While the masses are familiar with Bryce Harper, there is another, lesser-known major leaguer on the rise. Let’s take Lee Sang-Hyeok for example. This South Korean League of Legends champion has earned over $1.1 million through his sponsorships and participation in the e-leagues.
For those keeping score, this is more than double the wage of some of the MLB players only earning $555,000 this season. It is also proof that the increasingly more lucrative eyeballs on esports (fans who watch professional gamers compete digitally and live in arenas) are quickly catching up with the traditional sports.
In fact, this year, we are on target to reach the tipping point, where more people watching e-games streaming live, than so-called real sports. In 2018, there were 60 million unique viewers for a Midseason League of Legends event. Only, 17.6 million people tuned in to watch the World Series last year.
Fans Will Be Fans
So what does this mean for marketers? Are the behaviors of fans watching people compete in digital sports the same as those watching physical sports? Will they interact with brands in the same way? Will brands have to bring a different play to capture these fans enjoying esports?
It’s important to remember this isn’t a new phenomenon. It is simply evolved.
Why do people throng in their millions to watch people play sports via avatars and animated characters? For the same reason they throng together to watch athletes who use their bodies for real-life achievements — because there is pleasure in the viewing of excellence.
The new Mike Trout will be a gamer who has fans and accolades in just the same way. This is the key difference that’s developing within the world of esports. Fans will follow a star versus a sport or game type. It’s all about the who, not the what. If a player is funny, quirky or plainly ridiculously competitive, it makes for great entertainment.
Marketers must also understand the relationship fans have with both the players and the hosts. When it comes to an event, the host is key. The best e-hosts mimic the hosts in the live analog sports world; they have in-depth knowledge of the game, know all the back story and history of the players, which they pepper in with fast-moving action commentary.
However, and here’s a fundamental difference, part of the allure of esports is minimal breaks and time outs. As soon as the game starts, it doesn’t pause until the end and every second literally counts. In Starcraft for example, rushing to have the army ready two seconds before your opponent will change the course of the battle.
Opportunity is Everywhere
The key for marketers to unlock this world are the same core principles, whether the target is packing the Staples Center watching League of Legends or Overwatch on Twitch. Understand how your brand can play a role in that world — which adds utility, brings entertainment or offers an (intrinsic or extrinsic) value.
Innovative brands will get quickly beyond the pitch side e-billboard ads or content in the half-time short ad breaks and create that magical moment when fans experience a brand mattering to them, not marketed to them.
Intel have embedded themselves deep into the sector with $1 million prizes at Intel Grand Slam events. Coca-Cola has extended its sponsorship to cover the “entire competitive Overwatch e-sports ecosystem” and created the first ever eCOPA tournament to develop grass roots talent.
GameStop is sponsoring a complex for e-sports next to the Dallas Cowboys training complex, a clever move to add physical presence to an industry in the webisphere.
And more brands are coming.
They see opportunities to target a group they find it increasingly hard it reach with traditional sports marketing. Mercedes-Benz vice president, marketing Jens Thiemer was quoted as saying, Mercedez-Benz is “following the extremely fast-growing esports segment and … is firmly of the opinion this new involvement will complement our existing sports sponsorship activities with an eye on the future.”
Just as the gaming industry passed the net worth of Hollywood (exceeding it by $4 billion last year), it makes sense the esports industry will soon be chomping at the heels of the physical sports industry. At the pace of 22.3% compound annual growth rate, the esports market is expected to top $1.8 billion by 2020, according to Newzoo’s Global E-Sports Market Report. The majority of that spend is coming from sponsorships and advertising.
So this baseball season, whatever your industry and sector, consider the world of esports as your next playing field.