Get into the Game: How eSports Sponsors Are Building Lucrative Brand Partnerships Now, and for the Future
What do Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, and T-Mobile all have in common? They all make cars! Just kidding…but other than all being Fortune 500 companies with billions of dollars in assets, all three are major eSports sponsors and are heavily invested in developing brand partnerships within the eSports world.
Is Competitive Video Gaming Really That Big of a Deal?
Most of us out there today are human beings (hello to any AI algorithms reading this), and thus are competitive by nature. Many ideas that have started out as hobbies or casual activities have evolved over time into worldwide phenomena that dominate pop culture and even our very social ideology. Basketball started out with young men throwing what resembled a soccer ball into a peach basket that didn’t even have a hole in the bottom (initially). Do you think the game’s founder Dr. James Naismith and anyone participating at the time could have ever possibly anticipated the explosion of the sport and what basketball looks like today?
The point is that as interesting hobbies are adopted and practiced by more and more people, our intrinsic competitive drive eventually creates a desire to seek out competition with our peers in order to discover how good we are at it.
While eSports (the blanket term for professional competitive video gaming) certainly hasn’t yet reached the international prestige of traditional professional sports leagues, it is, however, long past the “peach basket” phase.
Here’s some images from the 2018 World Championship for League of Legends, arguably the most popular eSport internationally – an event watched worldwide by 205,348,063 unique viewers across numerous platforms and broadcasts, with an average concurrent viewership of 46.65 million people.
So yeah, eSports has become kind of a big deal.
Celebrities and Current Professional Sport Team Owners Are Investing in eSports Organizations
The organizations and individuals that compete at the highest levels of professional gaming operate in a very similar fashion to professional sports teams and the top players earn up to seven-figure salaries through team contracts, sponsorships, and tournament winnings.
The elevation of the production quality and scope of the eSports industry is largely due to the explosion of high profile investments into the industry over the past few years. Some notable figures who have entered into the eSports arena include:
- Patriots owner Robert Kraft purchased the Overwatch League team Boston Uprising.
- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones purchased a majority ownership stake in CompLexity Gaming, and even moved the team’s base of operations into the Dallas Cowboy’s practice stadium!
- Drake and Scooter Braun were part of a large group that invested over $25 million into a new rapidly-rising LA based organization called 100 Thieves.
- Magic Johnson purchased a controlling ownership stake in Team Liquid, one of the top 3 eSports organizations in the world.
The list goes on and on… if you were to write down a list of who you consider the 10 most popular celebrities/billionaires right now, I would argue that at least 5 out of the 10 have invested into eSports in some capacity.
As investment dollars continue to stoke the growth of the industry, the potential reach and appeal for eSports sponsors continues to rise as well. Individuals, as well as corporations, are taking note, and the accessibility of the industry to potential brand partners is better than ever.
Planting Your Flag:
Avenues for Securing Brand Partnerships and Becoming an eSports Sponsor
Similar to the various media channels available to marketers in the advertising industry, there is also a diverse selection of routes you can take to become an eSports sponsor, all of which carry differing amounts of potential risk and involvement.
There are typically considered to be three main avenues for a brand seeking to establish eSports sponsorships, all of which are already being extensively utilized by forward-thinking and innovative brands.
eSports Leagues/Tournaments Sponsorship
As seen in the T-Mobile/Overwatch League Ad at the top of this blog, one of the main routes taken by prospective eSports sponsors is through partnering with a specific eSport league or tournament. These partnerships offer the highest level of engagement of the three, as pro-tournaments such as Dreamhack and the aforementioned World Championship for League of Legends are often huge spectacles featuring live performances, on-air broadcasters, and extensive media coverage.
eSports Team Sponsorship
Arguably the most popular and familiar avenue for eSports partnerships is becoming an official sponsor of a team. Essentially the same process as sponsoring an NBA or MLS team, all eSports teams wear jerseys featuring their organization name/brand as well as any sponsored brand logos whenever they compete.
There are numerous professional teams across many different games, and one of the most appealing aspects of a team sponsorship is that as a partner your brand will typically be represented across every game they participate in.
For example, Team Liquid competes professionally in nine different games and has 14 full teams of players. This allows your brand and campaigns to reach a much broader audience than if you were to sponsor a single game or tournament. Additionally, this mitigates the risk of losing exposure should one of the games they participate in lose popularity.
Worth a read is this article from Forbes that provides a detailed chart outlining some of the top eSports organizations currently, what games they participate in, and other valuation metrics.
Many of these organizations have grown to the point where they have expanded their influence into industries other than professional gaming, thus reading their respective website biographies and blog posts is a great way to gather information and help determine which team is the right fit for your brand.
