Last year, 27 million people tuned into the finals of one of the biggest tournaments in professional gaming, the Riot Games League of Legends tournament. Just for quick comparison, that is more than how many watched the final games of the NBA Finals or the MLB World Series last year.
Welcome to the world of eSports.
Going on right now, there is a tournament in Seattle where more than $18 million is up for grabs (more than $6 million for the winners) for players of Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients). Gaming has matured from teens playing in the family room to young adults playing in basketball arenas, with events being covered and broadcast by ESPN. In fact, the same truck ESPN uses to broadcast Monday Night Football is being used to broadcast the Dota 2 tournament.
And, while for the time being, major sponsors tend to be related to eSports – game companies, hardware companies, etc. – it is only a matter of time before consumer brands take notice of the opportunity to reach a pretty large global audience. The potential rewards are too great for them not to.
But, as with all things dealing with brands, consumer brands must be careful. The gaming world will immediately recognize an interloper and a sense of belonging is of upmost importance to this group.
Why sponsors haven’t signed up.
Not surprisingly, Red Bull sponsors a number of eSports tournaments just as it has with the X Games, which also appeal to millennials. But few other consumer brands have jumped in.
Why haven’t more brands joined them? I think they are worried they will be labeled as an interloper, which if you think about it, is a very sad commentary for brands. Part of the power of a brand is an intimate understanding of who your brand is for and who it is not for, and consumer brands avoiding this valuable niche is evidence that brands, even those that this group uses every day, do not fully understand who they are supposed to be for. Or worse, they do not understand how to communicate with their target audiences.
This is a passionate, loyal and growing audience. Brands should embrace it and not be afraid of it. While their excuse may be that they don’t fully understand the niche, I would say that the brands don’t truly understand who they are.