The rise of e-sports

3rd August 2018

With Fortnite Battle Royale hitting the headlines and e-sports reportedly being considered as an Olympic event, we take a look at the rise of e-sports and what it could mean for big brands.

As a figure strides out into the center of the Birds Nest stadium in Beijing, he is met by a roar that makes the broadcast camera wobble in its bracket. He pauses in the limelight, and nonchalantly raises a palm in acknowledgment of his audience. The crowd – some fifty thousand strong – howl even loader than before.

This isn’t the Olympics (once held in the same venue less than a decade ago) nor any sporting event traditionally associated with such huge viewing figures; it’s the finals of a computer game called League of Legends.

Across the world, sixty million viewers watch the figure stride across the stage and sit with the rest of his team with the quiet confidence of someone who has won every world final he’s competed in. You’ve never heard of Lee Sang-hyeok, or his competitor alias ‘Faker’ but amongst those in the know he’s simply called ‘God’.

Video games these days are as ubiquitous as films or books. You might not play FortniteBR but I guarantee your kids have. You might not realise, but you’ve seen footballers celebrate goals in the World Cup with dances or ‘emotes’ from the same game. This isn’t wildly surprising when you start to dig into the amount of people playing, but what is surprising is the amount of people who don’t even play; they just watch.

According to statistics released by twitch.com (a video game viewing website, that in the space of a few years has become the most popular website in the world behind only Google, Netflix and Apple), and published by Forbes Magazine, an average of 230,000 people will be watching streamers play FNBR at any given moment. According to the FCC, 10% of all US broadband households watch E-sports at least once a day. In 2014 11m people watched the LoL world finals. 3 years later that figure was up to 60m, with a higher viewership in the US than for any other major sporting event excluding the Superbowl.

This surge in enthusiasm for gaming can even be seen in our nations universities, the majority of which have founded dedicated e-sports teams that compete in national tournaments. One such is my alma mater the University of Nottingham, with other notable examples being Royal Holloway, UCL, LSE, Imperial College and even the staunchest bastion of traditionalism: Oxford University. Yet despite the rise of institutionalized gaming in our backyard, very few brands have been as quick on the draw as their counterparts in other nations.

The value of video games was once measured in the number of pennies collected from arcades, later by video game sales, but only recently have analysts begun to measure a rubric previously unseen in gaming: sponsorship values. Newzoo (a market insight firm) predicted that the value of e-sports in 2017 would be $660m, $484m of which would be from brand investment revenues – media rights, advertising, and sponsorships… a 33.9% increase on 2016’s earnings. It is believed that these figures will further increase to a total of $1.5b by 2020, of which $1.23b million will be brand investment revenues.

These are significant figures, and the opportunity for brands to engage a younger audience in a different way, via a new platform, is very real even if many are yet to take the plunge. So, who are the early adopters? Asian firms undoubtedly were quickest, with brands such as Samsung and Sony having invested heavily in the embryonic industry, but western titans are beginning to close the gap. This new-found commercial interest in the west comes in many forms, ranging from corporate sponsorship, to advertising deals, to brands creating their own competitive teams. McLaren and Alfa-Romeo have opted for the latter, and have already added ‘virtual’ drivers to their rosters, who compete in digitised models of their real-world racing colleagues’ F1 cars. Top flight NBA basketball teams are creating franchise teams under their parent company to compete in e-sports tournaments, but arguably the most telling example of grudging acceptance of e-sports comes from ESPN, who have recently announced a channel dedicated purely to online sporting events.

Not all brands are rushing to create teams however; other commercial firms with less experience in creating competitive teams have opted to follow the corporate sponsorship route instead.  One such example is Red Bull, which has invested heavily in the burgeoning e-sports market – not that surprising given its long history of supporting non-mainstream and ‘counter-cultural’ interests and sports – but much more unexpected was the investment coming from much more conventional brands: Coca-Cola and Taco Bell have both announced sponsorship deals with a number of different gaming tournaments.

This, therefore, is the most important marker of the growth of this industry. Investment from tech and automobile giants was only a matter of time… but food brands? This suggests that e-sports is shedding its nerdy-basement-dweller image and beginning to appeal to brands outside of its usual sphere of influence. If, for example, Connor McGregor’s fighting prowess and infamy in the world of MMA can earn him an extremely lucrative sponsorship deal with Burger King (not exactly the most obvious bedfellows) is it really inconceivable that one day we could see ‘Faker’ and others from his world promoting other food products? So when faced with this overwhelming evidence towards the growth of this industry, marketers shouldn’t be asking “should we?”. They should be asking “how can we?”.

Back in Beijing, Faker’s team, SKT T1 (named after their primary sponsor South Korea Telecoms), has been beaten by Samsung’s premier team: SSG. Faker breaks down on the stage and weeps openly as the commentators suggest that, perhaps, his star has begun to fall. One thing is certain; e-sports’ has begun to rise.

