eSports: The best millennial marketing channel you don’t understand

Charlie Spargo's picture
Sonny Waheed, Vexed Gaming Co-director

If you’re trying to target anyone under the age of 35 and you haven’t got and eSports strategy, then you’re wasting about 75% of your marketing spend, says Sonny Waheed, Co-Director of Manchester eSports Team Vexed Gaming.

If, like me, you’re over the age of 35, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what eSports is. And, you’d also be forgiven when, on hearing what it is, you look incredulously at the person who explained it to you.

However, if you’re in charge of your business’s brand or communications, you’ll need to get to grips with eSports faster than you can say "CS… what?". The opportunity for brands is huge and there for the taking because as a channel to a hugely valuable demographic, eSports is almost completely ignored by marketers the world over.

The size of the eSports opportunity

Simply put, eSports is professional competitive computer gaming - yes, watching people play computer games. Surprising as it may seem, it is a bona fide sport and comes with all the circus and paraphernalia that any other professional sport attracts (tournaments, fans, broadcasts, tours, team kit, merchandise, etc.). 

It also has an audience. A huge audience that’s growing by the day. Currently there are over 450 million regular eSports viewers worldwide and this number is growing at double digit rates annually.

By 2020, it is forecast to be the second most viewed sport in the US, after the NFL. In the world of arenas and stadiums, the fastest growing sector is the eSports arena. Live tournaments attract tens of thousands of fans and sell out faster than a BTS concert (the world’s biggest K-Pop band, in case you were wondering).

A clear path to the hearts and minds of millennials

But unlike any other sport, or any other form of entertainment for that matter, eSports has one unique and very powerful differentiator. Its audience is made up, almost exclusively, of millennials and Generation Zs - probably the most difficult demographics for any brand to reach. 

And that’s why eSports needs to be part of every consumer product’s marketing mix. Not as a whimsical sponsorship agreement or tentative one-off activation, but as a fundamental strategy in the communications mix.

As you will no doubt know, millennials have eschewed the social and information touchpoints of former generations. Radio is passé - it’s Spotify or Deezer. Broadcast TV is dead - thanks YouTube and Netflix. Newspapers and magazines are a waste of time (and destructive to the environment), not even online publications get their attention; it’s a news feed, Twitter, Telegram and a host of other information disseminating services. 

While this has been a boon for emerging technologies and services, it’s a disaster for brands relying on these channels to communicate their own campaigns and messaging. If you’re trying to target anyone under the age of 35 and you haven’t got an eSports strategy, you’re wasting 75% of your marketing spend.

eSports has become the gathering point for millennials the world over. It is this generation’s answer to cinema, music, football and TV. But unlike ‘our’ entertainment preferences, this demographic can engage with it more deeply than we ever could, as they get to participate in the games they follow. 

Video games (the non-competitive side of eSports) generate more money than every other form of entertainment, and due to their immersive nature, become all-encompassing within a player or fan’s life. As a result, outside of work and school, gaming and eSports fans find their lives dominated by it; and that’s why brands need to engage.

Without eSports, this significant, growing and powerful demographic will be beyond your effective reach.

First mover advantage

What’s great, however, is that at this moment eSports is only just starting to build up its commercial power, so the engagement you need is compellingly cheap.

Team sponsorship deals can be picked up at a fraction of the cost of, say, a rugby or football team, yet deliver significantly more reach and coverage among those hard-to-reach younger demographics.

It’s worth remembering, however, that the eSports community is a passionate, dynamic, engaged and loyal group, and they expect things to be done on their terms. A brand that successfully leverages eSports in a way that delivers value to its audience can build a base of enthusiastic advocates.

With a bit of thought and creativity, eSports will be a revolutionary element to the traditional marketing mix and transform your communications strategy forever. And all for less than your annual PR budget.