October 19 2017

Forbes: Real Or Fiction: Betting On Game Characters Or eSports Gamers?

David Schwab, Thought Leadership, Forbes, First Call, eSports

Octagon First Call's David Schwab continues his regular contributions to Forbes by examining eSports influencer opportunties for brands: the fictional game character and the budding Gamer that is playing it. 



Gaming and eSports are booming. In 2016, the estimated global audience for gaming was over 2 billion while the eSports community reached 385 million (with a massive international audience), and it is expected to grow to 589 million by 2020. That’s 589 million! As consumer interest soars, advertisers and media platforms take notice and scramble to identify and explore ways to engage. Even Hollywood is front-and-center as Tomb Raider, Rampage, Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog movies hit theaters shortly.

Marketers are eager to capitalize but find similar challenges to their experience with the once burgeoning action sports market (e.g., X Games, Dew Tour). It is challenging for brands to share their marketing message in a way that doesn’t alienate savvy and educated gaming fans.

So…where do you make the bet? A fictional game character or the budding Gamer that is playing it? We bet on the latter.

Coca-Cola’s recent campaign featuring gaming character Alex Hunter from FIFA 18 may feel new and novel, and certainly draws a lot of media attention, but it’s not going to be the norm. Publishers are reluctant to hand over the intellectual property they’ve worked so hard to develop, and they won’t risk losing the fan base they’ve built by handing over their IP to marketers naive to the gaming space. So if you are keen to build a program around a gaming characters, the onus will be on the brand to pitch marketing programs that are mutually beneficial for the consumer and the game developer. It’s hard to make this work and game makers and marketers at Riot Games, Activision, XBOX, PSN and others know their business. Don’t forget that.

If you go down the gaming character path, make sure the content builds the character’s brand with the right tone, feel and in the medium that is appropriate for the audience. Miss that step and it won’t matter how much you are willing to spend, the publisher will say no. Fictional characters help mitigate the risk of a real-life influencer making a misstep, but they are not foolproof. Ensure a trusty colleague is managing the content from the feed and they don’t send a controversial post just to make a statement.

That brings us back to the real life Gamers, where more and more of brand talent budgets will be spent in the coming years. When working with this emerging talent set and audience, remember these items.

Be true to your audience. Fans are more apt to connect with the eSports players if they’re being reached through the right platform, with the right message. Studies show these fans consume half of their video content on mobile, and over index as cord cutters, so adapt the media plan to align with the audience. Consider gaming-focused channels like Twitch, YouTube Gaming and console platforms, as well as Instagram, Instagram Stories and Snapchat as primary avenues.

Don’t go it alone. You probably don’t know who Brandon “Seagull” Larned is, but your audience does. Seagull is one of the best Overwatch players on the planet, and has nearly 700K followers on Twitch. Seek the counsel of smart marketers and operators like Craig Levine, CEO ESL and Mike Rufail, Owner of Envy Gaming, to ensure the work is done right. Just because you can write the check, it doesn’t mean you know the space.

Build beyond the game. Similar to the approach you’ll need when pitching a developer on the use of their character, the parties should develop a content calendar that feels authentic to the target audience. That includes identifying the right type of content, whether that be short content pieces that are product how-to’s, behind the scenes, gaming tips or even shareable GIFs. Check out the lines at the eSports autograph signings - you will quickly see the popularity of the talent and ways to use them for your brand.

Retail. Retail. Retail. Create a connection between a retail purchase and the consumer’s ability to unlock benefits within a game, similar to the DLC (Downloadable Content) which is already found in so many games. If a brand can support the growth of a gamer to help them level up, or provide access to exclusive content by way of a purchase, then the brand has found a relevant way to connect and drive the bottom line. And talent can be the right mouthpiece to share the message.

The influx of brand marketing funds to support platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming, coupled with talent budgets going to Gamers (and the occasional gaming characters), will expedite eSports’ push into the mainstream. It’s only a short matter of time before your brand ambassador roster includes a seagull.