eSports Sponsorship: Winning Consumer Attention and Engagement

March 15, 2016

Tags: , , ,

Categories:Brands, Insight, Marketing, marketplace, Sponsorship

Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire via Gratisography.com

Marketers are beginning to pay attention to electronic sports (eSports). As video games continue to evolve from hobby to leading form of entertainment, consumer attention has also become a rare commodity. Into this picture, enters the eSports experience; built atop wildly popular video game ecosystems, it draws massive levels of attention from hard-to-reach audiences. With sponsors in a never-ending race for consumer attention and engagement, eSports offers new types of storytelling and fun insights, innovative forms of interaction with players, teams, and content creators across a rapidly expanding global landscape.

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Engagement is the new reach

Today’s world of increasingly interconnected social networks, brought to life on digital platforms, has birthed a new definition of reach. This flatter, digitally connected world has created numerous, distinct pockets of interest. Nowhere is this clearer than in the world of electronic sports, where unique segments have formed around the competitive play of various video game titles; reaching each requires building genuine touch with the associated community.

Where the eSports opportunity shines is the number of, relatively untapped, channels available to directly engage hard-to-reach audiences. With mediums like live streaming and social media natively built in, eSport properties are equipped to support a flavor of intimate connection found in very few other places. This, alone, makes eSports an intriguing, and worthwhile sponsorship platform.

Genuine engagement with specific eSports communities, in a way that relates to its members, is an optimal approach to driving deeper sponsor connections with highly valuable target audiences. To do so, an understanding of the unique nature of each game title community must be integrated into sponsorship strategies; as these fragmented communities hold the key to effective activation.

“People have different tastes in games. There are totally different genres. There’s very little overlap,” said George Woo, events organizer at Intel. “They are truly unique communities.”

— “Could New Gaming Titles Unite eSports Fans?” by Ethan Gach

Touching the future of engagement

At their core, eSports communities are conversations surrounding shared interest(s). From Reddit sub-threads to Twitch chat during matches, unswerving dialogue and interactivity are building blocks. Engaging these audiences entails focusing on quality of impact over sheer magnitude as a key performance indicator. Successful corporate sponsors will feature deep integration with the tone, and alignment with the culture, of the surrounding discourse. In essence, they will speak the same language as those in the community and be rewarded for it.

Note: It is here that identifying and connecting with key influencers can be a solid strategy. These notables are directly representative of various segments within the eSports world, and can foster a great deal of authenticity for sponsorship programs.

Action points for building touch

  • Invest personally. The eSports landscape is built to millennial tastes, meaning brands must cultivate a personal angle. See: Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, a leading eSports sponsor, challenging Mark Cuban to a game of League of Legends as part of IEM San Jose last fall.
  • Like it or leave it. eSports is home to an overwhelming majority of highly passionate supporters. Connecting with this contingency requires more than just saying “we like the same things,” it demands being able to prove it, the true essence of authenticity.
  • Join the conversation. At its core, eSports is a celebration of gaming culture. In order to maximize sponsorship partnerships, brands must look to fully participate in the dialogue, both online and offline. This involves more than lending name association or paying to have logos appear on jerseys. See: Coca Cola’s integration with its eSports activation on social media.
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The rising cost of attention

If today’s world is marked by a fragmentation of interests, it is also plagued by the rising cost of attention. The struggle to get, and maintain, the attention of audiences is driving an arms race in 21st century approaches to marketing. No longer is it sufficient to simply advertise on TV or throw money at online ads; especially when targeting younger digital natives, whose second nature is cord cutting and ad blocking.

The “Holy Grail” for brands has become authentic connection to the passion points underpinning high levels of attention; eSports features this opportunity in spades and at a hugely inexpensive price point. This enables sponsors to create cutting-edge programs that return high multiples of ROI at a scant cost. Due to its nascent state, eSports also yields the invaluable opportunity to “get in early” on an expanding category of properties. Where traditional sport, for all its maturity and stability, is a crowded marketing landscape fit with high costs of entry.

The tuned in, attentive nature of eSports audiences is driven by undeniable passion and enthusiasm. In essence, they pay close attention because they care. Against the backdrop of a dialed in community of enthusiasts, attempting to maximize impressions is imprudent. Instead, it is more profitable to align with various passion points that resonate with specific target segments. Fortunately, these passion points are transparent. However, they are also sensitive to overt commercialism. A reality that calls for creative, less gimmicky sponsor programs which don’t clutter or interrupt the eSports experience.

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Action points for capturing passion points

  • Don’t be a culture vulture – To be a part of the eSports landscape, it’s imperative to play an active role. Unlike traditional sports, eSports has yet to find widespread acceptance by mainstream culture(s). Therefore, effort must be made to align with the distinctive mix of competition, video game culture and fandom that marks competitive gaming.
  • Embrace tough love – Electronic sport communities are candid to the point of being blunt. This is a world allergic to PR and message crafting. Herein, transparency rules and backpedaling is ruthlessly persecuted. See: the Reddit uproar surrounding the sudden firing of a popular on-air personality, James “2GD” Harding.
  • Realize there is no offseason – Competitive gaming is like a fire that rages year-round. And given its global nature, on a 24/7 basis. Interest does not peak and wane solely based on whether top professional matches are being played. This creates a sizable opportunity for engagement, along a totally different wavelength found in traditional sports.

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Alex Fletcher is founder & CEO at eSports Group, an eSports strategic consulting firm committed to meeting the demands of companies that want to reach young, digitally-minded consumers. Based in the Washington DC area, he consults and advises with companies to ensure the best possible returns in the eSports industry. Follow him on Twitter – @FletchUnleashed or contact by email – afletcher@entivagroup.net

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