eSports: The next big opportunity for UK brands
14 August 2015
Withpr Content Team
Tickets for the International Championship 2015 Finals at the KeyArena Center in Washington sold out in around five minutes. A 17,000-strong crowd were in attendance, cheering their heroes on. The finalists are proudly displaying the branding of their sponsors, including Monster Energy and HTC. Around the world, 20 million tuned in to watch the finals live online.
After months of intensive training, the two teams that made it to the finals were ready for their moment in the sun, their chance to compete for the $6,600,000 first prize – a sum far bigger than that of either the Super Bowl or the World Series.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I was describing a sporting event akin to the Super Bowl or Premiership finals, but in fact the event was the 2015 Dota 2 International 2015[i]. For those not in the know, Dota 2 is a computer game. And for the athletes in question, the tools of their trade were a keyboard and a mouse. Welcome to the world of eSports, one of the largest growing sponsorship opportunities in the world today.
The rise of the eAthlete
eSports dates back to the 90s, with tournaments such as the Nintendo World Championships standing out as early pioneers. But it was in the 2000s, with the advent of cheap, high-bandwidth internet and the rise in popularity of online streaming services such as Twitch.tv and YouTube that led to the phenomenon really taking hold.
Much like in professional football or motor sports, brands have also spent the past few years signing lucrative sponsorship deals with individual players. Dubbed ‘eAthletes’ or ‘cyber athletes’, these players often spend upwards of 12 hours a day gaming and stream their activities live online to their millions of fans.
Take Matt ‘Nadeshot’ Haag. At 22 years old, the fresh-faced student signed a sponsorship deal with Red Bull[ii]. According to a profile in the New York Times, the gamer has over 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, many of whom tune in daily to watch his live play sessions of Call of Duty, all the while sporting a Red Bull t-shirt. The YouTube channel alone nets Haag over $1 million a year and as with many gamers, he spends much of his time on camera consuming Red Bull energy drinks.
Nadeshot is just one of three professional eAthletes that Red Bull sponsor
People may scoff at the idea of an ‘eAthlete’, but these professionals are at the top of their game. They have lighting fast reflexes and are able to process information at an alarming rate – the top players are able to perform over 300 actions per minute.
Like other sports stars, sponsors provide these young athletes with personal trainers and nutritionists to ensure that they stay at the peak of mental and physical health. They are flown all around the world to compete in tournaments and appear at conventions, and they earn big money simply endorsing a product to their legion of fans. A recent report predicts[iii] that not only will global eSports revenues hit half a billion dollars by 2017, but global viewing figures will reach 145 million in the same time period – making the industry comparable to the NFL and American Football in terms of total audience size.
First person shooter, Counter-Strike: Global Offense, has been the focus of recent eSports doping controversies
Sadly, as with all professional sports, eSports has had its share of doping scandals, very recently in fact. Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen, an American professional ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’ player, recently admitted that he and many of his peers were using the drug, Adderall – a psychostimulant that is used as a performance and cognitive enhancer. As tournaments such as ESL One Cologne 2015 offer prize pots as high as $250,000, you can see why this would be seen as a major issue in the industry.
According to the player, such use is widespread; however the industry is already taking steps to address the issue. UK eSports tournament company, Gfinity are working on a new drug-taking framework[iv] in response to the controversy.
Growth in the UK
Currently the UK appears to lag behind in eSports, but we have had our share of stars in the past. Players like Chris Bullard, member of international eSports team, Team Dignitas, who are headquartered in London. In his heyday, Chris took home numerous trophies on the eSports circuit playing FIFA. He has since retired to the role of presenter but was recently listed by Red Bull as one of the Best British FIFA players ever[v].
Despite the lack of notable names on the UK circuit today, the opening of the UK’s first eSports bar, Meltdown, last year was a clear indication that the industry is beginning to see the commercial possibilities of the eSports culture on this side of the Atlantic. In December, Gfinity signed a deal with Vue Cinemas to open the country’s first eSports arena[vi]. In addition, owners of The Sun newspaper, News UK, recently signed a £1 million deal with Gfinity[vii] to become their official newspaper and online news partner. Gfinity are next looking to open up a second, larger capacity UK arena[viii], this momentum shows no sign of slowing down.
For UK brands, the potential of eSports is massive. Not only is there scope for uncovering the next big eAthlete and signing a sponsorship deal, but there is also the potential for targeted messaging through one of the many channels available to you – be it a bricks and mortar arena, or online display advertising through YouTube and Twitch. Gamers come in all ages, races and genders, so the variety of brands for which this new global pastime presents an opportunity is equally broad.
With international brands already actively investing in this space, it’s time for UK brands to step up and take their place on the global eSports stage, and potentially uncover the next world champion in the process.
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- [i] ‘The International 2015’, Wikipedia
- [ii] ‘How Nadeshot Became An eSports Superstar’, RedBull.co.uk
- [iii] ‘Report: eSports revenues to hit $465m in 2017’, gamesindustry.biz
- [iv] ‘UK eSports company Gfinity working on drug-testing framework following ESL announcement’, International Business Times
- [v] ‘The 5 best British FIFA players ever’, RedBull.com
- [vi] ‘Gfinity UK eSports arena: Pictures from inside Britain’s first pro gaming venue’, International Business Times
- [vii] ‘First major eSports partnership agreement signed with News Corp UK & Ireland Limited (“News UK”) owner of The Sun’, Gfinityplc.com
- [viii] ‘Second UK eSports arena planned by Gfinity’, Wired.co.uk