Top 10 New or Expanding Brands in Esports for 2020 – The Esports Observer


While the storyline for esports in 2020 has been the cancellation or postponement of events due to the health and safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were some positive signs, one of which was seeing first time sponsors enter the space.

When the IEM Katowice Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament closed its doors to the public on the day the main event started due to the local government shutting down the venue, it signaled that there would be many more cancellations or postponements occurring all over the world. This was a significant worry to league and tournament organizers everywhere as this unprecedented event took its toll on the event space.  

How would these companies and event esports organizations stay afloat as money would dry up and stop coming in. However, when those who ran events started to shift online, the viewership came with it and sponsorships came alive.

Sponsors old and new weathered the COVID-19 storm, and while the usuals such as Razer, Logitech, Intel, and others stayed strong, a number of brands that may have been testing the waters made splashes. Here now are the Top 10 new brands and/or those that made significant increases of investment in the 2020 esports sponsorship space.

No. 10 – Levi’s

Credit: The NUEL

Levi’s, the American clothing company known for its denim jeans, entered the esports world when it announced its partnership with NUEL, the UK-based scholastic esports organizer. The deal would see Levi’s logo placed on NUEL’s website and social media accounts at least for the 2020 Winter Season.

The interesting thing here is that Levi’s is a brand usually associated with the blue collar working class, with commercials showing cowboys and farm hands wearing the jeans, but then has seen a shift to casual wear. And in yet another shift, in 2013 the company purchased the naming rights to the home stadium of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers in a 20-year deal valued at $220.3M USD.

As you will see, something that appears to be becoming a trend, Levi’s believes, like many others, that esports is becoming a mainstream entertainment property to be added to sponsorship portfolios.

No. 9 – Duracell

Credit: Ellevens

With Duracell and Energizer fighting it out for battery brand supremacy, the way they market and where they market have seen the two take divergent paths. Energizer seems to have attached itself to traditional sports, while Duracell has had thoughts of entering the esports space since 2015 when it sponsored the Duracell Longest Lasting Tournament, a Madden NFL tournament that saw the winner receive tickets to Super Bowl XLIX. Now, Duracell is back with football, just not the traditional gridiron American version.

This past December, Duracell became the team sponsor of Ellevens Esports, a UK-based esports organization co-owned by Tottenham Hotspur player Gareth Bale and 38 Entertainment Group. This deal saw the two come together to create a sponsorship kit that will see the battery company’s logo on Ellevens Esports virtual jerseys inside the FIFA 21 Ultimate game. 

According to the European Sponsorship Association, Duracell’s jump into the space “represents an interesting focus for the brand as gaming in the UK experienced a huge surge in numbers during the lockdown, due to more time being spent by people at home and online.  Duracell’s own consumer research shows there has been an increase in video computer gameplay during March to October 2020 of up to 30%” 

No. 8 – Chupa Chups

Credit: Vodafone Giants

When you associate yourself with a team that has brands such as Nike, Versus Gamers, Drift, and more, you know you’re on the right path. This past April, Vodafone Giants, a Spanish esports organization, signed a partnership with Chupa Chups, a gourmet lollipop and confectionery maker.

Chupa Chups was looking for new avenues in which to reach other audiences and drove it home with this partnership.

Founded in 2008, the Giants fields professional teams in Call of Duty, Rocket League, FIFA, Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege, and Valorant. Giants, Team Heretics and G2 Esports are the three most well-known esports organizations in Spain and landing a deal with either one is the first step in gaining a foothold as a sponsor not only in the region, but globally as well.

No. 7 – Babybel

Credit: Team Heretics/Le Groupe Bel

One of the major themes of this list is that companies don’t necessarily need to land world-wide sponsors to be considered. A company such as Babybel, a cheese snack brand owned by the Le Groupe Bel, can get a win by first associating itself with a regional powerhouse such as Team Heretics.

Team Heretics has taken 2020 by storm becoming very competitive in Fortnite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rainbow Six: Siege, and Valorant. While it appears that Heretics has dropped its CS:GO team, the organization is looking to go all in as far as Valorant is concerned.

Babybel joined companies such as adidas, Logitech, GFUEL, KFC, and others in partnering with Heretics.

No. 6 – TD Bank

Credit: OverActive Media Group

It was last August when TD Bank jumped into the esports sponsorship space, announcing that it had become the official bank of Overactive Media’s Overwatch League team, the Toronto Defiant. TD would add the other Canadian Overwatch team–the Vancouver Titans, in November to become the official bank for both of the esports organizations.

