esports in a stadium

What the unstoppable rise of eSports means for brands

Conrad Arnavutian

21 Jul 2017

The Premier League is in hiatus. Wimbledon has just finished. But there's one sport that never has an off-season: eSports. Just like any other sport, the gaming industry has a host of mega celebrities, where fans flock in their hundreds of thousands to watch their favourite teams compete. Fnatic vs. Ninjas in Pyjamas is like the Arsenal vs. Chelsea in Counterstrike terms. And the fans love it. Endorsements for the Lionel Messis, Roger Federers and Tiger Wo…(actually, maybe not) of the gaming world are huge. And with exposure for competitive gaming massively increased through ‘streaming’ channels such as Twitch, fandom levels can hit fever pitch. But eSports hasn’t always had it so good. Derided by your parents and peers at one point or another, online gaming was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and perhaps a snigger. Since the explosion of console, mobile and handheld platforms, however, everyone seems to be a gamer in some form or another these days. As eSports’ popularity surges among young/old, male/female and casual/hardcore gamers, brands and marketers are sitting up and taking notice. Now the fastest growing ‘sport’ in the world, organisations are eager to get a seat at the eSports table. Amazon, which is throwing all sorts of items into its trolley, bought the aforementioned streaming platform Twitch for $970m in 2014. As a company that favours five-to-ten-year growth over short-term profit, it can clearly see the longevity and rapidly increasingly market value that eSports offers. It’s big business. Even massive football clubs are getting in on the action. Super club Manchester City recently announced it will host a Fifa eSports tournament exclusively in America. The competition will see the best 128 players on PlayStation and Xbox whittled down to just two on each platform through a series of heats. TV companies have also seen an opportunity. Last year, Sky and ITV launched the UK and Ireland’s first and only 24-hour eSports channel called GINX eSports TV. Live tournaments will make up the vast bulk of the channel’s content one would imagine, but you really have to question whether gamers would rather watch their favourite games online than on TV. According to Newzoo, a global leader in eSports, brands are expected to spend $517 million on eSports this year. This breaks down into $155 million on advertising, $266 million on sponsorship and a further $95 million on media rights. It might not be the Premier League’s billions, but it’s no small sum. And I can’t see it slowing anytime soon. Gaming has really only scratched the surface of what it can achieve. Mixed reality is still in its relative infancy. Truly intelligent voice and facial recognition isn’t as far away as you think. Heavily technical analytics, like those used in football and tennis these days, will surely add intrigue once available. So, next time you visit Wembley, is it going to be to watch Arsenal vs Chelsea in the FA Cup final, or Fnatic vs. Ninjas in Pyjamas?