Ad-Tech Companies Are Dipping Their Toes Into Brand Sponsorship Metrics in Esports

With industry growth comes the need for new means of measurement

Man on a huge flatscreen onstage addressing a crowd.
Richard Tyler Blevins, aka Ninja, took the stage at the 2019 Fortnite World Cup Finals - Round Two on July 27.
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Measurement firms are hoping to rack up their own points in the growing world of esports advertising.

A flurry of major brands have signed on for sponsoring the rapidly growing world of esports. In July, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Snickers all announced sponsorships of the Madden NFL 20 Championship Series. Earlier this month, Honda became the exclusive automotive partner of the Riot Games League of Legends Championship Series. Even dating app Bumble is getting into gaming with plans to sponsor an all-female team for Fortnite.

But there’s another trend this year as well. As the volume and variety of esports streaming becomes increasingly mainstream, ad-tech companies have been creating new ways to measure the impact of brand sponsorships across various streaming and social platforms. With more spending comes the need for better measurement, and this presents an opportunity for ad-tech startups as well as the standard coterie of analytics firms.

Nielsen announced a partnership with Riot Games in June to measure esports sponsorships while others have been courting investors to expand their presence in the space. Goldman Sachs projects the esports audience size will grow from 167 million in 2018 to 276 million by 2022 while esports-related media rights and sponsorships will grow from $869 million to nearly $3 billion in the same period.

“There is a little bit of a fear of missing out, but everyone goes, ‘I want to have my esports strategy or do something,’ so everyone has stuck their brand on the wall,” said John Maffei, CEO of Matcherino, which recently raised $4.1 million from investors such as Wells Fargo and Galaxy Digital. “The real thing for esports to grow is the closed-loop marketing.”

Just like no two major league sports are alike, the same goes for esports. Some say there is still a lot of confusion among agencies and brands when it comes to knowing where to advertise.

To help solve this issue, Matcherino created something it’s calling a “SponsorQuest,” which lets sponsors incentivize esports viewers by giving money to a tournament’s prize pool and to the organizers every time a fan engages with a brand in a specific way. A marketer might put 50 cents into the pool for each app download or $1.50 for every sign-up for a trial gym membership, allowing for a metric beyond brand awareness or reach.

One of the brands working with Matcherino has been 24 Hour Fitness, which has been using the software to measure the impact of more than 400 tournament sponsorships since late spring. Brendan Egan, senior director, media sales at the national gym franchise, said the results of a campaign to drive free gym trials were better than he expected.

“The greatest challenge right now is identifying how to invest and how to compete with Gillette and Pepsi and some of these other companies that are throwing money behind the esports effort,” Egan said. “As it gets bigger and bigger, it could become like a Super Bowl where it’s cost-prohibitive to be effective.”

Measurement isn’t just an issue for brands spending on esports advertising; it’s also an issue for the platforms selling it. StreamMetrics, which pegs itself as the “Nielsen for the esports/streaming space,” gathers demographic and geographic audience data so that media companies will better understand their audiences. One of the company’s main investors is HBSE, which owns the Philadelphia 76ers and esports teams like the 76ers Gaming Club and Dignitas.

“The pain point that Dignitas has is the same that all the teams have: this inconsistent, confusing set of metrics that nobody has been able to grab and explain to the brand advertiser community,” said Dan Nemo, co-founder and COO of StreamMetrics.

While some companies are focused on audience, others are hoping to measure advertising on esports-related streaming platforms to real-world sales. Audience analysis platform FanAI has spent the past few years landing data contracts with First Data, Mastercard and others to track how watching gaming competitions on Twitch impacts purchasing decisions.

One of the companies working with FanAI is GumGum Sports, which uses computer vision to identify where a brand’s logo shows up across various platforms, whether it’s on a player’s jersey or beyond set competitions and during practices that might be in the middle of the night and harder for humans to track.

“The hardest thing to do,” said Jeff Katz, vp of strategy and strategic partnerships at GumGum Sports, “would be [for] human beings to take a stopwatch and tell me every single time Dr Pepper shows up on the screen when it’s going 30 hours nonstop.”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 19, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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