The Definitive Guide to eSports Marketing Strategy

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The Definitive Guide to eSports Marketing Strategy

The video game industry has captivated the minds, hearts and free time of much of the world’s population. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), in the United States nearly 49% of adults play video games for at least 3 hours a week, and 75% of households claim they have ‘at least one gamer’ in their home.

In fact, Nielsen’s 2017 Games Report found that 64% of the U.S. population aged 13+ play video games.

With such a high degree of participation in the $138B consumer side of the industry, gaming has steadily evolved from the living room to international stages and sports arenas.

The competitive side of the gaming industry, typically referred to as ‘eSports’, is one of the fastest growing global entertainment mediums, with an anticipated annual revenue of $1.65B by 2021, an average year-over-year increase of 27.4% since 2016.

Much of this growth can be attributed to rapidly increasing advertising investments from forward-thinking brands looking to capitalize on the surging interest in eSports. In the race to secure media rights, team sponsorships, and event advertising slots, brands contributed 76.7% of the eSports industry’s total revenues in 2018 (Newzoo.com).

Now that we’ve got the flashy stats out of the way… let’s talk about how to level up your brand’s marketing efforts by implementing an eSports marketing strategy.

RELATED READING: eSports Sponsors: Building Lucrative Brand Partnerships

Starting a New Game: How Does an Esports Marketing Strategy Differ from Traditional Digital Marketing Strategies?

You’ve run countless successful campaigns for your brand that have yielded positive ROA’s and driven awareness and sales, so you can just rinse and repeat your current tactics as your eSports marketing strategy right?….

WRONG!

The most popular media channels, creative strategies, and audience interests in the gaming world differ greatly from traditional advertising routes.

Level 1: Who Are You Reaching – Demographics & Audience Targeting

Gaming is Child’s Play…Right?

Average Age of US Video Game Players in 2019

While many still associate playing video games as a kid’s hobby, current data from all major reporting outlets estimate that the 18-35 age bracket represents nearly 40% of gamers in the United States.

However, with the other core age brackets representing around 20% of the gaming population respectively, there is still a significant audience size among all age groups that can be tapped into.

Gender Breakdown of US Computer and Video Gamers (2006-2019)

Another outdated perception about gaming is that only boys play video games. While average participation levels of girls in gaming has fluctuated significantly since 2006, overall participation has steadily risen since 2016.

Today we see a much more even split between male and female participation than in decades past, with an estimated 54% of males and 46% of females playing video games.

Worth noting is that while these demographics illustrate a broad picture of the gaming industry as a whole in North America, individual content platforms show differing trends in terms of audience demographics.

Level 2: Where Do Gamers Live? – Picking the Right Platforms

In a house? With a mouse? In a blouse?… That’s not what we’re talking about here.

Level 2 of developing an effective eSports marketing strategy is identifying and understanding the digital platforms that gamers spend the majority of their screen time on.

So, what are they?

Twitter

42% of Twitter users follow gaming brands

Already one of the most dominant and widely used social media platforms for direct communication, Twitter holds the lion’s share of engagement and interaction in the eSports and gaming world.

Every Twitch streamer, YouTuber, Pro Gamer, Game Developer, Video Game, and eSports organization has a dedicated Twitter account through which they host the majority of their interactions with fans.

Giveaways, tournament/stream announcements, gameplay clips, sponsored videos, and merchandise drops are just a few of the forms of content that content creators and organizations in the eSports world share with their followers on a daily basis.

It’s definitely a ‘Twitter sees it first’ situation in the gaming community, and understanding the pivotal role Twitter plays as the primary communication platform in the industry will help guide the messaging and by-channel budget allocation of your eSports marketing strategy.

Twitter is best utilized for the following organic aspects of your eSports marketing strategy:

  • Direct communication with followers
  • Engagement with partners
  • Brand partnership announcements
  • Product/Merchandise Giveaways

Twitter is best utilized for the following paid aspects of your eSports marketing strategy (via Promoted Tweets):

  • Extending the impressions/reach of brand partnership announcements
  • Gaining additional entrants into contests/giveaways

Twitch

eSports Viewership Metrics on Youtube and Twitch for Q1 2018

While Twitter might see it first, Twitch sees it the most.

For the uninitiated, Twitch is one of the largest live-streaming platforms in the world, and without a doubt the most popular platform for video game-specific live streaming.

With an average concurrent viewership of 1.91 million, the potential reach and exposure for advertisers on Twitch is unprecedented.

In the graph above, you can see that nearly 228 million hours of eSports were watched on Twitch in Q1 of 2018, which accounted for 11.6% of total viewership hours in the quarter.

Twitch also has some of the highest levels of engagement of any major media platform, due to the nature of streamer-chat interactions and subscriber bases.

