In case you missed it, eSports is big business now. Its competitive players have been captivating the attention and marketing dollars that the traditional sports landscape used to dominate. Over the last few years advertisers have been pouring millions into the world of professional gaming. Thanks to companies like BMW, Nike, and even Louis Vuitton pumping some serious cash into to eSports, it’s safe to say this booming trend, which is expected to hit a billion dollars in industry revenue this year, isn’t going away anytime soon.
What is eSports?
To understand why this cultural phenomenon has taken the world by storm, it’s helpful to know exactly what eSports entail. While the definition can vary from person to person, most people would agree that the term refers to playing video games competitively on gaming consoles or computers. Players compete against one another in popular games, whether they are a part of a league or a team.
Even if you think you’re unfamiliar with eSports it’s almost guaranteed that you’ve at least heard of some of the most popular games that gamers are competing in today. Games like Fortnite (flossing anyone?), League of Legends, Rocket League, Overwatch, Halo, FIFA, and Madden have commanded the attention of hundreds of millions of people worldwide—and the numbers only continue to grow each year.
But history would suggest that these über-popular games are just part of the reason why competitive gaming is dominating the scene today. Over the last few decades, we’ve seen competitors like Billy Mitchell hold records in games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and Dennis “Thresh” Fong become so victorious in the game Quake that he took home a Ferrari 328 GTS as his prize.
The rise of eSports
There’s a number of reasons why eSports has flourished over the years like continuous technological advancements in video streaming, the explosion of platforms like Twitch (which was purchased by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million), growing accessibility to gaming systems, and the televising of professional gaming tournaments.
The last few years have seen a rapid increase in both occasional viewers and those who watch eSports on a regular basis. In 2018, there were a total of 380 million eSports viewers worldwide, with 215 million of them being occasional viewers while 165 million were considered enthusiasts. On top of that, Newzoo predicts that by 2021 the overall viewership will rise by 14%, making the total audience hover around 557 million.
Just to give you a little taste into just how popular these games are, 100 million people tuned into the 2019 League of Legends World Championship versus the 98.2 million people who watched the Super Bowl in 2019. Yep, you read that correctly. More people globally watched an eSports championship than the Super Bowl.
With the rising interest the consumer population has in eSports, sponsors have started investing millions of dollars into the sport. These investments have ranged from sponsorship of teams and events to endorsement deals with individual eSports athletes, and even total team ownership.
Who are these investors?
Looking at all those impressive numbers, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Fortune 500 and 1000 companies are forking up some serious dough for eSports sponsorships and endorsements.
In 2019 we saw one of the biggest partnerships in eSports history with Cloud9 and BMW joining forces for the “It’s Character that Drives Performance” campaign.
— Cloud9 (@Cloud9) March 9, 2019
We also saw Red Bull give Ninja some more wings (as if he needed it) with their epic partnership. Ninja is without a doubt the most recognizable gamer today with over 14 million followers, which is exactly why Red Bull even designed a Ninja Red Bull can to be sold throughout the USA.
— Red Bull (@redbull) March 28, 2019
One of the most intricate partnerships we have seen recently is with Nike’s sponsorship of the League of Legends Pro League. This $144 million deal involves all the players, coaches, managers, and refs wearing only Nike gear on game days—something that echoes what actually happens in traditional sports as well.
Huge global companies aren’t the only ones that are jumping on the eSports’ endorsement bandwagon these days though. Athletes, team owners, and even rappers are investing in eSports companies and teams.
- Michael Jordan and a group of investors just sunk $26 million into aXiomatic Gaming, which owns eSports organization Team Liquid.
- Drake joined forces with Scooter Braun and invested in the eSports organization, 100 Thieves.
- Multiple players from the Golden State Warriors NBA team have invested heavily in eSports. Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala joined a group to invest $37 million in TSM. On top of that Kevin Durant added an eSports venture to his portfolio when he joined a group that invested $38 million in Vision Sports who owns eSports team Echo Fox.
- Robert Kraft not only owns the New England Patriots—he put eSports on the radar for New England when he purchased Boston Uprising.
This is just a small list of influential people who are capitalizing on the popularity of eSports. Some other notable names that are continuing with this trend include Sean “Diddy” Combs, Odell Beckham Jr., and Steve Young—just to name a few.
The future of eSports sponsorship and endorsement
Don’t expect the popularity of eSports and the impact it has on consumers to die down anytime soon. With its viewership expected to hit around 600 million this year, sponsorships will only become more valuable and lucrative.
With popular gaming YouTube stars like Markiplier, PewDiePie, and Ninja becoming global celebrities in their own right, eSports athletes are on track to become as recognizable and influential as traditional celebrities and professional athletes.