 

The rise of e-sports

3rd August 2018

With Fortnite Battle Royale hitting the headlines and e-sports reportedly being considered as an Olympic event, we take a look at the rise of e-sports and what it could mean for big brands.

As a figure strides out into the center of the Birds Nest stadium in Beijing, he is met by a roar that makes the broadcast camera wobble in its bracket. He pauses in the limelight, and nonchalantly raises a palm in acknowledgment of his audience. The crowd – some fifty thousand strong – howl even loader than before.

This isn’t the Olympics (once held in the same venue less than a decade ago) nor any sporting event traditionally associated with such huge viewing figures; it’s the finals of a computer game called League of Legends.

Across the world, sixty million viewers watch the figure stride across the stage and sit with the rest of his team with the quiet confidence of someone who has won every world final he’s competed in. You’ve never heard of Lee Sang-hyeok, or his competitor alias ‘Faker’ but amongst those in the know he’s simply called ‘God’.

Video games these days are as ubiquitous as films or books. You might not play FortniteBR but I guarantee your kids have. You might not realise, but you’ve seen footballers celebrate goals in the World Cup with dances or ‘emotes’ from the same game. This isn’t wildly surprising when you start to dig into the amount of people playing, but what is surprising is the amount of people who don’t even play; they just watch.

According to statistics released by twitch.com (a video game viewing website, that in the space of a few years has become the most popular website in the world behind only Google, Netflix and Apple), and published by Forbes Magazine, an average of 230,000 people will be watching streamers play FNBR at any given moment. According to the FCC, 10% of all US broadband households watch E-sports at least once a day. In 2014 11m people watched the LoL world finals. 3 years later that figure was up to 60m, with a higher viewership in the US than for any other major sporting event excluding the Superbowl.

This surge in enthusiasm for gaming can even be seen in our nations universities, the majority of which have founded dedicated e-sports teams that compete in national tournaments. One such is my alma mater the University of Nottingham, with other notable examples being Royal Holloway, UCL, LSE, Imperial College and even the staunchest bastion of traditionalism: Oxford University. Yet despite the rise of institutionalized gaming in our backyard, very few brands have been as quick on the draw as their counterparts in other nations.

The value of video games was once measured in the number of pennies collected from arcades, later by video game sales, but only recently have analysts begun to measure a rubric previously unseen in gaming: sponsorship values. Newzoo (a market insight firm) predicted that the value of e-sports in 2017 would be $660m, $484m of which would be from brand investment revenues – media rights, advertising, and sponsorships… a 33.9% increase on 2016’s earnings. It is believed that these figures will further increase to a total of $1.5b by 2020, of which $1.23b million will be brand investment revenues.

These are significant figures, and the opportunity for brands to engage a younger audience in a different way, via a new platform, is very real even if many are yet to take the plunge. So, who are the early adopters? Asian firms undoubtedly were quickest, with brands such as Samsung and Sony having invested heavily in the embryonic industry, but western titans are beginning to close the gap. This new-found commercial interest in the west comes in many forms, ranging from corporate sponsorship, to advertising deals, to brands creating their own competitive teams. McLaren and Alfa-Romeo have opted for the latter, and have already added ‘virtual’ drivers to their rosters, who compete in digitised models of their real-world racing colleagues’ F1 cars. Top flight NBA basketball teams are creating franchise teams under their parent company to compete in e-sports tournaments, but arguably the most telling example of grudging acceptance of e-sports comes from ESPN, who have recently announced a channel dedicated purely to online sporting events.

Not all brands are rushing to create teams however; other commercial firms with less experience in creating competitive teams have opted to follow the corporate sponsorship route instead.  One such example is Red Bull, which has invested heavily in the burgeoning e-sports market – not that surprising given its long history of supporting non-mainstream and ‘counter-cultural’ interests and sports – but much more unexpected was the investment coming from much more conventional brands: Coca-Cola and Taco Bell have both announced sponsorship deals with a number of different gaming tournaments.

This, therefore, is the most important marker of the growth of this industry. Investment from tech and automobile giants was only a matter of time… but food brands? This suggests that e-sports is shedding its nerdy-basement-dweller image and beginning to appeal to brands outside of its usual sphere of influence. If, for example, Connor McGregor’s fighting prowess and infamy in the world of MMA can earn him an extremely lucrative sponsorship deal with Burger King (not exactly the most obvious bedfellows) is it really inconceivable that one day we could see ‘Faker’ and others from his world promoting other food products? So when faced with this overwhelming evidence towards the growth of this industry, marketers shouldn’t be asking “should we?”. They should be asking “how can we?”.

Back in Beijing, Faker’s team, SKT T1 (named after their primary sponsor South Korea Telecoms), has been beaten by Samsung’s premier team: SSG. Faker breaks down on the stage and weeps openly as the commentators suggest that, perhaps, his star has begun to fall. One thing is certain; e-sports’ has begun to rise.