Well aware of the advertising potential of its platform, Twitch offers a wide variety of options for implementing as part of your eSports marketing strategy. These options can essentially be separated into 2 categories: Advertising on Twitch, and Advertising with Twitch Streamers.

Audience Demographics:

  • Core Age Bracket: 18-34
  • Gender Breakdown: 81.5% Male/18.5% Female
  • Average Concurrent Viewership: 2.34 Million (June 2020)

Advertising on Twitch

Display Ad Unit Options:

Dashboard – Medium Rectangle

Medium Rectangle Ad Unit on Twitch

Dashboard – Super Leaderboard

Super Leaderboard Display Ad Unit Bite

Dashboard – Synced Units (Medium Rectangle + Super Leaderboard)

Synced Units Display Ads on Twitch

Homepage – Carousel Takeover

Homepage Carousel Ad Unit on Twitch

These are the current native display ad options available on Twitch, and can be purchased through Twitch’s ad platform.

Video Ad Unit Options:

If you’re familiar with running YouTube ads via Google Ads, Twitch’s video ad units will be relatively familiar.

There are currently 4 video ad unit options available, which all have various customization/targeting capabilities:

  • Mobile Video
    • Duration: :15/:30/:60 (Extra charge for :60s, midroll only)
    • Device Types: iOS/Android
    • Formats: Pre/Mid/Post-Roll
    • Targeting Available: Game & Genre Based 
    • Tracking: Impressions/Clicks/Quartiles/Completes (3rd Party)
  • Desktop Video
    • Duration: :15/:30/:60 (Extra charge for :60s, midroll only)
    • Device Types: Windows/Mac
    • Formats: Pre/Mid/Post-Roll
    • Targeting Available: Game & Genre Based 
    • Tracking: Impressions/Clicks/Quartiles/Completes (3rd Party)
  • Cross-Screen Video 
    • Duration: :15/:30/:60 (Extra charge for :60s, midroll only)
    • Device Types: Windows/Mac/iPhone/Android
    • Formats: Pre/Mid/Post-Roll
    • Targeting Available: Game & Genre Based 
    • Tracking: Impressions/Clicks/Quartiles/Completes (3rd Party)
  • SureStream
    • Duration: Up to :30
    • Device Types: PlayStation, Xbox, Fire TV, Android TV
    • Format: Woven seamlessly into the live broadcast
    • Tracking: Impressions/Quartiles/Completes

*Note that all Twitch video ad units are unskippable*

As you can see there are numerous display and video ad options available for native advertising on Twitch, whether it be on their physical dashboard or overlaid on streams as video ads.

Advertising With Twitch Streamers

JoshOG's Twitch Stream Panels Showcasing His Advertising Partners

Most Twitch streamers that partner with advertisers will have a ‘Channel Panel’ placed on their stream homepage showing their various sponsors and linking back to that brand’s website.

The other side of advertising on Twitch is partnering with individual Twitch streamers. 

Streamers function as the most popular influencers in the gaming world, and are where many popular brands begin and ultimately focus their investments into the eSports world. 

Arguably the main upside to partnering your brand with a Twitch streamer, aside from the viewership rates, is the inherent credibility and influence these gaming icons hold over their viewers. 

The vast majority of Twitch’s most popular streamers got to where they are either by being one of the best players at their respective game, by being extremely entertaining, or ideally a combination of both. Thus, their followers view them as not only a source of entertainment, but also expert advice and recommendations.

Many popular streamers are represented by talent agencies that work with content creators across various platforms and mediums. All agencies will have an available talent roster. Some even have specific eSports talent rosters that they’ll send you upon request.

For a deeper dive into the in’s and outs of Twitch advertising, and how to go about finding the right streamer to partner with, give our Twitch Advertising blog a read!

Twitch is best utilized for the following paid aspects of your eSports marketing strategy:

  • Maximum Brand Reach/Exposure among Gen Z / younger Millennials
  • Native Advertising via Display Ad Units
  • Video Advertising via Video Ad Units
  • Influencer Activation through partnering with Twitch streamers
    • Sponsored Streams
    • Affiliate Marketing
    • Product Visibility
    • High degree of creative flexibility

YouTube

Easily the largest competitor to Twitch in the gaming industry, YouTube has made significant moves in the past few years to better establish itself as a lucrative platform for eSports and live streaming.

In 2017, YouTube signed a multi-year deal with FACEIT, an eSports tournament platform that describes itself as the “leading independent competitive gaming platform for online multiplayer PvP gamers with more than eight million users, and a total of twelve million online gaming sessions each month.”

While Twitch still dominates in terms of live streaming viewership, YouTube holds the crown for video viewership.

