In the series The inside story x 3, experts from the Plan.Net group regularly explain a current topic from the digital world from different perspectives. What does it mean for Granny, and for an agency colleague? And what does the customer – in other words, a company – get out of it?

Ever heard of Kuro Takhasomi? No? Better known by his nickname KuroKy, the 25-year-old from Berlin is one of the biggest stars in his sport, and has already played his way to over USD 3.7 million in prize money. In mid-August, KuroKy and his co-players from Team Liquid will be competing in “The International”, a major eSports tournament taking place in Vancouver. Their aim? To defend their title in the world’s most lucrative eSports event. The name of the event? Dota 2, a team-based computer game. Long derided as the antisocial hobby of cellar-dwelling teens, eSports are now well on their way to becoming a billion-dollar market – and the sponsorship and advertising opportunities in this rapidly-developing scene are enormous.

eSports: as diverse as the traditional kind, with stars emulated by millions

If my Granny were to ask me what eSports are all about, the answer would be pretty straightforward. Just like in the Olympics, players compete with each other either individually or in teams in disciplines of all kinds. Instead of volleyball, tennis or archery, however, these disciplines are computer games, such as Dota 2, League of Legends or Counterstrike. The equipment? Rackets, trainers, and balls are replaced here by a mouse and a keyboard. And the different games are just as varied as traditional sporting disciplines – there’s no single “eSport”.

The various games are organized into leagues and championships in which the competing teams often hail from all over the world. The final rounds of these fill massive arenas with thousands of spectators, with the events also broadcast on the Internet and, increasingly, on traditional television.

There is one thing that sports and eSports do have in common, though: the leap from hobby to career can only be made with years of hard training and huge amounts of discipline. And it’s here that the answer can be found to that often-asked question, “Why would people want to watch other people playing games?” For the same reason that people sit in front of their TVs watching the likes of Lionel Messi, LeBron James or Serena Williams do their thing: because they’re the very best in their respective disciplines, and can perform feats that the hobby player can only dream of.

eSports: an attractive media environment and a driving force behind streaming platforms

eSports are primarily a digital entertainment medium, with high coverage and long viewing times that make them perfectly suited to digital display and video advertising. The primary target group consists of young, tech-savvy men, who are nowadays often difficult to reach using traditional media. The most important eSports platform is undoubtedly Amazon´s subsidiary Twitch, where eSports count among the most watched content. A special feature of eSports is the close link between the pros and the fan community: many eSports enthusiasts not only follow the big tournaments, but are also loyal viewers of daily player training sessions, during which they are able to interact directly with the stars they emulate and learn more about their favourite games.
Recent years have also seen YouTube and Facebook begin investing heavily in eSports. At the beginning of the year, the Electronic Sports League signed an exclusive streaming deal with Facebook for some of its popular tournament series, including Counterstrike.

A place where young target groups still think sponsorship and marketing are cool

For companies, eSports represent an extremely attractive sponsorship environment. This is because it is precisely those target groups who would otherwise be unlikely to be especially open to sponsorship and advertising communication who are really interested in seeing “their” game and “their” heroes flourish.
The multiplier effect of sponsoring eSports teams or players shouldn’t be underestimated either. The continuous presence of gamers on streaming platforms both between and during tournaments serves to make sponsors an integral part of the community; after all, it is the sponsors who make it possible for the athletes to turn their hobby into a career and to compete at a high level without financial concerns. The fans appreciate this, which makes it easy for brands to cultivate a positive perception of themselves within the scene. In combination with a social media team that engages to some extent with gaming culture and interacts with fans on an equal footing, as well as minor campaigns such as give-aways, this can result in a powerful marketing tool.

A recently published study by our colleagues from WaveMaker has shown that, in addition to high awareness, brands with a presence in the eSports environment – primarily those from the drinks and technology sectors – have also achieved very high brand activation among eSports fans.

And another thing: A good opportunity to gather some first impressions of eSports, gaming, and its fans will be provided at the end of August by GamesCom in Cologne.

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