Is eSports the new frontier for sport sponsorships?

Last Sunday, Australian sport captured millions of global and local eyeballs on a major scale, but wasn’t because of the A-League grand final; our sporting profile was lifted to prominence by our first major eSports tournament the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Sydney.
Over 10,000 attendees packed theQudos Bank arena in the sold-out event to watch the best teams from across the world (including one domestic) compete to take home $260,000 in prize money and a key rank in their international standing.
Produced by ESL (the biggest eSports producer in the world), Australian eSports fans marveled at the theatrics both from the players and producers who transformed the arena into a spectacle that only eSports can achieve and highlighted exactly why it’s the fastest-growing spectator sport in the world.

Why should marketers and brands pay attention to eSports?

 
For the corporate sponsors Intel, it’s easy to see why they are major partners, with the unparalleled brand integration that was nothing but seamless. Not only is Intel the first point in the name of the series, but the connectivity between their brand and the sport should be the benchmark all brands and sports aim to achieve.

 
If you weren’t one of the millions watching the live stream across a huge portfolio of digital access points such as Facebook, Curse, Twitch and YouTube to name a few (eSports is open broadcast, meaning anyone can pick up and redistribute the broadcast, branding included, without penalty), here is a snapshot of how the major sponsoring brand Intel was brought to life during the event.

 
Firstly, the presence of Intel’s name as the brand. Unlike traditional sport sponsorship tags (sponsored by, in association with, partnered with etc.), IEM signifies that Intel is both an enabler and powering force in creating access points for audiences to see, touch and feel professional eSports. Without Intel, there is no event and it was evident by the fans holding up Intel signs and Intel-dominated branded merchandise that they embrace the partnership.

 
As a viewer, it was impossible to miss Intel’s hand in every element. From the branded replays, constant onscreen logo, in-stream commercials, commentator’s desks, colour coded broadcast and even the official app, each touchpoint had blatant consideration for Intel’s brand.

 
But it was how these touchpoints enhanced the sport and viewer experience which had the numerous marketers from other brands rubbing their hands in excitement at this new wave of sports integration.

 

Intel opened their doors to ESL who essentially built IEM by starting with the product and creating the tournament around it, with the audience’s desires at the heart.

 

For Intel, it was focused on performance, which fed new content segments regarding player analysis, strategy breakdown and much more. But regardless of the goal, this partnership gives Intel a voice to talk with authority to this audience about their products.

So why is eSports different for brands than traditional sports?

 

ESports is the first and only mainstream sport born from the digital age and platform. The games themselves began and thrive as digital commercial property, which taps into users’ desires to engage and purchase online.

 
Breaking this down further, the reason eSports is free to view without restriction is that the commercial transactions are already embedded in their behavior. ESL, Valve, Blizzard; they don’t need to charge their viewers to watch, as they have already paid to participate. They are the players, then consumers, who passionately follow and who have spoken with their credit cards before the tournament starts (loaded into platforms like Steam, EA Access, and Battlenet to name a few).

 
It’s this pre-existing connectivity to purchasing that allows brands now to skip several steps in the purchasing process. Branding, referral, and connectivity to purchase happen immediately. The consideration phase is gone as sponsorship includes purchase opportunities.

 

Why this type of behavioural adjustment works for brands?

 
Rather than this being led by brands, this new type of consumer journey is audience led. eSports audiences seek brands that behave like their passion points: fast paced and early adopters of new practices. It’s why brands like Subaru, Samsung, Visa (who sponsor winning team SK Gaming) have capitalized so well internationally, by changing the way they pitch their products to this audience so they can cut straight to purchasing. No fuss, no lengthy lead generation trails, just exposure into sales.
 

Intel capitalised on this spectacularly at IEM by offering a limited stock gaming PC live at the event which sold out in a matter of minutes, surprising even their expectations. But once again this audience showed how they are willing to put their money where their passions are.

 

So what does IEM do now for the Australian market?

 
IEM has blown Australian eSports into the global stage. Selling out Qudos Bank Arena when the tournament was only confirmed 9 weeks earlier has shown ESL global (and its partner brands) that Australia’s eSports community means business and is hungry for more. Already, global brands who sponsor international tournaments have been the most aggressive in capitalising on this market. The question is now if local marketers and brands will act quickly enough to secure their position in this sport or be risk being blocked out.

Ryan Cunnningham About the author
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