In 2018, more than 50 billion hours of gaming videos were watched on YouTube, with an average daily viewership count of 200 million people.

One of the most beneficial features of YouTube advertising is how granular you can get with your targeting. Developing a healthy mix of both broad and narrow audience segments will help ensure your brand gains maximum exposure and can also deliver targeted messaging/creative to your desired audience segments.

When building your YouTube eSports campaign audiences, consider implementing the following from the campaign builder:

  • In-Market Audiences
    • These audiences are comprised of people who are actively researching or planning on purchasing products related to your selected keyword
      • I.e. Video Games, Backpacks, Laptops, etc.
  • Affinity Audiences
    • These audiences are comprised of people who are interested in or have search habits related to topics based on your entered keywords
      • I.e. Gamers, Hardcore Gamers, Shooter Game Fans
  • Topics
    • By selecting topics your ads will be automatically placed on content related to the subjects you select
      • I.e. Computer & Video Games, Competitive Video Gaming, Gaming Reference & Reviews
  • Placements
    • Allows you to place your ads on specific YouTube channels
    • Great option if you are planning on partnering with a specific gamer/influencer

For example, let’s say you’re a high-end laptop manufacturer that wants to run a campaign targeting a young female audience that would be interested in gaming and graphic design, you might select the following campaign builder options:

  • Demographics: Female (18-24 / 25-34)
  • In-Market Audiences: Laptops & Notebooks, Computers, Computers & Peripherals
  • Affinity Audiences: Gaming, Competitive Gaming, Visual Art & Design, Graphic Design
  • Placements: GamerGirl, Maddynf (found by searching ‘girl gamers’ as a channel keyword)

*Note these are all actual options within the Campaign Builder*

Boss Level: Go Big with eSports Event Marketing Activations

For brands with deep pockets and the desire to make a big splash into eSports marketing, live event activations might be an even more appealing avenue to build your eSports marketing strategy around.

Professional eSports events have reached, and in many ways eclipsed, the production level and fan engagement of traditional professional sporting events.

Sponsoring eSports Leagues, individual tournaments, teams, and even becoming a sponsor of dedicated eSports arenas are some of the most popular routes for eSports event sponsorship in 2020.

Here are some handy links to the sections of my eSports Sponsors blog that discusses each of these in depth:

Sponsoring eSports Leagues/Tournaments

Sponsoring eSports Organizations/Teams

Sponsoring eSports Arenas

Relevancy Rules! Tips for Developing a Creative Strategy That Will Resonate With Gamers

As a lifelong gamer myself, one of the things I’ve been most impressed by as the eSports industry has exploded is the creativity and relevancy of advertising within the industry.

While there are certainly some cringe-worthy examples of brands really missing the mark, overall there have been numerous campaigns that have really resonated with fanbases and helped grow brand affinity within the eSports industry.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some tips for developing the creative strategy portion of your eSports marketing strategy!

1. Play the Game!

It’s hard to write a review on a movie without seeing it, so how are you supposed to create a campaign that resonates with a game’s audience if you’ve never played it?

The creative inspiration (and maybe a bit of nerd rage) you might derive from jumping into a game of Fortnite or Call of Duty  just might save you countless hours of brainstorming in a conference room.

Popular brands like Red Bull and MasterCard are great examples of organizations that have created ads with creative specifically referencing the game they’re marketing around, in their case League of Legends. If you tune into any of Riot Game’s various official Twitch streams on a Friday or Saturday, you’ll see numerous examples of creative advertisements that have been custom tailored to the League of Legends fan base.

2. Cast A Wide Net

Identifying and understanding your target market is day 1 of Advertising 101, but with video games having such a worldwide and unanimous appeal, your campaigns will most likely be seen by people of all ages, cultures and genders.

While you can certainly tailor messaging to appeal to a particular group that may have the highest level of interest in your brand, making a conscious effort to not alienate any groups from your messaging will help boost the positive perception of your creative.

Most advertisers in the eSports space have proved to be proficient at this so far, as evidenced by the extremely high levels of general positive perception of non-endemic (not directly linked to the industry) team sponsors.

Positive Perception of Non-endemic eSports Sponsors

3. Go Full Cheese, or No Cheese

There’s nothing worse than watching a stream chat fill with a barrage of ‘CRINGE’ messages after an ad airs that tried and failed at being funny or relatable.

EMBRACE THE CHEESE!!!

If you want to present a fun and whimsical impression of your brand, you have to take the training wheels off and fully commit to the approach. In other words, go Full Cheese, a la Mr. Buscemi above. On the flip side, if your brand presents an offering to the eSports audience that you feel is best presented in a serious manner, then keep it professional.

As a marketer, you are the master of your brand’s identity, and it’s up to you to determine how to best present that identity in an eSports marketing strategy.

