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Esports has grown into a prominent force, attracting the interest of millions of fans worldwide. Naturally, the advent of streaming media platforms, particularly YouTube and Twitch, has resulted in a surge in participation by professional gamers and spectators. Most games easily translate across all cultures. The primarily tech-savvy audience offers immense engagement potential. And, certainly, the lockdown during the pandemic made gaming and esports more widespread. But the demand for esports has extended outside of recreation to marketing, and is now a significant tool to reach a target specific audience for advertisers.
“From a marketing standpoint, a cultural standpoint and a media standpoint, gaming today is like MTV in the 1980s,” noted Felix LaHaye, the founder of the marketing creative agency United Esports. “If you wanted to connect with the youth back then, you wanted to be at MTV to use the platform to your advantage. At United Esports, we target the gaming and esports space with our creative and marketing for brand exposure and to drive purchases within the participating youth culture of today.”
From the Beginning
The earliest form of esports (then known as competitive computer gaming) date back to 1947 when the first-ever video game was created. In 1958 was the inaugural competitive gameplay, Tennis for Two. But, by most accounts, the first official video game competition was at Stanford University in 1972, which featured players competing in Spacewar.
Flash to 1980 and the inaugural nationwide Space Invaders competition was held with a reported 10,000 participants. One year later was the first Donkey Kong tournament. Next was the emergence of the Internet, which enabled the masses to discover and, ultimately, participate in esports. And, at present, major organizations and brands now recognize the potential of esports for target specific visibility.
“Esports is marketer’s dream: fully engaged audiences, glued to their screens and part of an active, vocal community,” noted Mike Tankel, partner/optimist at the marketing and development firm To Be Continued. “The non-stop play is not one for disruption, but one for inclusion, making the brand integration ever more effective when done right.”
“With the move to on-demand viewing, much of the entertainment programming on TV is shifting to platforms with few or no ads, ultimately making live programming in sports more valuable for marketers,” said Dave Morgan, CEO, Simulmedia, which in 2008 pioneered a data-first approach to TV and video advertising. “Marketers want to be connected to gaming and esports given its importance in the culture and the activities of younger consumers.”
The Attributes of Esports at Present
Games can be easily accessed from computers, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, making it convenient to play whenever and wherever. The social component of livestreaming and gaming blends seamlessly into the surge of social media. Esports events can attract millions of viewers, rivaling the viewership of traditional sporting events. And, for marketers, esports offer an engaged and targeted global audience, interactive engagement opportunities, brand exposure through sponsorships and campaigns, and direct fanbase access. By fostering partnerships and embracing evolving trends marketers can leverage the esports landscape to enhance brand visibility and engagement.
“When we started, brands would often question why they were even talking to us because the assumption was that esports was basically a hobby for kids,” noted Felix LaHaye. “Now gaming is the best way to connect with Gen Z and Gen Alpha. I believe there is a big difference culturally between Millennials and Gen Z, and I see opportunities in the esports space for brands looking for targeted visibility.”
Gen Alpha, the children of Millennials and the older end of Gen Z, are defined as those born from 2010 to 2024. As the youngest of the three generations, they have brand influence and purchasing power beyond their years. They shape the social media landscape. And they are known as culture influencers.
Gen Z, meanwhile, ranges from anyone born between the mid-to-late 1990s to early 2010. And Millennials, the first generation to grow up with the Internet, are generally considered from 1981 to 1996.
“I have been involved with gaming since I was a child, and have witnessed this once nerd culture moving into the mainstream culture,” said LaHaye, who prior to United Esports segued from singer/songwriter to digital media entrepreneur to the founder of Open Influence (formerly InstaBrand), the first known social influencer-themed marketing company.
In 2017, LaHaye was named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. In 2016, he was named on Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list. And, prior to co-founding Open Influence (InstaBrand), LaHaye signed his first recording contract at 19 years old.
“Today media buyers are recognizing the value of targeting these specific audience groups through the esports and gaming space,” he said. “And esports can also be a better branding medium that traditional sports because of the interactivity of streaming.”
Launched in 2018, United Esports helps brands recognize the merits of the gaming and esports space, with specific campaigns and partnerships targeted to the Gen Alpha, Gen Z and Millennial audiences. Their client roster includes Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Hard Rock Cafe, Konami, NFL, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. What started as a mission to educate brands on the value of gaming and esports is now also a marketing tool for brands already within the esports space.
“As a marketer, I saw the need for United Esports,” noted LaHaye. “I wanted to be in esports and I know media and marketing quite well. But the obvious observation was the explosion in interest. I saw gaming and esports turning into a global phenomenon. And I recognize the value of it for advertisers and marketers to break through the clutter by targeting this specific age groups.”
Through United Esports, LaHaye was the first to recognize the marketing power of women in gaming, which (as of July 2022) comprise a reported 46 percent of the global gaming community.
Global Awareness of Esports Equals Financial Prosperity
According to market research forecaster Juniper Research, the global esports and games streaming industry could be worth approximately $3.5 billion by the end of 2025. This is a rise of 67 percent, from $2.1 billion in 2021, with the market value driven by subscription spend to streaming platforms and advertising spend over streams.
“Rising viewership will create greater levels of competition between content streaming platforms, including Twitch and YouTube,” read the study. “In turn, these streaming platform providers must promote their content to new audiences. Aligning esports events with other industries, such as entertainment industries, will provide these streaming platforms with opportunities to attract new users.”
The research from Juniper estimates there will be over one billion esports and games viewers by 2025.
Younger generations that have grown up with technology and video games as fundamental elements in their lives are particularly drawn to esports, fueling its growth and capacity to compete with traditional sports. Major organizations and brands now recognize the potential of esports and are significantly investing in sponsorships and collaborations. This infusion of funding helps to professionalize the esports industry, enhancing its status and competitiveness.
“Esports allow brands to participate, engage, reward and be a contextual part of the experience, whereas in traditional entertainment, brands force their way in trying to sell the experience rather than being a part of it,” noted Mike Tankel. With esports, audiences are not looking to be sold. They are simply looking for respect, inclusion and brands that add to the experience rather than take away from it.”
“People say esports is the future; I also think it is the present,” said Felix LaHaye. “We are committed to connecting with the 18-34 age group and we enable any brand to plug into that youth culture entrenched in gaming and esports. The value we see is increasing.”
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