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While the esports industry has been around since the early 2000s, the first time that many people began to take e-sports seriously was back in August 2014, when Amazon acquired Twitch Interactive, a major esports and video gaming platform, for nearly $1 billion. Since then, esports as a category has exploded – and that has led to growing interest from advertisers and marketers, who are trying to figure out how they nearly missed out on the entire phenomenon.
The scope and reach of the e-sports audience
For digital marketers, there are two huge reasons to consider potential opportunities around esports. The first, of course, is the sheer size of the audiences that are tuning in to the biggest video gaming competitions. According to research reports, there are over 200 million people worldwide who have played or watched, including 28 million in North America and Europe. For now, the biggest audiences are in Asia, where live competitions shown on huge screens can sell out 40,000-seat stadiums.
In some cases, the biggest competitions – such as those for “League of Legends” or “Call of Duty” – can attract more viewers than more traditional sporting events, including the NHL Stanley Cup and the Masters golf championship. Prize pools can easily reach $1 million for the winners, and the online audiences are staggering. Even during the middle of the week, live streams can attract 100,000 online viewers for the most popular players.
Brands in search of the young millennials
The second reason is perhaps just as important: esports skew young. Very young. According to ESPN, nearly 70% of all esports viewers are under the age of 26. And they are overwhelmingly male as well. If you’re trying to reach young male millennials, this is the place to be.
It’s no surprise, then, that some of the major brands that have signed on as sponsors of events and competitions include Coca-Cola, Nissan, Logitech and Red Bull. Each of these views esports as a natural fit for what they are trying to achieve with their advertising.
Coca-Cola, of course, wants the next generation to grow up drinking Coke and not Pepsi. Nissan is looking for huge, aggregated audiences rather than smaller, fragmented and niche audiences. Logitech is trying to sell more tech gear to gaming-crazed youngsters. And Red Bull, well, let’s just say “Red Bull gives you wings.” If you’re up all night playing video games trying to beat the highest score, you need something to keep you awake, right?
What ESPN’s experience with poker can teach you
In many ways, the best way to understand the popularity of esports and how this gaming category is going mainstream is to think about ESPN and the World Series of Poker. At one time, it was questionable whether people would actually tune in to ESPN to watch a bunch of middle-aged dudes compete in poker tournaments. Where’s the action, right? Where’s the drama?
But there’s actually something entertaining about watching poker live on TV. You get to know the participants, many of whom are very young, wearing hoodies and baseball caps to major events. The stakes keep building, and there’s a lot of money to be won. It’s global and diverse – you might be watching someone from Bangalore, Maine or… Bangalore, India. In the same way, esports seem to cut across racial, ethnic and national barriers.
And, if you’re a poker fan, there’s something addicting about trying to play along with the best in the world. Just as young kids love to imagine hitting home runs in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series, a growing number of adults love to imagine beating the house with a brilliant bluff to take down a huge pot on the Vegas Strip.
So if you’re a digital marketer, it’s time to get over your preconceived notions of esports. At the very least, you need to understand how certain core behaviors are changing online. Tens of millions of people around the world love to watch live gaming competitions on a regular basis. Twitch now has 55 million active users. There has to be an opportunity in there somewhere, right?