There’s a shift taking place in the esports world, noted Stephen Person, vice president of sports and entertainment for Fish Technologies, speaking at today’s Xlive Esports Summit in New York City: The area is less about the game and more about the gamer.
That’s the perfect opportunity for brands to connect with fans, Person said. Brands can create immersive experience for the esports audience by boosting the fan experience.
When Imari Oliver attends a live esports event, he sees a lot of brand misses. Oliver is cofounder of FIV and former vice president of esports sales and global partnerships for WME/IMG. Anytime fans are sitting around not doing anything, he says, that’s a missed opportunity.
“If you’re a brand looking to get this into this place, you need to look at the full fan experience from the time they wake up to the time they leave the arena,” Oliver said. There are down moments throughout any live event where brands can create an experience. And don’t think esports is only for brands trying to reach Generation Z men: “Almost any brand can find a way to fit in and punch in.”
Brands that want to be active in esports should look at the culture and understand how fans engage. Music is central to esports, Oliver said, and stadiums have lots of space for creating augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences.
What brands need to do is elevate the excitement that surrounds top gamers so that even consumers outside the esports bubble take notice. “How do I make it exciting and engaging for people who aren’t part of that world today?” Oliver asked. If brands can get people outside of esports to connect with players, then connecting with fans will be easy.
Most of the time, esports leagues don’t deal with brands directly, Oliver explained, but with their ad agencies. Getting agencies to spend their budgets on players they’ve never heard of can be a tough sell. One sales strategy is making the brand the hero of the campaign, with players and teams surrounding it. Campaigns succeed when brands are central, but still feel authentic to the viewer.
“We’re building a plane and flying it at the same time,” Oliver said. “There’s really no experts. This is uncharted territory for a lot of us.”
Brands can create immersive experiences for fans inside or outside the arena, Oliver said, but need to understand that fans value the opportunity to interact directly with their favorite players. Tell those players’ stories, he advised, and make them more human to the viewer. Take viewers behind the scenes in players’ lives. That’s something the NFL and NBA already do well.
Since this is a new area for many brands, Oliver advises sticking with central KPIs (key performance indicators), such as engagement, time spent, brand consideration, and awareness. The area is too new to tie campaigns directly to purchases.
Esports are big business, but the area is more personal than pro sports. Brands win when they harness fan passion and collaborate with talent in a way that enhances the experience.