You might not have noticed, but Worlds 2015 just wrapped up. Not the World Series, but something that for many of us is far more important: the League of Legends World Championship. It’s an esports competition, played in a huge arena and watched by more fans globally than the World Series itself.
Not surprisingly, esports are also catching on with marketers, albeit more slowly than they probably should. Part of the reason is that they come with big challenges, not least of which is that they don’t present the same marketing landscape as their traditional counterparts.
With most sports, TV commercials remain surprisingly effective. That’s because people watch the games live and don’t want to miss a moment of the action. With esports, buying ads is a little trickier. Their fans are often tech savvy, and their use of ad blockers is growing dramatically.
And if your audience does not want to see ads, you should look for more subtle and effective ways to reach them.
Speak the language
You have to immerse yourself in the fan culture of the particular game you’re targeting. When we watch golf, we know that its fan culture is quite different from that of football, even though you can be fans of both. In the one, a muted clap is the appropriate response to a brilliant play; while in the other screaming and high-fives are in order. Similarly, each esport has its own values and language. League of Legends fans, in particular, care perhaps more about sportsmanship and being a good teammate than about winning, and they have a complex vocabulary around words like “carry” and “lane.”
To illustrate how you can score big with culture, I’ll use an example that even those who don’t follow esports can get. On Facebook a few weeks ago, the Star Wars official page released the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted in reply that he loved Star Wars, and the official Star Wars page commented back, “We know.”
This may not seem funny to everyone, but to a Star Wars fan, it is extremely clever. You may recall in The Empire Strikes Back, Leia tells Han she loves him, and he replies, “I know.” The Star Wars page neatly echoed that scene, causing laughter in all corners of the Star Wars universe. With esports, brands will score big if they can tap into a similar level of awareness.
Embrace social media
If you’re looking for a place to start, consider social media. Esports fans tend to be heavy users of it, and especially Twitter. Major games and events are continually giving rise to new hashtags, which in turn produce heavy discussion. The important thing there is to not merely echo, but to add meaningfully to the conversation.
In addition, brands have opportunities that are analogous to those in traditional sports. You’ll often hear people talk of putting up a Coke billboard on the roadway during a racing game. This is not quite as easy as you might think, as games are copyrighted, and game makers are often reluctant to let brands in. Instead, you can pay to have your posters and midroll ads displayed at competitions.
Another promising avenue lies in team sponsorship. Red Bull, for example, now sponsors OpTic Gaming, an organization that fields several teams. Its competitor, Monster Energy, does the same for Evil Geniuses, which won the recent Worlds. But many more teams need sponsors than have them, making this a prime opportunity for forward-leaning brands.
Finally, there is an emerging and largely untapped opportunity in the video space. Top players and teams stream their games over networks like Twitch. Esports fans also follow a wide array of YouTube shows, some with professional-level production. With both, we can find similar opportunities to those we have with other influencers. A more native approach using sponsorship, product endorsement, or mid-roll advertising is definitely practical.
Esports are the next big thing for marketers. While they are developing as a marketing platform, good opportunities already exist for those who understand the games, their culture, and are willing to get creative. The audience may be a little more difficult to reach than that of other sports, but difficult, as anyone who plays these games knows, does not mean impossible.
Ben Reubenstein leads a team of highly dedicated, mobile-centric professionals to create engaging consumer experiences, and he also developed one of the first 150 iOS apps for App Store.