With the global gaming market set to surpass $200 Billion USD in revenue by 2023, brands across several industries are looking for ways to leverage this growth. The e-sports and gaming sectors appear to have coped well with the crisis, as people stayed indoors during COVID-19 mandated lockdown periods. The social landscape shows this trend remains strong, and companies have a lot of room to be creative.
Although gaming has a long reputation as the home of hard-core enthusiasts and children, the rise of mobile gaming, quality content, and increased accessibility over the last 10 years mean more people count themselves in the ranks of gamers. The maturity of e-sports has further pushed the lucrative and entertainment possibilities of the industry. Whole social communities and platforms have been created to satisfy gamer appetites for high quality content. With Twitch live-streaming platform growing at an incredible 65% year over year, and non-gaming platforms like Twitter (24% growth) in the west, Sina Weibo (35% growth) in China, and popular forum style website Reddit (21% growth), there are plenty of viable options.
E-sport has not only bolstered the gaming industry, but opened it up to collaborations with other verticals. This has created opportunities for labels, particularly those able to think creatively and move quickly into a less-understood space. Now is the perfect time to increase reach, identify and deploy gaming influencers, and use the spirit of gaming to inspire fun and playful content. Understanding what drives consumers there, and what gaming experiences they enjoy the most, is just the first piece of the puzzle. With new trends and opportunities spanning the entire rapidly growing industry, how can your brand leverage the growth to reach new and exciting audiences?
Which Trends Are Driving Growth?
Live Streaming and Video-on-Demand
Gaming platform Twitch is the clear winner in the conversational growth around the gaming category. The American video live streaming service is the perfect place for the primary trend driving engagement, video-on-demand. Live content and broadcasting have given birth to Video Game Streamers capable of drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers to their live shows. The platform has leveled the playing field and enabled even those without specialized equipment to build a following across multiple platforms and create content that is viewable on any device.
Source: Linkfluence Radarly, Twitch Conversation Growth 2020
Twitch users are not only demanding, they are also accustomed to high quality video with commentary from industry experts. To engage on Twitch, companies must partner with legitimate players and understand gamer culture. For consumers, 2020’s lack of physical events brought increased usage of digital platforms and more content consumption on social media. It is imperative that brands stay present on the channel as live content is a crucial aspect of gaining engagement and meeting marketing goals.
For labels who aren’t ready to commit to several hour long streams, it is possible to identify gaming influencers who align with your product to help. These potential brand advocates connect with their audiences authentically, and often spend hours a day with them. Such a close connection between streamer and viewer can improve company image, but only if time is invested to find someone who can commit to leveraging their relationship. Regardless of the strategy you choose, as e-sports become more mainstream, influencers and live-streaming can be the focus of successful strategy implementation.
E-Sports Competitions and Tournaments
Although some brands saw the end of sponsorship tied with the lack of physical events, e-sports have presented new sponsorship opportunities. Even after early event cancellations as the industry adapted to an entirely online format, e-sport competitions were still possible as both tournaments and training could occur from home. This trend saw a 96% increase in social conversations between September 2019 and September 2020.
Source: Linkfluence Report, Gaming the New Eldorado For Brands? E-Sports Conversations December 2019 - August 2020
However, the industry did not escape completely unscathed. Despite the rise in conversationality, with e-sport arenas closed, the venues are facing financial difficulties as they miss out on entrance fee revenue. With this decreased financial support from in person events some pro-gamers chose to retire, prioritized other revenue streams, or turned to Twitch streaming. While large e-sports firms are currently working with limited capital, there is an opportunity for labels to support the growth and pro-gamers. By sponsoring online only streams and tournaments now, brands can build products visibility in this realm.
The key challenge now is conceptualizing a way to provide the audience and fans a comparable experience to a stadium or arena. Esports has not only bolstered the gaming industry, but opened it up to collaborations with other industries. For both Streamers and E-sports athletes, staying connected to fans and fellow gamers is crucial in maintaining an engaged audience.
