Understanding the Rise of Brands in eSports

December 1, 2015

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Categories:Analysis, Industry, Insight, Marketing, outlook, Sponsorship

This is part 7 of eSports Group’s eSports Marketing Playbook. See part 6, here.

As the worldwide profile for eSports continues to intensify, so does the concept of eSports ‘brand’ and ‘branding.’ Whereas most focus has been on the brands outside the realm of competitive gaming, a clear picture of the brands within the eSports phenomenon must be addressed. And while assuming equivalence between eSports and traditional sports brands is easy, it’s more important to understand the key variances. Doing so will assist in illuminating related facets of successful eSports marketing.

“Brand is to an organization as personality is to an individual; without it you are merely the sum of your parts.”

— Merlin Duff, The Truth About Branding

The power of connection

eSports branding maintains artifacts, central to all forms of branding, including the names, logos, and symbols associated with a given organization. However, branding is more than just the manipulation of these visceral marks. In reality, they are a starting point for triggering other feelings and attitudes toward the associated organization. Recently this definition has been extended to include other entities outside of companies or organizations, such as people and individual products. Either way, brands create an identity, which is central to successful marketing efforts.

Branding encapsulates the thoughts and feelings evoked by recognizing the marks of a particular brand. Within the context of eSports, this is determined by the experiences of a given eSports consumer. This is somewhat complicated by the nascent stage of competitive gaming. In that, eSports does not have the longevity of more established domains. Still, in a fraction of time, eSports has managed to generate a strong set of related experiences for a growing number of its consumers. Expect that set of experiences to intensify, in parallel to the number of consumers, over the next two to five years.

In contrast to traditional sports, eSports have evolved without a focus on developing a marketplace for goods and services. Instead, a committed community of enthusiasts has buoyed growth. This reality is supported by a strong connection to the wider video gaming community that an overwhelming majority of eSports consumers ascribe membership. Basically, most eSports consumers are gamers. These interlocked circles of connection and identity represent a potent source of affinity, extending past the spectator angle (see figure 1). Lending eSports brands access to deep, lasting connections with its consumers.

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Figure 1 – Courtesy of The Nielsen eSports Report, 2015

Brand equity

The goal of branding is to achieve a strong image in the consumer’s mind, doing so realizes brand equity. A clear definition of brand equity is the ‘net worth’ linked to a brand, including assets and liabilities, factored into the value provided by any other products or services. Yet, achieving high brand equity requires time and effective effort. Most brands in eSports have not existed long enough to rival the brand equity of traditional sports counterparts, like Manchester United or Nike. However, there is an emerging class with impressive levels of brand equity:

  • Fnatic – Leading eSports organization with professional teams in the most popular games such as: League of Legends, DoTA 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and more. Its teams are front-runners and consistent winners having been crowned world champions across multiple game titles. Fnatic’s features a roster of players which represent the brand across the entire globe. The organization boasts over 3 million followers on social media and is a respected mainstay within the eSports community.
  • Twitch – Probably the most well-known brand in the eSports universe, Twitch is the hub for eSports content across the world. The site has a general video game focus, but has emerged as the go-to source for broadcasts of video game competitions. The best and brightest gaming pros also use Twitch to connect with their fans and supporters. Twitch has effectively established itself as the pre-eminent platform for connecting eSports/video game content creators and consumers.
  • Riot Games – Publisher of the world’s top eSport title in the world, League of Legends. The game, Riot’s first and only release, reportedly attracts over 67 million players each month. Riot has engineered a competitive scene by creating a series of world championship tournaments and regional leagues. The Los Angeles, CA based company is the de-facto standard for a successful eSport and a model for publishers seeking to integrate a competitive scene into a game title.

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Figure 2 – Courtesy of eSportsObserver.com

Each of these organizations has built a strong image in the mind of eSports consumers and realized brand equity. Against the backdrop of a still developing industry, brand equity has created opportunities to launch new revenue channels and grow various lines of business. For instance, Fnatic acquired the Swedish manufacturer Func, in November 2015, to create its own gaming peripherals dubbed Fnatic Gear (see figure 2). With CEO Wouter Sleijffers stating the organization wants to become, “the lifestyle brand for eSports.”

The way forward

Regardless of the setting, branding entails much more than managing logos and marks. Successful brands in eSports create both awareness and a strong image for their products. These endeavors result in a variety of benefits, including increased revenue and enhanced customer loyalty. A strong brand will attract sponsors with the potential that brand associations will transfer image attributes to the sponsor. Case in point is Coca Cola’s partnership with Riot Games. Before the sponsorship, Coke was a non-entity in eSports. One year later Coca-Cola was the #1 non-video game brand associated with League of Legends. As the marketplace for eSports goods and services takes shape, anticipate strong brand equity to play a major role in determining the winners and losers.

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Alex Fletcher is founder & president at eSports Group, where he helps customers meet their eSports advisory & consulting needs. When Alex isn’t glued to a screen, he spends time with his wife, their two dogs, and pretends to learn Polish. Feel free to stalk him on Twitter – @FletchUnleashed

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