The es­ports game

Es­ports au­di­ences are grow­ing prodi­giously, in­creas­ing the lure of spon­sor­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties to a range of brands be­yond the tech sec­tor

Campaign UK - - CONTENTS - By Matthew Chap­man

As au­di­ences boom, so the lure of spon­sor­ships will grow for brands be­yond the tech sec­tor

‘The reach and au­di­ence far out­strips other sport­ing and en­ter­tain­ment prop­er­ties’ Mark Brit­tain, Gfin­ity

It is a sunny Jan­uary af­ter­noon in Bur­bank, Cal­i­for­nia, and fans in sports tops are queu­ing at the Bl­iz­zard Arena to watch San Fran­cisco Shock take on Los An­ge­les Valiant in the open­ing game of the sea­son. These are not fans of NFL or NBA teams, how­ever. In­stead they are sup­port­ers of new city-based Over­watch teams. Wel­come to the world of pro­fes­sional video-gam­ing, pop­u­larly known as es­ports. Over­watch is an Ac­tivi­sion Bl­iz­zard com­puter game that fea­tures two teams of six play­ers bat­tling against each other in a vir­tual world. The Over­watch League (OWL) launched in Jan­uary with 12 city fran­chises, each of which re­port­edly cost $20m (£14m) to ac­quire. A lot is rid­ing on the in­au­gu­ral sea­son of OWL. Hype about es­ports has reached fever pitch, spark­ing a scram­ble by ma­jor brands to grab a piece of the ac­tion. This tour­na­ment, then, rep­re­sents Ac­tivi­sion Bl­iz­zard’s at­tempt to pro­fes­sion­alise the world of es­ports and make it a suit­able brand ve­hi­cle for largescale ad­ver­tis­ers. The sec­tor is awash with money as spec­u­la­tors bet big on 2018 be­ing the year it comes of age. In­vest­ment has come in from tra­di­tional sports teams, pop stars, pri­va­tee­quity firms, mar­ket­ing agen­cies, games pub­lish­ers, con­sul­tan­cies and mar­ket re­search com­pa­nies. How­ever, “non-en­demic” (in other words, non-techy) ad­ver­tis­ers have been largely no­table by their ab­sence. Look­ing at the raw fig­ures, it seems odd that more brands have not given es­ports a try. The global au­di­ence is pro­jected to grow from 385 mil­lion peo­ple in 2017 to 589 mil­lion by 2020, ac­cord­ing to widely cited fig­ures from New­zoo. Prize pots for tour­na­ments stretch into the tens of mil­lions and broad­cast rights are be­ing sold for eye-wa­ter­ing sums. Ama­zon-owned stream­ing ser­vice Twitch was un­veiled at the eleventh hour as the tour­na­ment’s broad­cast part­ner in a two-year deal, and is un­der­stood to have paid $90m (£63m) for the priv­i­lege. Other brands on the scene in­clude In­tel and HP, both of which signed multi-year head­line spon­sor­ships with OWL. A week af­ter the tour­na­ment launched, Toy­ota was un­veiled as the first ma­jor non-tech spon­sor, and sub­se­quent part­ner­ships have been an­nounced with T-mo­bile and Sour Patch Kids. The mir­ror­ing of tra­di­tional sports goes way be­yond the city fran­chises. OWL matches come com­plete with pun­dits who pore over the play­ers’ per­for­mances. “Bl­iz­zard is try­ing to do some­thing that has not been done be­fore on that scale,” Chris Hana, co-founder of es­ports busi­ness plat­form The Es­ports Ob­server, says. “They are try­ing to take es­ports to the next level.” Ini­tial re­sults are pos­i­tive. The open­ing day smashed ex­pec­ta­tions with a con­cur­rent au­di­ence av­er­ag­ing 408,000. Across the week, the av­er­age con­cur­rent au­di­ence stood at 280,000. This fran­chise model is also be­ing in­tro­duced to the pop­u­lar League of Leg­ends game. The North Amer­i­can League of Leg­ends Cham­pi­onship Se­ries launched the new sea­son with its own fran­chise model; each team fran­chise cost about $10m (£7m). Josh Ko­curek, se­nior man­ager of global mar­ket­ing for PC gam­ing at HP, sees it is a mo­men­tous time. “Two of the largest leagues go­ing to a fran­chise model ce­ments 2018 as a re­ally big year for es­ports,” he says.

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