2020 has been an unusual year in many regards. The pandemic has not only led to a public health crisis but also affected many economies in a negative way. However, some industries benefitted from stay-at-home orders and social distancing. Among those industries is the gaming sector which includes the area of eSports, the specific field of competitive gaming.
In recent years, many games managed to establish a competitive scene where professional sports teams play in league formats, which is usually streamed lived on several platforms and followed by large audiences. The League of Legends World Championship tournament, for example, reached a peak viewership of 3.8 million (Dixon, 2020). These large audiences have made eSports increasingly attractive for the marketing efforts of global firms and other business opportunities.
The largest investment into eSports is already a decade old, when the Chinese conglomerate Tencent acquired a 93% stake in game publisher Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, which is to this day the forerunner when it comes to eSports. While older games, Such as Starcraft or Starcraft II already managed to build fanbases around them and establish a competitive gaming scene especially in South Korea, which has been acknowledged as the birthplace of eSports, League of Legends has reached new milestones when it comes to viewership numbers, tournament price pools, and advertisement/licensing revenues. In the next years, the eSports industry is projected to grow at double-digit numbers and reach $4.28 billion by the end of 2027 (Data Bridge Market Research, 2020).
As expected, many firms that may be closely linked to gaming have been using eSports as advertisement platforms for years. Such firms include peripheral firms such as Razer or Logitech, Software firms such as Intel, and hardware firms such as BenQ or Acer. Other companies that have been linked with advertising to gamers through eSports include sectors that have been traditionally linked to the “gaming experience” such as energy drink manufacturers Red Bull and Monster, or global Soda manufacturer Coca-Cola.
However, the enlarged scale of eSports competitions and rising public interest especially among the younger generation has forced more firms to invest into this segment, which can display a large challenge, but an ever greater opportunity for companies which are not necessarily linked to the field of gaming based on their products and heritage. Of special interest to those firms is the fact that they can connect to a specific target group, namely younger generations, and use newly developed marketing features as the eSports advertisement scene can still be viewed as a “Blue Ocean” (Nguyen and Galinski, 2020). Among those untraditional firms are German car manufacturers BMW and Daimer, with its Mercedes-Benz brand, which have increased their marketing efforts after entering the competitive gaming scene few years ago. While BMW has partnered with some of the most influential eSports Organizations across the globe, such as former World Champions T1 in South Korea or European stronghold G2 Esports. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz announced last year that it will be the “exclusive automobile partner of all global League of Legends events” (Mercedes-Benz, 2020).
Even more interesting may be the ongoing partnership of Riot games and Louis Vuitton. While having worked with Riot Games in the past to, for example, create so-called “Skins” for special occasions, 2020 saw the first Louis Vuitton X League of Legends Capsule Collection created by none other than Nicolas Ghesquière, the creative director of womenswear for the renowned fashion house. The clothing pieces designed for the capsule collection resemble features that were already introduced with Louis Vuitton’s Skin creations and are linked closely to in-game characters.
This way of introducing new products via gaming is just one specific example of companies using new ways of marketing to reach a younger, more digitally active generation of potential customers. Many industry experts expect an even higher number of firms targeting the gaming industry via integrating their brands to livestreams or into the games themselves to connect with the large number of viewers and gamers worldwide and to stay ahead of trends and developments. While eSports, as of now, may not be as important for sponsoring and advertisement deals as traditional sports, its breakthrough of being named a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games shows how fast this industry is catching up with related sectors and underlines the importance for companies to decide how they want to deal with its growing importance.
Data Bridge Market Research (2020) eSports Market – Global Industry Trends and Forecast to 2027. Available at: https://www.databridgemarketresearch.com/reports/global-esports-market?skp (Accessed: 6 January 2021).
Dixon, E. (2020) ‘2020 LoL World Championship draws 3.8m peak viewers’, SportsPro Magazine, 5 November. Available at: https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/league-of-legends-world-championship-2020-final-audience-viewing-figures (Accessed: 6 January 2021).
Mercedes-Benz (2020) Exclusive automotive partner of all global League of Legends events. Available at: https://www.mercedes-benz.com/en/sports/esports/exclusive-automotive-partner-of-all-global-eague-of-legends-events/ (Accessed: 7 January 2021).
Nguyen, T. and Galinski, L. (2020) ‘Digital-Marketing, Sportsponsoring und E-Sports – Warum E-Sports ein Blue Ocean ist’, in Terstiege, M., Digitales Marketing – Erfolgsmodelle aus der Praxis. Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-658-26195-5.
The Japan Times (2020) ‘Esports will be medal event at 2022 Asian Games’, The Japan Times, 19 December. Available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2020/12/19/more-sports/esports-will-medal-event-2022-asian-games/ (Accessed: 7 January 2021).