Brands such as Red Bull, Coke, Intel and Nissan are getting in on the ground floor by sponsoring and partnering with players, teams and organizations at the live video game tournaments.
Former NBA champ Rick Fox said the industry was on the verge of something massive when he bought an e-sports team last year for an undisclosed amount; Amazon bought gaming outlet Twitch in 2014 for almost $1 billion; and broadcasters are scoping aggregation rights to e-sports events.
But that's clearly just the start of the relationship between e-sports and marketing.
Look at the audience, as engaged and dedicated as any professional sport fans. (See the many Reddit pages, blogs, social accounts and news sites dedicated to keeping gamers informed and competitive.)
And if you can't quite link professional sports to e-sports, look no further than celeb gamers. Seth Abner, known by "Scump," is a 20-year-old professional gamer with over a million Twitter followers. Gamer Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag has more than 1.6 million Twitter followers, recently started his own e-sports organization called "100 Thieves," and has a sponsorship from Red Bull. These gamers are on par with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to the mostly 18- to 34-year-olds who make up the e-sports audience.
Here are more facts about e-sports enthusiasts:
-- A report from The NPD Group found 44% of current gamers have watched either a formal eSports competition or some video streaming of gameplay in the past six months. Of those who watch, 46% are watching at least weekly (and spending nearly three hours on average per watching session).
-- E-sports consumers are more likely to own tech devices (desktop computer, connected TV, connected device, etc.) and spend more time in front of screens, according to PwC.
-- Gamers who watch e-sports spend more on games (including consoles, games, accessories, subscriptions and events) than gamers who don't watch the events, per the PwC report.
--The e-sports global audience is estimated to be more than 200 million people mostly outside the U.S., according to a report from Robert W. Baird & Co.
It's clear an opportunity is there. Will marketers follow? They probably should.
PwC finishes its report, "The burgeoning evolution of eSports," by saying that the e-sports consumer represents "a vast source of untapped potential" for marketing, and that "revenue opportunities abound" -- including digital ads. Who knows, maybe programmatic will take the first leap on e-sports, targeting enthusiasts with ads for new consoles or an energy drink.