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How Esports is Redefining Authentic Fan Engagement

Esports isn’t the wave of the future. It’s the present.

With annual revenue just shy of $200 billion and a gamer pool that is expected to reach 3.2 billion people by 2025, esports is changing the world. When it comes to understanding the impact of sponsorship on the gaming industry, Wim Stocks, the Head of Partnerships and Commercial at Belong Gaming & Vindex, has his finger on the pulse.

“Esports has redefined what it means to be a celebrity or an athlete,” he said during his session at this year’s SMA Sponsorship Summit. “It’s not about being the best player it’s about being an influencer, having an audience.”

Video games are accessible – people own them and play them in their homes. With an audience comprised of a Millennial and Gen Z crowd, gamers aren’t a traditional audience. For example, Stocks pointed to data showing that the gaming crowd often doesn’t have a cable subscription and they’re not going to movies. “When they’re entertaining themselves, they’re online and, when they’re online, they’re largely playing video games,” Stocks said.

Additionally, this is a group that will not be pandered to. If they’re not receiving messaging from brands that feel authentic, they will tune out. However, this is an audience brands, from beverage and apparel companies to insurance companies and airlines, want to reach.

Stocks pointed out that Intel has done a fantastic job reaching this audience as the Presenting Sponsor of Intel Extreme Masters, a series of international esports tournaments held around the world. “I’m a huge fan of what they’ve done,” said Stocks, who also joined us for a recent 7in7 episode. “I’m a huge fan of how they’ve supported esports.”

However, while Intel, the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturer by revenue, is an obvious choice for an esports partnership, there is an opportunity for other brands, even if it is purely based on the volume of content created around esports.

There is content generated around each esports event and esports player. The audience watches what players do while they’re playing and, what they do when they’re not. “Being integrated into that content is a great way for a brand to come to life,” Stocks said.

There are more and more sponsorship opportunities around esports, with recent examples including Fortnite’s partnership with the NFL that brought team-themed outfits into the game store and Cheez-It partnering with Minecraft. Louis Vuitton partnered with League of Legends to create a unique case for the League of Legends World Championship trophy.

In each instance, these partnerships hit the mark in terms of what the audience is looking for. “They look for, not only an authentic affiliation, but also affiliations that they believe will add value to their experience with the brand or their experience around esports,” Stocks said.

Esports is already a huge market that is only getting larger as mobile gaming expands. There are sponsorship opportunities for brands – if they are rooted in authenticity.