Individual Player/Streamer Sponsorship
Just as professional athletes have individual sponsorships outside of their team endorsements, so too do professional eSports athletes. One of the most common methods for initiating brand partnerships on an individual level is through partnering with your prospective gamer’s Twitch stream.
Twitch is a live-streaming platform that nearly all pro gamers stream their personal gaming sessions on and is a rapidly growing platform for advertisers.
For a deeper dive into Twitch advertising and how to pick the right representative for your brand, check out my previous blog Utilizing Emerging Media Channels: Twitch Advertising
Affiliate Marketing with eSports Streamers
The most widely used tactic by brands who partner with Twitch streamers is the affiliate code. Essentially the streamer is given a unique code which they can share with their fans who typically receive a small discount (usually between 5-10%) when they purchase the company’s products using the code. The streamer receives a percentage of each sale on which their affiliate code is applied, and will generally have a content block in their channel information advertising the offer.
This is a very low-risk tactic for brands to employ and allows them to initiate a partnership with little or no up-front investment. An affiliate code is typically the first step brands will take in engaging with a streamer, and is a great way to test whether or not the partnership will be a good fit.
eSports Arena Sponsorship
An advertising route still in its infancy (thus not one of the main 3), but with tremendous potential and growth is the development of dedicated eSports arenas.
This past year saw the construction of some incredible arenas specifically tailored to hosting live eSports events. One arena whose introduction broke news headlines was the opening of the largest eSports stadium in North America in Arlington, Texas.
Think banners, digital displays, PoP interactions, naming rights, fan engagement events, merchandising/swag, and countless other brand engagement opportunities within a live venue.
Creativity is King: A Case Study of Successful eSports Sponsors
The last thing gamers want to see is a generic “Buy X Brand” endorsement plastered across a stream they’re watching or be subject to a campaign from a brand that is clearly out of touch with the audience and industry they’re targeting.
Gamers are creative, passionate people and the games they devote countless hours of their lives playing are live-action works of art in and of themselves. Successful eSports sponsors understand and honor this fact, and seek to create campaigns with a comparable level of craftsmanship and intent.
With that in mind, here are some of my personal favorite eSports sponsorships that have occurred in the past few years (all of which have been highly successful and ALSO well received by the respective game’s community).
Rocket League | Mobil 1
In my opinion, the most organic and ingenious partnership between an eSport and major brand was the pairing of Rocket League and Mobil 1 which began in 2016. Rocket League, a hyper-fast paced game where players pilot rocket-boosted RC cars in an enclosed arena while attempting to knock a massive soccer-like ball into goals at either end, could not have been a more natural fit for a brand centered around producing high-quality synthetic motor oil (how perfect is that!?).
Cloud 9’s Counter Strike team | United States Air Force (USAF)
Arguably the most badass brand partnership in the eSport world, Counter Strike is a first-person shooter (FPS) that is one of the longest-running eSports in the world. A game that requires millisecond-quick reaction times, incredibly precise aim, as well as constant teamwork and communication, it has long been the game of choice among current and former members of the Armed Forces.
Dr. Disrespect | G FUEL
In the arena of unique Twitch streamers, there is no one who puts on a more entertaining show than Guy Beahm a.k.a Dr.Disrespect. Known for wearing his signature “Black on Black on Slate Black” shirts, the partnership with G FUEL saw the creation of an ad campaign and new energy drink flavor “Black on Blackberry” specifically built around “The Doc’s” signature style and catch phrases.
If you haven’t seen the ad on Youtube, it’s 2:20 of creative advertising magic. G FUEL is a natural energy drink formula specifically positioned within the gaming and eSports industry. Their products are wildly popular with gamers due largely in part to the relevancy and craftsmanship of their advertising campaigns.
The Final Round: Wrapping it all Up
Partnering with an eSports organization or individual gamer can provide your brand/organization the opportunity to reach a very large and diverse audience, with extremely high levels of engagement. On top of this, the captivating and creative nature of the industry allows for unique partnerships and campaign ideas for eSports sponsors.
As investment into the eSports world continues to increase, so too will opportunities for sponsorships and brand collaborations. eSports sponsorships provide a new and exciting avenue for brand expansion and will surely be on of the more exciting avenues for advertisers to expand their offerings into in the near future. So, if you’re looking for an innovative new way to drive brand engagement and seek a new audience, don’t write off becoming an eSports sponsor!
If you’re wary of running this mission solo, let’s team up. We help brands of all industries identify and chart a course toward their True North.
Rocket League eSports Official Twitter Page – https://twitter.com/RLEsports
Dr.Disrespect Official Twitch Channel - https://www.twitch.tv/drdisrespect