e­non. Recent reports have val­ued the indus­try at more than $612 mil­lion, with reach extend­ing from Europe and North Amer­i­ca, and to the devel­op­ing mar­kets of Asia. It makes eSports an incred­i­bly pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for brands. What are the best exam­ples of eSports mar­ket­ing, and do brands look­ing to ven­ture into eSports need to know?

The fifth install­ment of the Dota2 Inter­na­tion­al (or “TI5” as it is referred to with­in the Dota2 com­mu­ni­ty), which took place dur­ing the first week of August, was the largest and most pres­ti­gious eSports tour­na­ment to date.

Evil Genius­es’ win­nings of $6.6 mil­lion, from an over­all prize pool of $18.4 mil­lion, was the biggest prize win in pro­fes­sion­al eSports his­to­ry, putting all five mem­bers of EG’s Dota2 squad into the top six earn­ing eSports ath­letes in the world (LGD stal­wart xiao8 just takes the fifth spot). Their per­for­mance also made an overnight mil­lion­aire out of 16-year old “solo-mid” (think mid­field tem­po-con­trol) Suma1L, who’s incred­i­ble per­for­mance at the tour­na­ment sig­naled an excit­ing new gen­er­a­tion of eSports play­ers.

How Big Is eSports?

For the unini­ti­at­ed “eSports”, the prac­tice of com­pet­i­tive video gam­ing, may be viewed as an eccen­tric niche – and as recent­ly as a few years ago this may well have been the case. How­ev­er, the sport has expand­ed rapid­ly into an oth­er­wise untapped mar­ket, and the speed of growth has been phe­nom­e­nal.

A 2015 report from Super­da­ta val­ued the glob­al eSports indus­try at $612 mil­lion. That fig­ure takes into account the val­ue of cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships, prize pool con­tri­bu­tions, mer­chan­dise, and tick­et sales for eSports tour­na­ments.

Accord­ing to the report, $374 mil­lion of this fig­ure comes from the Asian mar­ket, and $143 mil­lion from North Amer­i­ca. The val­ue of cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships in North Amer­i­ca is esti­mat­ed to total $111 mil­lion. To put that into fig­ure into con­text, the Wim­ble­don Cham­pi­onships were esti­mat­ed to bring in around $65 mil­lion in rev­enue for spon­sors.

The glob­al reach and pop­u­lar­i­ty of eSports means that it rep­re­sents a huge mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for brands. Each indi­vid­ual game; Dota2, League of Leg­ends, Star­craft II, can attract can attract audi­ences of mil­lions, and unite fans from Asia, Europe, and North Amer­i­ca.

This is a cru­cial audi­ence to tar­get, espe­cial­ly for brands that want to reach mil­len­ni­als.

It has become increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult for adver­tis­ers to reach this tech-savvy, afflu­ent demo­graph­ic via tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing chan­nels,” said Joost van Dre­unen, CEO and co-founder of Super­Da­ta Research. “Not only does eSports allow to recon­nect with this audi­ence, but since the mar­ket is still at an ear­ly stage, brands can get a lot of bang for their buck.”

Why Is eSports A Massive Opportunity?

There are four key rea­sons why eSports is an incred­i­ble mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty.

1. Global Reach & Growth

The world­ly draw of eSports can’t be under­es­ti­mat­ed. In Asia espe­cial­ly, where eSports pulls in rev­enues of $374 mil­lion, spon­sor­ship can com­mand incred­i­ble media val­ue, and does so in key emerg­ing mar­kets such as Chi­na, and among a valu­able youth demo­graph­ic.

The Dota2 Inter­na­tion­al draws audi­ences in excess of 27 mil­lion (accord­ing to Super­Da­ta), which is con­sid­er­ably more than the U.S. view­er­ship for the 2015 Mas­ters at 14 mil­lion, although still some way off the 114.4 mil­lion view­ers who tuned into Super Bowl 49. (How­ev­er, Dota2 is just one game; the glob­al total for eSports audi­ences may well exceed those of the Super Bowl.)

As to how much more eSports can grow, one can look at the high­ly devel­oped infra­struc­ture in South Korea, where eSports enjoys immense pop­u­lar­i­ty (The New York Times described it as a “nation­al pas­time”). It was revealed recent­ly that there are plans to build a ded­i­cat­ed eSports sta­di­um – a nec­es­sary upgrade con­sid­er­ing that the 2014 League of Leg­ends Cham­pi­onship sold out the 40,000 seater sta­di­um of Seoul’s 2002 World Cup. Some have pre­dict­ed that North Amer­i­can mar­ket will one day emu­late the suc­cess eSports enjoys in South Korea.

North Amer­i­ca is one ter­ri­to­ry where eSports has strong growth poten­tial, but Chi­na, parts of South­east Asia, and Europe are also show­ing signs of a flour­ish­ing eSports scene.

2. Powerful Stories

One of the last­ing impres­sions that will be left by the Dota2 Inter­na­tion­al will be the nar­ra­tives and sto­ries that were cre­at­ed around the event. Before being picked up by Valve, Dota was a game cre­at­ed and sus­tained by its own com­mu­ni­ty. Many of the play­ers com­pet­ing at the Inter­na­tion­al helped define what the game is today, and many have made con­sid­er­able sac­ri­fices to com­pete at the lev­el at which they do.

