By: Don McLean, Director Dentsu Gaming

In-game or at-the-game, the tight communities in eSports present big opportunities for brands 

In August, fleets of fans poured into Fort Worth, Texas, USA to watch the Rocket League World Championship live at The Dickies Arena. The World Championship is the culmination of a season’s gameplay which sees teams competing for a prize pool of millions of dollars. Dentsu Gaming was on the ground to soak up the atmosphere and stand side-by-side with fans as they were taken on a 72-hour rollercoaster of emotions, willing their teams to the final, and to witness firsthand the convergence of eSports and IRL fan culture. 

It’s easy to write-off eSports as an online-only brand opportunity, dominated by streaming platforms and influencer deals, but the reality is that just as other sports franchises are welcoming back fans post-pandemic, the lure of watching eSports teams compete in-person is growing fast too. This presents some unique opportunities for brands, but only if they are prepared to invest some time in truly understanding these diverse audiences. Here are some of the biggest insights that will help brands plan for what’s next in gaming: 

The level of fandom and energy is unmatched. Fans proudly displayed their fandom, from Rocket League t-shirts and team jerseys to crazy costumes and handheld props. The arena erupted in cheering over every win or loss, from a big FaZe win to BDS's season-ending victory to become world champions. The arena couldn't help but celebrate them and this makes authentic sponsorship, whether merchandise or team kit, a big branding opportunity. 

Like the pros on stage, fans' attention is glued to the game. When matches were happening, few looked at their phones. The big screens and players on stage all captured their attention. It's difficult to remember a previous sporting event that garnered this much undivided attention from attendees. If eyes weren't entirely focused on the match, they were breaking away to post their reactions and thoughts on Discord or Twitter. By all measures, it was 100% Rocket League, 100% of the time. Brands can create a presence through experiential on-site activations, signage around the arena like a traditional sports experience, and in-game overlay or replay sponsorships. But always ensure you're not detracting from the experience; it’s about adding to the overall experience, not interrupting it. 

Don’t assume gamers just like all gaming. When Rocket League fans go to watch Rocket League, they only want Rocket League! At one point during a break in play, a video played in the arena promoting people could watch the Rocket League World Championship within Fortnite. This tie-up elicited only booing and strong negative feelings around the arena. We even overheard one Rocket League fan suggesting, "Whoever approved that Fortnite video should be fired." When a group of Rocket League fans was later asked about the Fortnite clip, they said it was out of touch and focused on a completely different game. The sentiment also bled into social media where fans were also not amused. This highlights the importance of really knowing the community and what they're looking for during the experience. Don’t make assumptions about what fans will or won’t like – do your research, and get out and test ideas first. 

Fans want engaging on-site experiences that are memorable and strengthen their connection to the game and players. General photo opportunities were available, and eSports teams were set up for fan meet-and-greets and to strike up some friendly competition. Temporary tattoos could also be found, and several brave souls committed to face painting to show their pride. Brand sponsors also took this as an opportunity to add value by integrating into the experience. Ford showcased their vehicles in the game and on the ground alongside Mobil 1. In addition, brands had rotating signage around the arena, Verizon being one example; however, some brands fell a bit short on delivery. Mobil 1 offered free DLC to passersby, but it was a let-down to see that it was all gone by 11:30AM on Day 2. 

eSports has seen steady revenue growth the past several years, and Newzoo predicts it to generate over US$1.8BN by 2025. For brands already well-versed in sponsoring traditional sports or entertainment, it’s worth considering expansion into esports. While traditional sports and esports are unique spaces with unique due diligence requirements, some learnings may cross over to help give you a head start on exports planning. Nevertheless, there's a lot of upside to easing into the space. For one, there are opportunities today to strengthen the in-person connection and curate meaningful relationships with the passionate fan base. Doing so requires careful planning, of course. An audience-first approach and a deep understanding of the game title and community are great first steps toward a successful program.  

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