Technological Innovations and Novelty
For companies looking to leverage the growing community, an emphasis on improving and iterating marketing delivery is important. Gamers are hungry for technological innovation and novelty, and are accustomed to frequent device updates, platforms, new games, and customization. Forums like Reddit and 4chan host 71% of the online conversation where users spend a lot of time dissecting new content and releases. Being new in the space should not be a point of fear, but rather seen as a strength. Whether you are looking to create more opportunities for your brand, or find new customers, those able to think creatively and move quickly into this dynamic space will be rewarded.
What Are Gamers Playing?
As the gaming industry expands beyond hardcore enthusiasts, casual gamers are turning to the community for entertainment and relaxation. The financially driven competitive nature of e-sports does not extend to all parts of the community, despite users excitement when discussing tournaments. Popular online game, Fortnite by Epic Games was released in 2017 and continues to inspire players. Parents of gamers have even hired coaches to help their children strategize and win as the game has become a large part of their offline lives. The positive feelings associated with winning even a free online game have inspired millions to join the battle royale foray.
Epic Games has capitalized on this excitement and positivity to pay forward their success in 2019. The company offered 100 Million USD in grant money to inspire creative students and developers to use their platform to build projects beyond the gaming world. Architecture, product design, and even automotive projects have used their proprietary Unreal Engine 4 tool. A further 100 Million USD was set aside to support Fortnite e-sports tournaments. An American 16-year-old managed to beat out approximately 100 competitors for the 3 Million USD prize that same year. These grants coupled with ongoing cultural icon and artist collaborations have been positively received by many.
However, the community building and e-sports sponsorship campaigns have not always gone smoothly. Games like Call of Duty have long had a reputation for the controversial opinions of its players and game play scenarios over the years. From the game play levels to promotional methods, the franchise has had some pushback from gamers, and news outlets alike prompting governments to write e-safety guides. The streamers themselves have also gotten into trouble as all involved seek to distance themselves from scandal:
Activision Blizzard’s performance has not been affected by controversy, even with its sales based largely on the Call of Duty franchise. 2020 Q3 brought revenues up 52% to $1.95 billion, with net income nearly tripling to $604 million. Now, after a shift to online, CDL (Call of Duty League) e-sports leagues have regained their fanbase in huge numbers to break records in a tough year.
Streamers have also noted the success, as they previously referenced the high costs associated with in person franchised leagues as one reason they stopped participating in e-sports CoD tournaments. As the situation improves and viewers return to the industry with online exclusive events, brands can offer sponsorship opportunities to both game developers and streamers.
This increase in audience numbers and ongoing success has been supported by typical gaming companies like Sony Interactive Entertainment Brand, Playstation, but Mountain Dew has also jumped into the mix with new products. Mountain Dew Gamefuel is specifically marketed to gamers, and is an official sponsor of the CDL. The beverage company positions itself as an energy drink for gamers with the goal of promoting alertness, accuracy, and delivering “Victory in a Can” to its consumers.
New call of duty is out so you know what that means.... I will be drinking Mountain Dew and eating Doritos while cyber bullying 12 year olds until Christmas— jawn wick (@furbyburglar) November 13, 2020
With a fresh and inventive product, Pepsi Co.’s Mountain Dew label created a win-win situation: they reach people in a new and exciting setting, while also supporting a burgeoning industry. Overwhelmingly, the drink is related to e-sports gaming and Call of Duty on the social web:
Source: Linkfluence Radarly, Mountain Dew COD Topic Wheel
Reaching the Gaming Community
The gaming community is heterogeneous with dynamic people of all ages. In the same way game developers strive to create technological innovation and novelty, so must brands work to meet these demands. Now is the moment to discover what users expect from your brand, and where you can make the most impact. With the persistent growth of the e-sport industry, and the dynamic and rapidly changing landscape, it's important to move quickly. Social media intelligence(e.g. the Meltwater social listening tool) can help direct these efforts, by identifying influencers and tracking which games or tournaments are trending and ripe for sponsorship deals.
Whether a brand is releasing new items catered specifically to gamers, or promoting existing products, it is important to identify which trend to leverage and understand which influencers in the space can make the most impact. Live broadcasts and e-sports competitions represent the future of the industry. Real time AI-backed social data analytics is the best option for your company to start taking advantage of this new El Dorado.