eSports Sponsorship Insight – February 2016

The eSports Sponsorship Insight is a monthly report containing analysis, perspective, and news on the electronic sports sponsorship marketplace. The report is published by eSports Group, a leading eSports consulting agency based in Washington, DC. For more info, please contact us here.

Profile | Red Bull eSports

Energy drink and lifestyle brand, Red Bull, recently added another competitive gamer to its roster of athletes. This time it is Super Smash Bros. Melee (SSMB) player William “Leffen” Hjelte who is currently affiliated with Team SoloMid (TSM), one of the top eSports organizations in North America. To clarify, TSM maintains affiliation with several players/teams competing across different game titles, including: League of Legends and Hearthstone; each featuring individual communities with different characteristics and dynamics.

Red Bull’s title, as the most popular energy drink in the entire world, is fashioned through strong advertising, tournament sponsorships, and athlete/celebrity endorsements. The bulk of the company’s international marketing strategy is centered on extreme sports, such as snowboarding, skateboarding, Formula 1 racing and motocross. However, competitive gaming has continued to emerge as a key activity space for Red Bull, since its start in 2008.  Known for courting the endorsement power of traditional athlete celebrities like Black Griffin and Shaun White, Red Bull has solidified its image and brand power amongst the young male demographic; mostly by avoiding traditional marketing channels. The growing continuum of electronic sports has proven a valuable opportunity to continue this approach.

The sponsorship of Leffen reaffirms Red Bull’s commitment to the entire spectrum of eSports. Despite Leffen’s individual popularity, the SSMB competitive community is not as well-known as others. However, the energy drink company’s move to embrace a top player in a lesser known game title fits its strategic profile of successful grass roots marketing in eSports. One focused on the development of gaming champions. Having assembled an impressive portfolio of events, players, and even a performance center, all targeted at pro gaming, the Red Bull brand maintains a strong position in the rapidly growing space for digital athletics.

Strategy | The eSports Sponsorship Code

Despite the obvious potential of eSports as a sponsorship platform, investment by non-endemic companies remains low. Several key obstacles to activation serve as a wall between potential sponsors and eSport properties. However, there is a growing category of frontrunners that continue to forge a new use cases for non-endemics across the world. One such company is Vodafone. The world’s second biggest mobile phone carrier entered the competitive gaming landscape by signing a sponsorship deal with the G2 eSports organization.

Interestingly enough, even at this early stage, Vodafone’s investment in eSports trails fellow mobile carriers, Verizon and T-Mobile, which have already tapped into the space. The Vodafone partnership contains several details that should contextualize the strategic plans for other potential sponsors, considering an entrance into eSports.

  • The sponsored team will compete in a lower division for the massively popular League of Legends (LoL) game title, under the banner of G2.Vodafone. This roster is entirely separate from the G2 organization’s other LoL team, G2.Kinguin, which already competes in the top European division (EU League Champion Series). In essence, Vodafone purchased naming rights for a recently formed, second-tier team.
  • Vodafone Spain spearheaded the G2 partnership; this is no coincidence. Spain, home to G2 eSports, is an early leader in eSports marketing investments. For example, Spanish professional basketball team, Baskonia, recently completed the immersion of an eSports division with integrated sponsorship support from Mars Gaming. The country’s positive cultural tone towards competitive gaming plays a big factor.
  • The ability to achieve global reach through eSports is oftentimes misunderstood. Even though live video streams take competitive gaming competitions to every corner of the globe, there is still a strong opportunity to target national and local segments. The challenge lies in reconciling a lack of built-in regional affinity.

Update | February 2016

Online digital marketplace G2A announced a partnership with SK Gaming, and found itself accused of allegedly failing to pay out sponsorship money to eSports organization compLexity. A well-known and integral brand within the gaming industry, G2A remains both a key player and lightning rod for controversy within the eSports sponsorship marketplace.

DraftKings withdrew the slew of eSports sponsorships that were just announced in fall 2015. Several top eSports organizations removed DraftKings logos from jerseys and digital properties, but no official statements have been issued. The eSports fantasy offering is still available on the company’s website.

Online gaming operator Betway brokered a deal to become the title sponsor of the ‘Fight Night’ eSports event. The one-off exhibition featured top teams Astralis and Fnatic – competing in the Counter Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) game title. Long known for its thriving betting community, CS:GO factors heavily into Betway’s eSports vertical.

Computer hardware manufacturer MSI inked a pair of sponsorship deals with leading eSports organizations Cloud9 and Fnatic. The Cloud9 partnership guarantees exclusivity, while Fnatic’s covers logo space for all teams under the organization’s umbrella.

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