Last week, Sports Business Journal and The Esports Observer brought together esports industry experts from various teams, publishers, and other companies for Esports Rising. During the conference, panelists discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, steps being taken to improve diversity and inclusion, and projected trends leading into the new year.
Here are a few key insights panelists shared during the event:
Data Drives Riot’s In-Game Banner Initiative
Riot Games made headlines earlier this year with the introduction of sponsor banners placed inside League of Legends during esports broadcasts. Several high profile non-endemic brands signed up for inclusion in the program including Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Spotify. Riot Games head of esports partnerships and business development for North America Matt Archambault explained that the placement of the banners, and the value of each location, was developed using data from Nielsen.
“We obviously have heat maps of where people are playing in the early game, mid game, late game, like where all the action is taking place. Right? And so in working with them we were able to explore. Do we add another banner here or do we not do a banner here? I think it was really interesting with the view that we do have and the way that we were able to juxtapose those banners in. You were still able to see a ton of brand clarity and the logo integration.”
Know The Audience on Each Platform
With the global pandemic essentially eliminating live events, many brands discovered that there is still a great deal of value available through the social media platforms and content creation engines that top esports organizations have on offer. FaZe Clan has been a leader in the modern influencer-driven approach to esports content, and part of the organization’s strategy involves developing strategies specific to each platform.
“We don’t take one piece of content and just push it out across all platforms,” explained FaZe COO Jaci Hays. “We really create content specific to the platform. If any of you guys have kids, you watch how they do it. We watch it on a big, massive scale at FaZe plan, but when you’re on TikTok you’re on TikTok, so we create content for our TikTok audience. We do the same with Instagram, whether it’s stories, hard posts or IGTV, and we do the same on Twitter. And then of course on our big streaming platform with Twitch and on YouTube, but they’re all different, and we speak to those audiences differently.”
It’s About Community
Brand engagement has evolved dramatically in esports over the last few years. The industry offers companies the unique chance to not only reach their target audience, but to be appreciated for doing so. Esports fans appreciate a brand that authentically engages with the community. BMW doubled down on its commitment to this approach with its five-team United in Rivalry campaign, as head of marketing Pia Schörner explained:
“I think the main thing was to promise that our goal is not a simple logo of product placements, because this is something which nobody is interested in, in the community as well on the teams. So we promise this is not our goal. We want to be part of it. We want to be part of your teams. We want to give you benefits. We want to push you and that’s the reason why we could convince everybody of them. And it’s really great fun working with these guys.”
In-Person Esports Aren’t Going Anywhere
Between Activision Blizzard’s home event plans and general growth of live esports competition, there were dedicated esports venues popping up all over the place last year. Comcast Spectacor and Populous even committed to a $50M construction project to create a home for the Philadelphia Fusion. When the pandemic hit, and esports made a relatively smooth transition online, some on the outside speculated that online esports would become the new normal.
However, Populous senior principal Brian Mirakian made it clear that across the world the industry is planning to go right back to meeting in person as soon as possible.
“So what we’ve seen is still a lot of global investment. Look, there’s been been parts of this world that have not been impacted as significantly as we have here in the United States and North America. Asia is essentially back to normal. Investment is occurring there, the Middle East. You’re going to see a lot of work in the near term future of significant projects in the Middle East that are starting to happen. And we’re going to return here too, right?”
Fighting Games Offer a Smaller, Stable Opportunity
So much of the conversation surrounding brand and investor activity in esports focuses on the biggest titles and leagues – League of Legends, Overwatch, Call of Duty, etc. However, there are dozens of other games which have robust, active competitive scenes ripe for investment. One such space is the Fighting Game Community, which collects a variety of games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Super Smash Bros. Panda Global CEO Alan Bunney explained that as one of the longest-running esports scenes, the FGC doesn’t carry the risk of turnover that some newer games may have.
“Sure they have ups and downs, but they’re never going anywhere. So I also say it’s incredibly safe to do these titles. You know these titles will always have sort of a base level and when they have a sequel or a new game, they’ll have that uptick, they’ll have that new audience and it’ll just keep slowly growing over time and hitting those great metrics. So for brands, I basically showed them, look, you can get amazing engagement. You can do really authentic things with these gamers and they’ll really care about it.”
Get Ready for the Collegiate Esports Boom
Collegiate video game competition isn’t especially new, but the pandemic forced many universities and colleges to explore the industry in earnest with traditional sports handicapped or outright unavailable as a revenue driver.
Collegiate StarLeague has been working in the space for roughly a decade, and chairman Wim Stocks has seen how it has grown over time. What’s exciting about the space, however, is how much room for growth still remains.
“It wasn’t rocket science to get there, but it has been astounding, the growth, that we’ve been 30, 40% growth year over year, the last four years. And now, we’re still not saturated. We’re still not at a point where all schools are involved and we certainly are encouraging more schools to get involved.”
When Will Esports on TV Become the Norm?
This is one of the big questions hovering around the esports space. Media rights are where the big bucks lie for most major traditional sports, but esports still generates the bulk of its revenue from sponsorships. According to TV industry veteran and Andbox advisory board chairman David Levy, there are still some big questions remaining about television’s ability to capture the esports audience.
“Now the question is really going to be down the road, 18 to 34-year-olds are leaving the TV set. I mean, they’re just abandoning it. And rightfully so, they’re on the streaming products, they’re on all different ways. They’re playing games, they’re into esports, right? So can that bring them back to television? Big question mark is can you draw them back to something they don’t normally do? They do come back to the Superbowl, they do come back for big events. So if there’s a big tournament event, I think they would come back.”