Spend your sponsorship dollars with eSports now before it’s too late to reach Gen Z

Any brand worth its salt looking to speak to Gen Z need look no further than eSports, but delaying your entry into this world could prove fatal for brand marketers – warns Viraj Chouhan of Iris Singapore

It’s the finals. There is $6.5 million at stake and 15,000 people crowd the arena, filling it with a cacophony of colours and chants. Another 33 million are tuned in worldwide. The air is thick with anticipation, the game begins.

Some 27 minutes in, with one team down a player, an opposition player goes on the front foot – only to be counter-attacked with a move that will go down in history. The arena erupts; thousands of people are on their feet, with many fans hysterically crying into their team scarves.

This is not soccer or cricket, but eSports. It was once perceived as an odd child in sports sponsorship, but now it’s a very different story. The opportunity for marketers to authentically reach Gen Z consumers is abundantly clear all of a sudden.

And the truth is, sport is defined by the common values needed to excel. They matter because, through sport, these become the values that shape us.

There’s a reason the Messis and Tendulkars are revered so – they embody the values of the sport itself – skill, dedication, teamwork, courage and humility.

The values shown by eSports prove its legitimacy. That is why the same seriousness around sponsorship should apply, as with mainstream sports

So what makes it a legitimate sport that marketers should include in their sponsorship dollar spend?

First of all, teamwork. This is there in how professional gamers approach each match. Split-second decision-making, a team supporting its core units and perfectly synchronised battle tactics are present in even the low-tier teams of every game.

Next up, dedication. The pro teams live, breathe and play together – much like top English Premier League football teams do. But when it comes to practice, pro gamers take it one step further – training between 12 and 18 hours a day.

Then, you have courage. Simply spend an hour in the Twitch chat in a pro-gamer’s livestream and experience the trolls who target them daily. That is not easy to deal with.

So in the round all these values prove its legitimacy as a sport. But why should brands care?  Well, it’s simple: eSports is the playground of the Gen Z consumer.

The rule of thumb for brands investing in eSports is to remember that gamers are generally a savvy audience. They won’t fall for the usual tricks. Firms that show they are doing something to benefit the space, while matching the values and dedication of players tend to live longer than ones that do a logo slap.

A simple example of this is in-game tie-ups that reward players without annoying them. Like the Fortnite-Marvel link-up to promote Infinity War by including Thanos as a playable in-game character.

An even more authentic example is the long-standing partnership between McLaren and Forza. When the car manufacturer wanted to launch the new McLaren Senna, they unveiled it at E3 2018 – the world’s biggest gaming expo.

The 789bhp monster was on stage next to a playable version of the Forza Horizon 4 racing game, announced in tandem with the car. The Senna even graces the front cover of the game and comes pre-loaded into your version when you purchase the ‘ultimate edition’, giving your character a competitive edge.

But this goes beyond the usual suspects. Some less-expected players are already in the game, like Gillette sponsoring Team Solo Mid (a well-respected team within the community). While there are some teething troubles, as is expected from exploring unfamiliar territories, at least they are brave enough to throw their hat in the ring at this early stage.

So any brand worth its salt looking to speak to Gen Z need look no further than eSports. As long as they remember three key points:

  1. Advertising in eSports has to be organic
  2. The key is to really understand them and, in a way, be one of them
  3. Get in now because the chance to be there from the beginning only comes around once

Somewhere at this moment, gamers are readying for a $25million prize pool. Ignoring the buzz and momentum around the sport and not becoming an early adopter could mean its game over for brands looking to target the Gen Z demographic. You’ve been warned.

Brands should get in early with eSports, says Chouhan

Viraj Chouhan is a senior creative at the creative agency Iris Singapore


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