Gone are the days of the eSports minority, when it was known only as a fringe past time of core gamers.
Tournaments are now broadcast through leading television networks as well as internet streams, internationally renowned clubs are signing eSports players to collaborative training programmes and a host of new career opportunities are opening up, from development to commentating.
The increasing presence of eSports in the mainstream media, coupled with the huge sums of money available to players is creating an impression of prosperity. The figures are remarkable, with revenues predicted to reach $696 million this year and $1.5 billion by 2020, and audience figures expected to double to include 600 million people in that time.
However, prosperity does not equal stability. While traditional sports continue to learn from the new formats and adapt to meet the challenges of the increasingly digital-savvy audiences and the rise of streaming services, eSports urgently needs to find its own way to adapt.
Traditionally, tournaments are organised with relatively little notice compared to the amount of time it takes to gain a slot on a media plan. This problem has been further fueled by the current lack of understanding from advertisers on the potential ROI.
With the FANG platforms still figuring out how to best showcase eSports, right now the format has little more advantage than any other type of content in the fight for committed audience attention. Furthermore the cost of tournaments is swiftly consuming the sponsorship and revenues. Where before a strong pre-existing gaming knowledge was necessary, as it gains more mainstream attention eSports will need to continue to develop widespread appeal to attract sustained revenue from audiences and brands with big advertising budgets.
At the same time, with 49% of fans engaging with eSports content in their spare time and frequently dedicating whole days to watch tournaments, it offers brands the chance to build new audiences from the typically hard to reach demographic of men aged 18-35 by reaching them at moments of naturally high engagement.
One starting point could be collaborations between brands and guide sites like Mobafire and Dotabuff, who regularly host very committed audiences.
74% of eSports revenue is currently sourced from endemic brands, and this needs to diversify with audiences to provide long term growth, and FMCG brands have the reach to support this. At the same time, this medium offers fantastic opportunities for brands to connect with previously untapped audiences. We have highlighted a few potential categories that could lead the way.
The highest levels of competition are the ones that currently make headlines but, just like traditional sports, eSports has a thriving amateur scene. Whether fans want to watch streams of tournaments or connect with other amateur players, low priced consumer electricals like headphones are a necessity for players wanting to work together with their team mates, sometimes across vast distances.
The consumable market for eSports is ripe for the taking on two fronts: nutrition and entertainment. The influence of traditional sports has extended to include nutrition and fitness training for every aspect of a player’s life. Where healthy and high energy options have a new appeal to players, broadcast viewers share a lot of common ground with cinema goers when it comes to food and drink. With Australian ice cream company Maxibon becoming the first of the country’s FMCG brands to sponsor a team, similar cases are sure to follow.
As eSports transitions from niche hobby to mainstream entertainment format, the glamourising power of the media is taking a greater and greater hold. Men’s grooming products are likely to enjoy more opportunities initially because audiences are currently thought to be 69% male, however as the skilled women’s teams gain more recognition this is likely to balance out.