TD is now associated with both of Canada’s official Overwatch teams as the league continues to thrive.

No. 5 – United States Navy 

Credit: U.S. Navy/DreamHack

It was only a matter of time. The demographics for video game and esports players naturally fits the bill for the recruiting efforts of the United States Armed Forces. In fact, when the Navy put out a release stating that it was shifting over 97% of its advertising budget to the digital space, the time had arrived.

The Navy went all in on the esports advertising space sponsoring numerous events and tournaments. Most notably for the Navy were the deals it signed with Twitch, ESL, and the esports news outlet DBLTP. Not only that, but the Navy also entered into a partnership with Evil Geniuses that saw a content series created surrounding the formation of the Navy CS:GO team and how it would be trained by EG.

In regards to its deal with ESL, the Navy became the presenting sponsor at DreamHack Anaheim and had a very large presence at the event.

The deal with DBLTAP saw a collaboration between the two that would develop a “Role Comparison” that would “compare different rates in the Navy with specific roles on an esports team.”

While the Armed Forces have been in the esports space for the past few years, the amount of money the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines put into esports as sponsors in 2020 was significantly more from the previous year.

No. 4 – Rothman Orthopaedics

Credit: Philadelphia Fusion

Esports medicine, along with media rights, pivoting from live to online events, and ecosystem sustainability were major topics in esports for 2020. Rothman Orthopaedics partnering with the Philadelphia Fusion of the Overwatch League was huge in terms of brands entering the space.

The five-year agreement would see Fusion players get medical treatment, both active and preventative, to help the team deal with overuse injuries sustained such as sprained wrists, stiff backs, or even carpal tunnel. This put Fusion in the same plan that Rothman has with most of Philadelphia’s sports teams including the Eagles (NFL) and Phillies (MLB).

The reality here is that Rothman is hitting all the right demos and adding a new list of potential clients to bolster business. Although it isn’t pleasant to see people injured or hurt, Rothman can say that it treats some of the most elite esports players in the world and that those people that work at a desk with a computer or play games will now have somewhere to go with people that can give proper care.

No. 3 – Getty Images

Credit: Riot Games

The iconic photo depository we know as Getty Images partnered with Riot Games this past year to become the official photo image and distribution partner for League of Legends global esports events. The partnership also saw Getty Images become the licensing agent for the esport through 2024. This was the second deal Getty Images made in 2020 as the company also announced a partnership with the W Series Esports League, the all-women racing simulation competition.

This move for Getty Images hits an entirely new age demographic that isn’t using the site for academic or journalistic purposes. Getting the word out early to such a new audience while at the same time adding this new genre of sport to its portfolio seems like a great move to ensure growth as it relates its licensing portfolio.

No. 2 – IBM

Credit: Activision Blizzard

Hello Watson, welcome to esports. IBM made news when it announced last October that the American multinational technology and consulting company would be making its first entry into esports by partnering with Activision Blizzard and its Overwatch League.

According to Adam Stern from the Sports Business Journal, IBM joined the league as its AI, cloud, and analytic partner tasked with items such as improving the way in which the league can showcase statistics while improving a league-wide ranking system.

IBM coming to the esports space while unleashing its raw analytical power to “help the organizations, players, and fans enjoy an even more immersive, engaging experience” is a big win for esports in general.

No. 1 – BMW

Credit: BMW/Jung von Matt

Unprecedented. When BMW and five of the world’s most recognizable esports organizations made a joint announcement regarding their collective partnership, the esports advertising space took notice. The #UnitedInRivalry initiative that saw T1, G2 Esports, Cloud9, Fnatic, and Fun-Plus Phoenix come together was the No. 1 sponsorship upgrade or new entry of 2020.

While BMW is not new to esports, this activation saw the German luxury automotive manufacturer reach out to five organizations that are often competing against each other whether that be in League of Legends, CS:GO, Valorant, and more. Seeing the BMW model cars in each of these organizations activations was certainly a sight to behold.

A smart play on the part of BMW, it was clear, and even confirmed by the company that it went after the five teams that participated in League of Legends, the most notable game in 2020, especially with the Dota 2 International and many CS:GO events being canceled. The five teams earned a combined $1.4M in prize money in 2019.

The activation also was impressive in scope as it hit all the major social media platforms and then some. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WeChat, and others were all used in bringing this activation to life.

The company made a huge splash and if sources are correct, will look to do even more in 2021.

Image credits: Getty Images, Levi’s, ESL, Chupa Chups, IBM, Rothman Orthopedics, Babybel, TD Bank, BMW,  U.S. Navy, Duracell.


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