Esports is the Next Big Cultural Phenomenon, and Potential Sponsors Should be Tuning in Now
by Chris Lundquist
by Chris Lundquist
It’s a tough time to be a major corporation looking for new ways to build brand awareness. Sponsorship deals seem like a no-brainer but are a crowded marketplace. The biggest stadiums already have naming deals, and the top athletes have no shortage of suitors. So what’s a brand in search of an exciting way to reach a new audience supposed to do?
Esports, or the competitive playing of video games, is a cultural phenomenon that has built on video games’ status as a global entertainment juggernaut over the past few decades. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s trade group, video games now account for more than $43 billion in economic activity annually just in the United States alone, and 65% of American adults play video games. If for some reason you weren’t aware, video games have firmly entrenched themselves as a favorite national and global pastime.
It’s little wonder then, with so many people playing video games around the world, that esports has proven to be such a dynamic industry. Although the history of competitive video gaming with financial reward involved likely goes back as far as the 1970s, the meteoric rise of esports has gone hand-in-hand with the digital age and the spread of high-speed internet access across the globe. Esports competitions now take countless forms, from solo players angling to top the leaderboards of games like Fortnite and Starcraft 2 to sophisticated, well-trained teams of players competing together in games like Overwatch, Counterstrike: Global Offensive, and Rocket League. Fans routinely flock to some of the world’s largest arenas to watch their favorite players compete at the highest level.
The growth of esports shows no signs of slowing down either. The market intelligence firm Newzoo has projected that the global esports market will cross the $1 billion threshold for the first time in 2019, a more than 25% increase from last year. With more than 450 million viewers worldwide, we’re talking about an audience that now dwarfs the viewership of even the largest professional sports in the U.S. More than 150 universities and colleges now field varsity esports teams as well, several of which offer scholarships for top esports recruits. When you take all of this together, you have the makings of the next big mainstay of global pop culture.
But what kinds of brands should be looking at esports as a realistic option for building new relationships and branching out to reach new audience segments? As it turns out, pretty much any business willing to make a splash. That’s right, spare me your tired, hackneyed jokes about Doritos and Mountain Dew—those are old news! Today’s top esports teams and players are increasingly seen as icons with broad mainstream appeal, not unlike their traditional sports star forebears.
Instead, look to industry leaders like BMW, Honda, Red Bull, Nike, Nissan, Puma, HTC, and countless others, all of whom are already believers and have inked sponsorship deals with some of the biggest names in esports. These trusted names may have gotten in on the game quickly, but with the esports market still in its infancy, the sky’s the limit for every other company out there still looking for a piece of the pie. Even just five years from now, we can expect that there will be dozens of new competitive esports leagues and teams that don’t yet exist, each one looking for partners to help them in building name recognition from the ground floor up.
Some may doubt the long-term viability of esports, given that even some of the biggest and most successful video games have struggled to maintain their base of players and esports viewers as the games age. But there’s plenty of reason to believe that this industry will continue to mature. Take League of Legends for example, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. More and more video games are starting to hit milestones like these with no slowdown in sight, and giants like Mastercard are buying in and making long-term, multi-year partnership commitments as a result.
It can be hard to read the tea leaves and try to make a bet on what the “next big thing” to hitch your wagon to will be when it comes to generating buzz in the market. But the numbers don’t lie, and esports may well represent that rare example of a massive hit that anyone paying attention can see coming from a mile away. Businesses that want to tap into a dynamic, growing industry with the potential for reaching new customers every year would be well-served to take a look at esports and all that it has to offer now, before all the early opportunities to do so have come and gone.
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