Competitive gaming has come a long way from the dingy basement LAN parties of 20 years ago.
E-sports is now a global phenomenon. The market is worth billions of pounds and, through live online streams and events, sees viewer numbers topping some of the biggest TV programmes.
For example, the 2013 championship final for free-to-play Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) League of Legends captured over 32 million online viewers – triple the peak viewership of The X Factor.
“Just like generations before us grew up playing football and basketball to learn the sport, and then watch and enjoy it on television, so too will future generations learn to play and enjoy electronic sports,” Drew Holt-Kentwell, associate manager for global e-sports at Razer, tells PCR.
He adds that UK firms should be investing in the sector for the long-term.
“All the numbers point to the continued growth of the e-sports industry,” he explains. “We fully expect more companies to jump on board for a slice of the pie.”
Businesses can make a splash in the e-sports pool in a number of ways – from offering pro-gaming products to sponsoring teams or even setting up their own tournaments. One such example is Western Digital, which hosts its own Black Monster Cup tournament.
“Players are the bridge to the consumer,” Holt-Kentwell says. “Sponsoring teams and players is about building a relationship and trust with players and their managers so you can learn to serve them and their fans better.”
Rachel Gordon, marketing manager for Mad Catz, agrees: “These players and their followers are the opinion leaders for a whole new generation of gamers.”
James Dean, MD of e-sports organisation Electronic Sports League (ESL) UK and marketing firm Kuoda, tells PCR that the industry provides an avenue to attract previously unreachable consumers.
“Similar to any sport, there are plenty of sponsorship and commercial opportunities,” he says. “The demographic is extremely hard to reach outside of e-sports activity.
“Teams act as a fantastic endorsement to products and services, and are usually very active on social media – their websites also make a good place to position a brand.”
Firms that offer custom-built rigs and gaming accessories are among those who can benefit most.
“E-sports plays an important role in the sale of gaming PCs and peripherals,” says Holt-Kentwell. “There’s a personal element to having your own PC that you can customise and refine with your own hands. Consoles don’t have that same resonance with users.”
“It’s easy to see the link between gaming systems and games,” agrees Darren Roberts, director of UK sales for Razer. “[The right product] can mean the difference between winning and losing [for a player]. It’s important that retailers understand this and promote and stock products suited to the many different game types and events.”
CHANGING THE GAME
Firms can centre marketing around major e-sports competitions such as the Dota 2 International and Major League Gaming (MLG) Championship.
There is a massive opportunity available for those willing to invest, with the prize pool for the 2014 Dota 2 International worth over $8 million (£4.78m).
Gordon points out that retailers unable to attend events in person can still utilise the audience engagement provided by major events by harnessing the power of social media and live-streaming.
“There are wider branding opportunities such as stream advertising and tournament sponsorship that put a brand in front of an incredibly concentrated and focused audience,” she explains.
Dean agrees, calling streaming service Twitch the ‘Sky Sports 1’ of gaming.
“A central, well known location offering a reliable and good quality service allows e-sports to grow, thanks to advertising revenues, promotions and sponsorships,” he explains. “All parties involved are in a position to earn revenue.”
Retail-specific events are also becoming increasingly common. Annual events such as Exist2Game, which launched in 2013, encourage indie stores across the UK to promote the e-sports sector – as well as their own outlets – by hosting in-store gaming tournaments.
E-sports has never been as big – and retailers as well as vendors could boost their presence by investing in the highly prospective sector.