FIFTH AND FINAL WEBINAR OF THE YEAR CONSIDERS WHAT’S NEXT FOR ESPORTS
As we approach the end of a remarkable and rather forgettable 2020 for most, our fifth webinar of the year saw us turn our attention to one of the few industries that avoided the worst of Covid-19’s ravages: esports.
As live sport came to a grinding halt, the esports industry continued to grow at pace. Fresh from the news that it had become a $1bn industry in 2019, new projections suggest that number is set to double in the next three years.
Given the increase in publisher-owned leagues being developed, the rising number of non-endemic brands entering the space and with esports now a permanent fixture at colleges, high-schools and universities across the world, it’s safe to say the industry has matured. The big question is, where can it go from here?
That issue formed the focal point of our webinar, as our very own Lisa Jenkins chaired an expert esports panel discussion featuring Chris Overholt – President & CEO, OverActive Media, Johanna Faries – Commissioner, Call of Duty League, Alban Dechelotte – Head of Partnerships & Business Development at Riot Games, and Nazar Syrotiuk, Global Emerging Technology Manager at Nestlé.
The conversation began with a question on whether esports had broken into the ‘mainstream.’ The answer? A resounding yes. Alban offered some context on that front: “We are already competing with established sports properties… last week, Rekkles moved from one major League of Legends team to another, the announcement of which generated views and engagement comparable to when Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus from Real Madrid.”
It was a point reinforced by former NFL-executive Johanna who noted that, in terms of engagement, “most of these esports properties, in their most nascent form, are already doing Super Bowl numbers on any given Tuesday. It’s just the world isn’t talking about it, yet.”
That provided a stark and early reminder to marketers across the world to sit up and take notice. As Chris Overholt, put it: “If you’re a CMO and you’re not thinking about esports, you’re failing.”
Yet, there remains a reluctance amongst some senior leaders to take esports seriously. Nestlé’s Nazar Syrotiuk explained that this is the product of well-worn biases emanating from a generation gap. So, how did he get around that when encouraging Nestlé to dive into esports? “It was like small drops of water sharpening a rock. Solid data, education and, if they didn’t trust me, encouraging them to talk to that younger audience who are engaged in it. After a few months, they started to understand it.”
In fact, the unique access esports can provide to the notoriously hard-to-reach 18-25 demographic – the holy grail, if you will – was a recurring theme throughout the webinar. As Nazar reasoned, “through esports, brands can reach the unreachable – those who don’t have linear TV but watch Netflix instead.”
Not only will you reach them, you will likely be encountered by an audience refreshingly receptive to brand involvement. As Alban elucidated, “simply by being there, brands are validating their passion and treating it as legitimate. And they are thankful for that. It’s a type of relationship I have not seen anywhere else, not in rugby, not in football, not in soccer.”
Pressed on Call of Duty League’s typical fanbase, Johanna revealed that ‘it’s an extremely diverse audience, which includes many of your typical tastemakers across the rest of mainstream culture.” More significantly, though, she reiterated Alban’s point, stating that: “it’s an interactive audience willing to take action, share a hashtag or retweet a promotion, which should excite any brand.”
So, what is the key to brands getting it right when thinking about a partnership in esports? According to Chris Overholt, there is little room for excuses now given the wealth of success stories already out there. For him, the crux is to “find an entry point that is consistent with your values as a brand,” and not shy away from seeking expert help. “Staff your business with the right people and be professional in your delivery”, was his verdict – one reinforced by Nazar who advocated finding “the right partner or agency who can lead you on your journey by the hand.”
There was still time to engage in a bit of future gazing, with each panelist sharing their hopes for the year ahead. Both Chris and Johanna focused on the huge opportunity provided by the closed-league, franchise system to create a new, sustainable revenue model for esports – one which could, in Johanna’s words, “eclipse the traditional sports model.”
For Alban, the priority was on continuing to grow the audience of Riot Games’ premier game title, League of Legends, and stepping up efforts to increase its diversity: “we want to turn more players into fans and create greater representation across the game,” a point echoed by Nazar, who also touched on the “enormous potential for the esports community to grow.”
Whichever way you approach it, even in a year as unusual as 2020, esports continues to prove its resilience as an industry, going from strength to strength. Indeed, it was on that note that Johanna brought our final webinar of the year to a close, with some pertinent concluding remarks: “The future is so bright. We’ve learnt so much this year and we will enter 2021 in a much stronger position than a year ago.”
If you were unable to tune in live, you can watch the full edit below. To find out more information on starting your journey in esports, please contact either Lisa Jenkins (firstname.lastname@example.org) James Gallagher-Powell (email@example.com)