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The majority of esports leagues have moved their competitions online over the last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes marquee events such as the Overwatch League and League of Legends Championship Series, which canceled their in-person competitions. It’s a major change for most, but Immortals CEO Ari Segal maintains that esports are going back to their roots.

“Esports live digitally, to the extent that there is a real-life component that sits on top of the core product and enhances the user and audience experience,” he said.

Segal was part of a GamesBeat Summit 2020 panel that explored the mainstream success of esports and how the industry has dominated the news cycle since all other sports have been postponed due to the coronavirus.

Segal and others emphasized that esports going all-online wasn’t much of a change from the viewpoint of viewers and brands. They believe the rest of the world is changing on a macro level during the pandemic. The “otherness” of digital meetings and events is going away, with more offices holding meetings over Zoom and online happy hours and other get-togethers.

All the panelists (Segal, Mark Chang of Intel, Joe Barnes of Anheuser-Busch, and Grace Dolan of Samsung) agreed that esports are already mainstream, but the pandemic’s wake has thrust them into the limelight. The panel focused on how marketers need to adjust their strategies for a more general audience, without losing the authentic angle that tells players that brands like Intel and Samsung “aren’t just there to sell them ads.”

“If you talk to the majority consumers […] they identify as a gamer,” said Samsung’s Grace Dolan. According to a study released from Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, about 67 percent of Americans, or 211 million people, play video games on one type of device.

Dolan expanded on the idea that your approach to a gaming audience needs to be both broad and inclusive to match those numbers. Brands like Intel, Samsung, and Anheuser-Busch are looking for avenues where they can reach new consumers … folks they wouldn’t find running ads during NBA or NHL games.

“League of Legends has a bigger audience than the NBA or NHL, but it’s a different audience,” said Anheuser-Busch’s Joe Barnes. “For us, we’re trying to convert young consumers. They’re a new cohort of fans we haven’t been talking to.”

Chang, Barnes, and Dolan talked about how marketing campaigns need to target how brands are trying to improve the player experience, whether that be how Intel and Samsung directly improve hardware performance or how Anheuser-Busch “offers fun and exciting new content.” Barnes said that Bud Light won’t help players improve their game, but the LCS post game show they’ve partnered with is something their audience could enjoy with a beer on a nightly basis.

“It’s just about elevating experiences,” Segal said. “Notice I didn’t say if it was a live or digital experience; it’s just about elevating that experience.”