How eSports are Shaking up Sponsorships for Brands and Mainstream Sport Rights Holders 18th July, 2018

It’s time to cast aside any predispositions you may have about competitive gaming or the people involved in them: eSports are now very much a force to be reckoned with and are not going away any time soon.

The scale of eSports’ audience growth in recent years is simply quite staggering to get your head around. Right now, a brand could potentially be put in front of up to 320 million consumer eyeballs, should they take up the option of sponsorship within eSports.

Current estimations value this market at a whopping £1bn, with audiences set to double to over 600 million by 2020. Proof, if ever it were needed, that the elite professional gaming industry is beginning to take over the world at an ever-increasing rate!

How is this happening so rapidly?

As you perhaps can imagine, eSports tap into a more youthful demographic. It is these Millennials who are now coming of age and becoming ever more influential in this space; it’s estimated eSports’ core audience of approximately 145 million people is largely made of this demographic.

A prime example of this would be the League of Legends’ University eSports Masters, a hugely popular competition which pits teams representing universities and national leagues against their European rivals to compete for an overall title.

This technologically savvy demographic is increasingly relying on online entertainment, in turn helping to fuel eSports’ wild growth. As a result, eSports offer considerable instant value to brands looking for sponsorship opportunities, given its product is essentially available on tap 24/7 across the globe.

Case Study: Twitch in eSports vs live sport

Back in 2016, live video platform Twitch became the official streaming partner of eSports gaming events for immensely popular multiplayer games League of Legends, Call of Duty and Counter Strike. This agreement ensured Twitch are able to stream coverage of these tournaments to 100 million people instantaneously, completely free of charge.

To put this into perspective, more people in the United States watched watched the League of Legends Championship final than the NBA Finals, golf’s Masters Tournament or the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s fair to say eSports have made their mark – and are only going to get bigger.

What this means for mainstream rights holders – and what they can do about it

eSports are already selling out stadiums, commanding giant audiences online around the clock and attracting major brand sponsorships from the likes of Orange, Apple and Samsung. This means traditional mainstream sports rights holders are now faced with the challenge of deciding how to compete with eSports for global brands’ sponsorship budgets – or whether they should even take them on at all.

Indeed, some of these rights holders have already embraced this new industry by not viewing eSports as a competitor, but rather as another vehicle to grow their own brand. Paris Saint-Germain – one of Europe’s elite football clubs – decided in 2016 to create their own dedicated eSports team for League of Legends, for example. Although this team only ran for a year, it’s important to note this particular game is in no way linked to football; it simply helped the club to spread awareness and tap into an entirely new fanbase.

Key takeaway

Quite what are the correct strategies for mainstream sport rights holders to take on or co-opt this new market presence is yet to be seen. However, one thing is for certain: eSports are fast disrupting the landscape beyond recognition and they are here to stay.

They will not spell the end of mainstream sports sponsorship, but sensible commercial teams in this sphere will need to seriously review their proposition and strategy within the market – or risk being left behind altogether.