It’s painfully easy to identify brands that really don’t know what they’re getting in to with eSports when they fail to either go Full Cheese or No Cheese.

Don’t get caught in that god-forsaken, eye-roll inducing middle ground.

4. Streamers Aren’t Actors

This tip piggy-backs off of #3 in that you should avoid operating under the assumption that just because a streamer is on camera in front of thousands each day that they’ve got Oscar-caliber acting chops. They don’t.

Featuring prominent streamers in scripted roles is a trend I’m starting to see become more common, and so far, most attempts have been, well… to put it nicely, not great.

This recent Bounty Ad (featuring  Joshua ‘JoshOG’ Beaver, Hannah ‘Bnans’ Kennedy, and Anthony ‘Anthony_Kongphan’ Kongphan) currently has a 75-302 Like/Dislike ratio on YouTube, and Bounty disabled commenting (so yeah… not great).

Don’t try to make your streamer be something they aren’t.

Fitting your creative strategy into the natural flow and personality of the streamer has a much higher chance of appearing authentic and garnering a more positive reception from their fan base.

There are certainly some exceptions to this (like Guy ‘Dr.Disrespect’ Beahm), so if you’re looking for on-camera acting talent, do your research and find the right fit.

5. Don’t Use Gamer Lingo

The gaming community as a whole, and especially Twitch, have a language of their own in various forms of emoting/acronyms/lingo. Most stream chats seem filled with incoherent gibberish to an outsider, but attempting to seem hip by incorporating ‘meme-speak’ into your ad copy is a no-no.

Screenshot of Twitch Chat

Trust me, there’s really no way to positively incorporate this stuff into advertising in any way, as their usage is entirely based off of context and what’s happening in the stream at that moment.

JUST. DON’T. DO. IT!

Checking the Leader Board: A Case Study of Successful eSports Marketing Campaigns in 2020

I wrapped up my eSport Sponsors blog by taking a look at some of my favorite eSports marketing campaigns of 2019 (that were also highly successful), so let’s do the same and update that list with some of 2020’s best and brightest!

Bud Light | Twitch Channel Self Promo

Short, cheesy, and funny. This :30 promo by Bud Light advertises the eSports All Star Voting event that they host on their brand Twitch channel.

Bud Light has been establishing itself as a dominant non-endemic sponsor in the eSports marketing world in 2020, making significant investments into producing its own gaming content via Twitch and sponsoring numerous events.

BL is also one of the main sponsors for this year’s LCS (the North American professional circuit for League of Legends), and even have a sponsored post-game talk show each Sunday called ‘The Bud Light League Lounge’.

Intel | Intel World Open Tournament Trailer

An example of an endemic sponsor that knows the eSports industry better than most, Intel’s trailer for their World Open tournament truly captures the energy and excitement of live tournaments.

The World Open was originally intended to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics, and elevate the eSports industry to even higher international notoriety.

With the current state of the COVID pandemic and postponement of the 2020 Olympics as well as this year’s World Open, we’ll have to wait and see if the event ever sees the light of day.

Assuming the event does happen at some point in 2021, it will certainly be a spectacle of top-tier eSports marketing and brand activation, so keep it on your radar!

MasterCard | League of Legends

This emotionally packed branded content piece from Mastercard tells the story of the father-son relationship between Rasmus ‘Caps’ Winther and his father.

Impeccably edited and narrated by Caps’ father, the story follows his rise to international stardom as the all-star mid-laner for G2 eSport’s League of Legends team, and how his father supported him along the way.

As a lifelong gamer, I can confirm that this story is relevant. MasterCard is basically dismantling the old cliché that all parents want to force their kids away from gaming. Instead, they shed light on a new narrative: that ultimately, parents want nothing more than to support their children’s dreams.

Okay, who’s chopping onions in here?

Let the Credits Roll!

So, that was a lot. But don’t worry! You don’t need to memorize every fact and figure from this guide to see a return on your eSports marketing strategy. In fact, there are only a few things to keep in mind while you’re first getting started.

First, that eSports are for real. Gone are the days of writing off video games as child’s play. Today, eSports pull massive engagement, and thus offer massive untapped potential for your brand.

Second, to see results, you need to be relevant. And the best way to know what’s relevant is by picking up a controller and logging some hours on today’s hottest games. So, congrats. You can officially call sweaty Overwatch matches work.

Lastly, keep in mind that here at Magnetic Creative, this stuff is kind of our jam. And not just the button-mashing, but the opportunity to connect awesome brands like yours with massive, untapped eSports audiences. Now that’s a game we could play all day, everyday.

When you’re ready to level up your marketing spend and start a new save file with Magnetic, give us a shout. No more gaming puns. Promise.

 

 

 

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