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eSports Growth Creates New Marketing Opportunities

The rise of eSports is quickly disrupting the common perception of video gamers as social misfits who typically live in their parents’ basements.

Perhaps more important, eSports is providing new opportunities for digital marketers to reach younger individuals with novel campaigns.

eSports, also called competitive video gaming or pro gaming, consists of professional gamers who compete in global tournaments. The competitions can include teams that compete in leagues created by video game publishers.

Among other impressive developments, eSports is attracting high profile investors, with Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., recently investing in Immortals LLC and taking a seat on the company’s board, according to Esports Insider.

Immortals, which is only three years old, has exposure to a variety of titles and leagues, including the highly popular Overwatch League. Whitman says her goal is to see Immortals become the first billion dollar eSports company.

To do that, she and Immortals have a considerable tailwind. Nielsen estimates that annual eSports revenues will grow 35.6% from 2015 to 2020, reaching a total of $1.488 billion by 2020, according to Medium. Revenues, however, are only one part of the eSports story, with the growth in spectators being impressive.

According to Business Insider, the IEM World Championship, which was held at a stadium in Katowice, Poland, drew 173,000 fans over a two-week period this year. That's up from 113,000 last year.

Unique online viewers totaled 46 million, which set a new spectator record. It was a 35% increase from last year.

One study, furthermore, concluded that more unique viewers watched “Gaming video content” than HBO, Netflix, ESPN and Hulu combined last year, reports Marketing Magazine.

The prize pools for gamers are also noteworthy. This spring, for example, video game publisher Epic Games said it will provide $100 million to fund prize pools for "Fortnite" tournaments during the first year of competition, reports CNBC. At the time of the announcement, the size of the prize pool set a new record.

Brands are deploying a variety of marketing strategies to capitalize on the growth of eSports. One common approach is to sponsor a league. This spring, PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew became one of the first consumer brands to take that approach when it announced a sponsorship arrangement with Immortals, reports Inc.

Under the agreement, Mountain Dew has become the official beverage of Immortals. As Mountain Dew benefits from the publicity of being a sponsor, it will help Immortals deliver content and produce conventions focused on competition. Comcast Xfinity is taking a similar approach by sponsoring the Electronic Sports League, reports CMO.

Red Bull is also getting in the action by sponsoring gamers across the globe, reports a blog by marketing company Kairos Media. Red Bull’s sponsored gamers include Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, who is a “streamer.” Streamers broadcast their gaming live over streaming platforms. Blevins uses Twitch, which is a platform owned by Amazon.

For Red Bull, the sponsorship gets the company’s brand in front of Blevins’ eight million followers on Twitch. Blevins, however, could probably get by without the sponsorship. According to Forbes, Blevins claims he receives $560,000 a month from Twitch for streaming his gaming. The revenues come from advertisers as well as from viewers who pay for subscriptions to Blevins’ Twitch channel. 

CMO, meanwhile, maintains that eSports may be an attractive way to market to millennials, who frequently use ad blockers and are therefore hard to reach. Brands have to ensure, however, that their advertisements don’t interrupt gaming events. To that end, advertisements must be incorporated seamlessly into gaming content.

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