Last year, Valve released “Free to Play”, a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary fol­low­ing three pro­fes­sion­al Dota2 play­ers from around the world.

This year Valve pro­duced a series of mov­ing play­er pro­files; videos which explored play­er roots, their life jour­neys, and how they came to be eSports pro­fes­sion­als.

rOtK is noto­ri­ous for being one of the most pas­sion­ate play­ers in the scene.

To an extent, the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of eSports ath­letes are all pio­neers, and there is some­thing fas­ci­nat­ing about eSports’ momen­tous growth and pop­u­lar­i­ty.

From indi­vid­ual play­ers, to devel­op­ers, even fans them­selves have their own unique sto­ries, and com­bined with a com­mit­ted con­tent strat­e­gy such as that of Valve’s, eSports is a immense­ly rich source of sto­ries.

3. Thriving Community

Com­mu­ni­ty is one of the strongest assets of the eSports scene. Nur­tur­ing that com­mu­ni­ty can be extreme­ly reward­ing – stream­ing provider Twitch for exam­ple, have put com­mu­ni­ty at the cen­ter of their strat­e­gy.

When it comes to Dota2, Valve have also made sig­nif­i­cant steps to sup­port com­mu­ni­ty ini­tia­tives. The Inter­na­tion­al’s prize pool for exam­ple, was direct­ly fund­ed by in-game pur­chas­es, and Dota2 also sup­ports a diverse range of cos­met­ic items which can be trad­ed on Steam.

Com­mu­ni­ties are built on shared val­ues, and a strong one with­in eSports com­mu­ni­ties is a cul­ture of learn­ing (just look at the amount of gam­ing how-tos and play-throughs to get a sense of how impor­tant it is, and the oppor­tu­ni­ty is there for brands to find a niche in which they can engage and enhance the online expe­ri­ences of those com­mu­ni­ties.

4. Access Developing Markets

As pop­u­lar as eSports may already be, it’s still a young mar­ket. Brands who have act­ed as ear­ly adopters are build­ing immense­ly valu­able brand equi­ty with high­ly devot­ed fan­bas­es.

What’s more, there is evi­dence to sug­gest that the mar­ket is high­ly lucra­tive. One source described eSports as an adver­tis­ing gold­mine. Data sug­gests that eSports view­ers spend about $200 a year more on com­put­er hard­ware.

Who Is Already Investing In eSports Marketing?

A num­ber of brands are begin­ning to invest in eSports mar­ket­ing, and these ear­ly adopters may find that invest­ing ear­ly was a smart strat­e­gy in years to come.

One of the most notable brands to invest in eSports mar­ket­ing is Red Bull. The brand has a ded­i­cat­ed eSports cat­e­go­ry on redbull.com, pub­lish­ing a mix­ture of eSports news, fea­tures, and guides around var­i­ous games.


Con­tent is con­sis­tent, fre­quent, and gen­uine­ly use­ful. Red Bull also spon­sors events, which enables com­mu­ni­ties to grow. The brand are quick­ly carv­ing out a niche for them­selves as one of the fore­most brand sup­port­ers amongst eSports com­mu­ni­ties.

Tele­coms providers are begin­ning to rec­og­nize how eSports can fit into their mar­ket­ing strate­gies. Ver­i­zon has announced their inten­tions to invest in eSports rec­og­niz­ing that “video games are one of the most engag­ing and uti­lized forms of con­tent in the world today.”

T‑Mobile is also ramp­ing up their efforts, and enjoyed some media expo­sure as one of the offi­cial spon­sors of EG’s vic­to­ri­ous Dota2 team.

Coke, Intel, and Nis­san are also invest­ing in eSports, for good rea­son accord­ing to Nis­san’s Erich Marx, direc­tor of Inter­ac­tive & Social Media Mar­ket­ing at Nis­san North Amer­i­ca who said eSports “fits per­fect­ly not only with Nis­san prod­ucts, but our mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy.”

How Can Brands Add Value?

Brands look­ing to enter the eSports are­na will need to do more than assess the val­ue of cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship. The eSports scene is one built on the strength of its own com­mu­ni­ties, and one that val­ues this qual­i­ty above all else. If brands want to engage these audi­ences, con­ven­tion­al adver­tis­ing or spon­sor­ship like­ly won’t thrill con­sumers.

As van Dre­unen says “con­tem­po­rary media audi­ences, like Mil­len­ni­als, do not relate to media in the same way that oth­er audi­ences do. Com­pet­i­tive gam­ing is an emer­gent form of enter­tain­ment that presents an entire­ly new expe­ri­ence.”

Those who do man­age to engage these audi­ences how­ev­er, are like­ly to reap the rewards.

Brands [who are] able to be part of that ini­tial expe­ri­ence is incred­i­bly valu­able in estab­lish­ing a long-term rela­tion­ship with con­sumers.” van Dre­unen said.

Brands look­ing to invest in eSports should look to add val­ue to what is like­ly to still be a devel­op­ing scene. It means becom­ing authen­ti­cal­ly immersed in the com­mu­ni­ty, and engag­ing in inno­v­a­tive ways to add val­ue. The eSports audi­ence is essen­tial­ly a mil­len­ni­al audi­ence, root­ed in com­mu­ni­ty, and one that is often recep­tive to brands that engage with authen­tic­i­ty and val­ue.

Are you con­sid­er­ing invest­ing in eSports mar­ket­ing?

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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