With the esports audience estimated to reach 385 million people this year, it’s time for brands to pay attention to the growing fan base and direct their efforts and advertising dollars toward targeting the burgeoning industry.
With a large percentage of the audience comprised of millennial males—the share of millennials is two to three times higher than the big U.S. sports—the world of esports is ripe for brands within many industries to dip their toe into.
However, advertisers that jump in without understanding their audience may fall flat. Esports is a unique industry, and its fans consume media and content differently than traditional sports, often shielding themselves from traditional advertising.
Based on a recent Dimension study from Kantar Media, millennials, males, streamers and heavy downloaders are most likely to use ad blockers. With the core demographics of esports fans utilizing ad blockers, brands need to be creative and work in partnership with publishers, leagues and teams to get their brand messages in front of the esports enthusiasts they are trying to reach in credible ways.
Social media delivers the ideal vehicle to deliver brand messages directly to the target audience, while also encouraging engagement and broader reach. And the industry agrees: A 2016 Adobe Digital Insights report found that the social following of esports is larger than that of the National Football League, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball and growing faster than almost all other traditional sports.
Social content offers brands and publishers many ways to connect with fans. Because esports fans live online and on social media, brands are able to drive brand awareness by reaching users in their preferred environment, rather than through invasive banner ads.
Brands are also able to better engage with their fans, encouraging two-way conversations and speaking to them in an authentic manner via social posts. In contrast, the tone and style of traditional ads can often seem too corporate and contrived, turning off the intended audience.
Social also helps democratize content and allows users to report and share news authentically among friends.
As publishers adapt to an always-on newsroom—reporting on esports team changes, wins, losses and industry rumors around the clock—social delivers the most effective way to distribute the news in a timely manner. The publishers that use social to their advantage can tease video and branded content distributed across social media to engage with fans and draw them back into the publisher platform.
This also works for sharing short form content that links back to longer-form articles or video on the platform, which is especially important for branded content, where brands increasingly value engagement and shares beyond clicks and views.
Brands that are able to weave themselves into the narrative and become part of the esports story will have the most success connecting with fans, not to mention guarantee that their ads won’t be blocked. Not only does this ensure more eyeballs, but it makes brands part of the esports community in an organic and authentic manner.
Mountain Dew is one example of a brand that has created content that is now part of the esports conversation organically. It created a league and competition so that the brand is weaved into the fabric of the industry from early days.
It’s no surprise that social media has helped esports grow and become more mainstream. The brands and publishers that use this to their advantage by optimizing content for social distribution will be the ones to find success reaching the growing millennial fan base, because in the world of esports, all content should ultimately be social content.
Duncan McMonagle is senior vice president of strategy and partnerships at digital sports media company Minute Media.