Last week the rapper Drake logged on to the Amazon-owned videogame streaming site Twitch to play “Fortnite” with one of the platform’s most-popular gamers, a man named Ninja.
The duo drew viewership that many cable channels might well envy, with 628,000 concurrent viewers.
“Seeing a top gamer and musician come together on Twitch and unite their large and passionate communities is a cultural moment in terms of building awareness around the appeal of social video -- and it's only going to grow from here,” said Kate Jhaveri, senior VP of marketing for Twitch, noting that the 628,000 figure broke all previous records for individual channels on the site.
The surprise gaming session was also a proof of concept: with viewership heavily focused on hard-to-reach young male consumers, esports is a prime opportunity for content creators and marketers.
Even without a famous rapper, millions tune in to various games each day.
As platforms like Twitch become destinations in their own right, and esports leagues become more formal in their structures, the opportunities for brands to engage becomes clearer.
“Early on, esports had a lot of different players that made up different pieces of the value chain, and I think this confused a lot of brands who were considering getting involved in [it],” said Josh Cella, head of global partnerships at Major League Gaming, at the "eSports Activate” conference earlier this month. “MLG and other esports entities and organizations are starting to clean that up, so the leagues are more structured, with a beginning, middle and an end, and they’re not just disparate events.”
As with other forms of video advertising, a key for both brands and esports leagues is authenticity. Marketing that feels forced may not resonate with viewers.
“The esports audience has a nose for BS. They don’t like ‘logo slaps’, but they do like value exchange with a brand,” said Hi-Rez Studios COO Todd Harris at the conference. “This group is jaded about traditional advertising, but when there is good content that they otherwise couldn’t have—whether in the game or on YouTube or wherever the platforms may be—or some legitimate value exchange, they will promote it tremendously.”
The opportunity goes beyond just gamers. While many gamers may split their time between playing the games and watching the top players play or compete, more casual gamers are tuning in as well. T
hat was the case with Drake and Ninja: a famous rapper and a top-level player teaming up. In many ways it mirrors the audience for more traditional sports like basketball or baseball. Fans may play the games casually, but they watch professionals to see what the best players can do.
“Esports now has two different audiences,” said Guy Costantini, Skydance Media vice president of global interactive marketing, at the conference. “There are the people who have ample time to play games for hours on hours per week, and then there’s an audience who want to watch people play at the highest level, but don’t have the time to dedicate multiple hours to a game.”
The landscape has certainly become a lucrative one for professional gamers like Ninja. Appearing on CNBC Monday, he said he earns $500,000 per month, driven by marketing deals, as well as subscription support from fans and followers.