Making the Most of the eSports Opportunity

From left to right: James Dean from ESL UK, Jonathan Hall from Gfinity & Chris Mead from Twitch

This year’s The Telegraph Business in Sport gave a significant share of the agenda and discussion to the rise of eSports and how brands, agencies and rightsholders can make sense of the commercial opportunities it is creating.

Miles Jacobson of Sports Interactive (creator of the Football Manager franchise) moderated a panel of eSports heavy-hitters.

It was an animated (pun intended) discussion with three key themes at its core:

1. Community

The belief that typical eSports fans are ‘nerdy’ and antisocial is a misconception. The eSports audience is inherently social. They are Millenials. They are digitally native. They are fluent in communicating via digital channels.

Community lies at the heart of eSports. Players and fans typically play one or two games – key titles include Counterstrike, League of Legends and DOTA 2 – and form tight-knit communities based on both playing and watching these games. Fans also come together to consume eSports via streaming sites such as Twitch, a platform which attracts more than 100 million viewers a month, and participate in discussion with like-minded fans in real-time.

Community has played a huge part in building professional eSports teams, identifying elite players and bringing them together to compete as a team. The size of that eSports community has helped fund the lucrative cash prizes on offer at international tournaments around the world. As an example, last year’s The International 2 tournament offered an incredible $18m as part of the prize pool on offer to the best DOTA 2 players.

2. Awareness & Commercialisation

The commercialisation of eSports is helping the sport become increasingly mainstream.

Sports clubs have begun to sponsor individual players and eSports teams. West Ham recently became the first UK sports club to sponsor an eSports player, while Besiktas and Schalke each have their own League of Legends team.

The live experience is also proving popular among eSports fans, with League of Legends tournaments selling out huge venues such as The SSE Wembley Arena and the Staples Center.

Mainstream broadcasters have been begun embracing eSports too. In March, Sky Sports became the first channel to air an eSports tournament by showing this season’s FIFA Interactive World Cup.

3. The Challenge for Sponsors

The current sponsorship landscape is dominated by ‘endemic’ brands that provide the peripherals and hardware that the games are played on.

Brands such as Corsair and Razer are well-established brands that have a long legacy in eSports with numerous successful teams around the world.

For non-endemic brands, gaining an understanding of the relatively new world of eSports is not without its challenges.

But these challenges present opportunities.

Despite the rapid ascent of eSports into mainstream consciousness and huge audiences, the category is yet to sculpt a clear commercial proposition for potential sponsors. Given the fragmented marketplace, comprising multiple publishers, games, events and so on, brands new to the game would have to work hard to understand and then profit from eSports sponsorship. But, if they do, this complexity could also give that sponsor more leeway to carve out a unique eSports proposition.

eSports as an industry will only continue to grow and the opportunities for a brave brand to make their mark are plentiful. If a brand wants to make the most of the opportunities that eSports have to offer, it is vitally important that they go into any partnership with their eyes open. As awarenesss and knowledge of eSports continues to grow. I am in no doubt that it will become a major category in the sponsorship marketplace. Which brands will be first to take advantage?