Willi Kaiser

Managing Director, Plan.Net Köln


Fortnite has shown the way forward: the brilliant (and interim) end of the online game captivated hundreds of millions of viewers, and still has people talking more than a week after the event.  For the advertising sector, this demonstrates one thing in particular: that e-sports and gaming are niche no more, and promise a multitude of marketing opportunities.

The first chapter of co-op survival game Fortnite recently ended with a big bang, in the truest sense of the phrase: the conclusion to season 10, entitled “The End”, saw developer Epic Games destroy large swathes of the in-game world with a meteorite.

For more than two days, millions of fans, players, and the media were left in the dark about whether and how the game would continue – those keeping watch on their screens saw nothing but a black hole.
The breadth of reporting on the event was enormous. Outlets ranging from the New York Times, the Independent, The Verge, Forbes, and Spiegel to Bild, Sport1, and, of course, countless social media accounts wondered what could lie in store for the extremely popular game and its predominantly younger fans.

This end of the game’s first chapter can readily be compared with other highly popular live events, such as the football Champions League, the Apple Keynote, or the Game of Thrones series finale, so enormous was the attention that it attracted.  For us as an agency, this points to advertising impact: e-sports, or gaming under competition conditions, are niche no more!

Positioning of (non-)endemic brands

It’s clear at this point that the fascination, appeal, and attention enjoyed by the gaming genre have also been gathering momentum outside the scene. Brands that are taking advantage of this pull and harnessing it from a technical marketing point of view are still few and far between, however. Why is this the case? Our hunch: company and brand decision-makers are still assuming that e-sports are “only” of interest to gamers, and therefore irrelevant to their brand.

In response to that, here’s another impressive figure: the finals of the League of Legends World Championship in 2018 were followed by 205 million people – while the Super Bowl, which is as much about the ads shown in the breaks as it is about the match itself, was watched that year by “only” approximately 160 million.


Marketing and Sponsoring in E-Sport

The advertising opportunities in e-sports are just as numerous as they are in “classical” marketing or sponsorship, and are always revealing new horizons – including for non-endemic brands.  This is because online games and e-sports users are very open-minded towards brands that are active and position themselves in this sector, with just over half of users surveyed even expressing the opinion that advertising and sponsorship make the gaming world feel more real. They know that if it wasn’t for advertising and collaborations, the beautiful, colourful world of e-sports wouldn’t be possible.

Another welcome side effect is that engagement of this kind makes the brand more interesting as a potential employer. HR and recruiting departments will take note of this as a positive development, as the younger generation has grown up with e-sports and views them far more positively than current company decision-makers or parents.

Want to learn more? Willi Kaiser also made an interview with Alex Müller, CEO of SK Gaming, one of the most successful esport teams in Germany and Hiro Kishi, VP Sports Sponsoring at Deutsche Telekom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak0MLcUf71g&feature=youtu.be

Companies and brands beyond sponsorship

In the meantime, entire leagues, individual events such as Gamescom and the League of Legends (LoL) World Championship, and company e-sports teams are now being sponsored. Deutsche Telekom, for example, now supports SK Gaming’s LoL team in the LEC (League of Legends European Championship). Fashion brand Puma has released its own Teamwear collection for Cloud9, together with a powerful ad on YouTube.

The same principle can easily be applied to the gaming/e-sports world itself. The implementation of creative in-game advertising is still at a relatively early stage, not counting classics like the virtual perimeter ads in FIFA. A striking example of where this approach is headed is the collaboration between Nike and basketball simulation NBA 2K20. As the American sporting goods manufacturer recently announced, from the end of October players will have the opportunity to unlock and purchase exclusive trainer models.  It’s easy to imagine a similar development in Fortnite, with equipment and maps powered by a favourite delivery service or  holiday provider. Once a brand also finds a clever and creative way to get in on the Big Bang buzz in content marketing (keywords: real-time and always-on marketing), this will open up completely new fields in online communications that go further still.

In conclusion, the possibilities are numerous

Engagement portfolios in e-sports can be driven by solutions ranging from ads in the context of in-game events or campaigns, podcasts, influencers on Twitch and similar platforms, and event sponsorship all the way to in-game advertising and item provision,   with the marketing of own teams and product development for the gaming market serving as two yet more extreme examples.

Whether and how a company ventures into the e-sports world is largely dependent on its target group and product, and should be considered with the help of expert analysis.  Such a venture needn’t always involve extensive funds for sponsorship; smaller brands with a modest budget also have many and diverse opportunities for content-based collaboration.

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