The $700 million global competitive gaming industry is one of the largest yet most underutilized marketing channels in the digital marketing space. In an era of growing skepticism toward traditional methods of advertising, esports offers a new and lucrative gateway for marketers to reach over 385 million people globally. In fact, even more than the hard-to-reach male population, esports is growing popular among women and the generation after millennials, Generation Z — the latter commands $44 billion in spending power, and is projected to become 40 percent of all American consumers by 2020.
You’d think that investing marketing dollars in a broad, digitally savvy, highly engaged audience like the esports fanbase would be a no-brainer. Surprisingly, only $280 million was spent on esports advertising last year, making up just a small fraction of the digital advertising market, which is projected to reach $130 billion by the end of the decade. Considering the opportunity for growth and obvious benefits esports has to offer, it’s strange that marketers are only just beginning to take notice of this new channel.
The esports industry hasn’t fully taken off just yet — but it is rife with opportunity. Because the esports audience is so digitally active on multiple devices, marketers can finally know how to effectively reach this widening yet notoriously elusive fanbase by understanding those audience across devices for more relevant messaging. However, there’s a narrow, and somewhat providential window for marketers to slide in before the space becomes too crowded and shuts all stragglers out permanently. The perfect storm of audience reach, targeting, measurement, and all-digital, esports has created an entirely new channel unlike any other currently in the market, and marketers need to tap into its enormous potential before it’s too late.
Converging sports and esports to reach all demographics
It isn’t just marketers who’ve been eyeing the esports industry. Traditional sports organizations are increasingly taking notice of, and entering into, the esports space. This year, the NBA announced a partnership with Take-Two Interactive Software to create the first competitive esports league in order to capture the video gaming community, while organizations like ESPN and NBC have made efforts to become a part of the young but rapidly growing industry. Just last month, the New York Yankees also announced that they were venturing into esports via a partnership with Vision Esports.
While traditional sports businesses try to grow their audiences by encouraging cross-over from traditional sports channels to esports and vice versa, marketers can leverage these new channels and partnerships to deepen their understanding of consumer behavior, and capture a share of both the esports fanbase and the traditional sports fanbase.
Though the current esports demographic is mainly comprised of millennials, nearly all traditional sports have, contrastingly, seen a rise in the average age of television viewers. As traditional sports merge with esports, marketers will be able to reach both young and old demographics through an industry that is uniquely bridging the gap between key audiences.
A digital-first platform of highly engaged consumers
TV viewership has been on a slow but steady decline due to the rise of smartphones and other multimedia devices. As our world becomes more digital, digital forms of marketing erode the effectiveness of traditional advertising, making it critical for marketers to reach consumers through “the new premium” — mobile and desktop.
However, because the esports ecosystem started on digital, marketers have an advantage when it comes to reaching the esports audience. Esports fans spend about 8.2 hours a week gaming, and an additional 2.4 hours online participating in esports-related activities. They also spend more than 20 hours a week on mobile and desktop for things like social networking, streaming unrelated content, or for general use.
Esports marketers don’t need to figure out how to adapt to a changing market because they already have access to all advertising channels in that market. This allows them to focus on delivering the right ads to the right people, rather than figuring out how to deliver the ads in the first place, saving precious time and energy.
But esports marketers don’t have it easy
Despite the advantages esports present, marketers should recognize that these fans are not low-hanging fruit. Gamers comprise a discerning group that is skeptical of marketing, and resists sponsorship or advertisements from brands they deem irrelevant or inappropriate to the gaming space. In particular, they don’t trust that brands are authentic or understand who they are as individuals, but would be open to endemic brands. And since they play for hours at a time, this audience is protective of the space and sensitive to frequency and repetition of ads, so digital marketers need to be sure to serve messages that are compelling, relevant, and fresh.
Since esports fans spend much of their time online, the best way marketers can deliver relevant ads to individuals is by getting to know them across devices. By analyzing people’s behavior across all devices, not just the ones they game on or use to watch esports, marketers will gain a clearer understanding of things like the best times for serving ads, and what messaging and content to serve in the first place. This helps ensure that marketers are delivering appropriately tailored messages that esports fans will be most receptive to.
Esports isn’t a niche hobby — it’s a global phenomenon
The esports community is a passionate, emotionally engaged one.
Ultimately, smart marketers are getting into esports early because they realize how rapidly the industry is exploding. In fact, some of the world’s largest companies — think Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Red Bull, Nissan and Intel — have already heavily invested in esports advertising.
Calling all digital marketers: don’t be left behind–there is more at stake than just the millennial male demographic as the esports industry grows more popular with the broader population. Get in now before this becomes one of the most competitive marketing channels to date.
Brian Ferrario is tasked with taking Drawbridge’s marketing efforts to the next level as its vice president of marketing.