14 Jun 2018

Game on: esports

Following on his talk on the esports panel with ESL, Daimler and FastCompany in Cannes, our UK CEO, Alex Clegg, shares his views on marketing in one of the most exciting industries today.

Esports is one of the fastest growing segments in sports, media, and entertainment, reaching one of the most sought-after demographics.  It’s an industry that’s the best of all three worlds combined, with a digital global audience.

From niche to mainstream

‘’Esports is an ‘ecosystem’ that’s rapidly busting into the mainstream. No longer suffering from an inferiority complex with respect to ‘traditional/respectable’ sports, esports is experiencing an inflection point in its evolution. With approximately 380 million fans worldwide, the incredible success of the Battle Royale game, Fortnite, and the dramatic growth of free participation via mobile, is transforming esports from the-biggest-niche-you’ve-never-heard-of-unless-you-are-under-25-years-old into something altogether more, in the widest sense of the word, popular.

Brands getting in on the action

And, of course some esports men and women (still mostly men/boys), don’t necessarily welcome that. As all dynamic subcultures know, there is something liberating about being slightly hidden, authentically parallel and different. Go to an esports event and there’s an overwhelming sense of acceptance, freedom and adventure. And now the world of brands and non-endemic business want to get in on the action. Well, whatever you do, don’t offend the ‘community’ because they built this world and whilst they are significantly more polite than many of their counterparts in the world of traditional sports, they guard their culture with fierce pride and love. So, don’t interrupt, unless you’ve got something relevant to share.

Esports is probably not a great name for such a rapidly mutating phenomenon. It doesn’t capture the passion, colour and sprawling nature of this eclectic and wonderfully eccentric world. The positive aspects of engagement are becoming increasingly apparent. Where once people shuddered at the thought of young children spending hours in their bedrooms glued to screens in lonely isolation, awareness is now growing of the healthy ‘team’ nature of many of the games. Schools and universities are starting to explore the learning benefits for students and the education and professional pathways esports is opening up. Could this be a sign that a more diverse profile of fans and players is on the horizon? Possibly, but that’s part of the fun of esports, the way it evolves is not easy to call. It’s a truly global culture whose heart can only beat to an authentic rhythm and from which new surprising transformations emerge built by creators from unexpected corners of the world, all brought to life with ever slicker technology.

Plugging into this exciting energy: Be useful, inspiring, and an insider

Still rapidly evolving, the ecosystem is complex with publishers, players, teams, distributors, sponsors, platforms, shoutcasters and fans coming together in a riotous global celebration of technology, entertainment and competition. At grassroots, amateur and professional levels there is a real sense of dramatic change as media and technology converge. Engagement is deepening and participation widening. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, everyone can join if they want to and multi-million dollar prize pools only add to the draw. Most importantly it’s an ever more ‘watchable’ world with enough eyeballs to make even the most conservative of business people want to decipher ‘what is really going on here.’ And unlike many traditional sports almost everyone who’s watching, is themselves a player so they tend to be seriously ‘into’ it.

In summary, corporate newcomers should tread carefully as they seek to plug into this exciting energy. The community is highly sensitive to being patronised or scorned. Be useful, inspiring and an insider. This is not merely a channel or a consumer segment, this is a world rich in character, culture and creativity. On the other hand, if done right, venturing into the world of esports may just give your brand the reboot and facelift it has needed, probably for some time now.

Don’t miss Alex at ‘Telling Your Brand Story Authentically in esports’ panel with ESL, Daimler and FastCompany in Cannes next Wednesday, 20 June, at 16.30 at Spotlight Stage, Palais II