How to Leverage Esports Influencers to Grow Your Brand

Polina Haryacha

Polina Haryacha is a Founder at CloutBoost, a data-driven, acquisition-focused marketing agency that unites brands with like-minded gamers. With over a decade of experience in product marketing, user acquisition, and marketing analytics, Polina is a noted expert featured on TechCrunch, AdExchanger, Adweek, and other industry media. She is also a speaker at top digital marketing conventions, including Digital Summit and PubCon, where she shares her expertise in launching and growing mobile, PC, and console games.

Esports is a huge marketing opportunity for your brand—and esports influencers are your route to this opportunity.

While traditional sports and other entertainment halted during Covid, electronic sports gathered momentum. Major competitive video gaming events such as the Call of Duty League (CDL) simply adopted an online format, capturing the attention of fresh eyes in the process. But as a brand, why should you care?

In 2021, the global esports market was valued at just over $1.08 billion, almost a 50 percent increase from 2020.

Global esports market revenue

In a similar vein, there’s been a 9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in total esports viewership between 2019 and 2023—up from 454 million in 2019 to a projected 646 million in 2023. And while your brand may not be involved yet, others are. 

British cybersport organization Fnatic collaborated with Gucci on a luxury watch, while their League of Legends team sat in the front row of the Milan Fashion Show dressed in the brand’s clothing. 

Chupa Chups partnered with Spanish team Vodafone Giants on a sponsorship deal, while IBM and Overwatch League entered into a long-term analytics and sponsorship deal. These activations are no shot in the dark—global brands recognize the huge reach and engagement competitive video gaming offers, and influencers amplify both.

Why You Should Consider Collaborating with Esports Influencers

With millions of viewers, esports offers new opportunities for brands to spread their message and reach new audiences. If you think about whether or not your brand should seize these opportunities, here are a few key factors that can help you decide. 

Esports influencers became a more valuable marketing channel due to COVID-19

While the industry thrived during the pandemic, it’s far from a short-term marketing opportunity. 

Nielsen found that 82% of global consumers played video games and watched video game content during the pandemic’s peak.

Research from The Esports Observer predicted this growth to continue, with 61% of interviewees believing social distancing will continue to boost engagement with video games and electronic sports. 

As for the next few years, competitive video gaming is expected to reach 577.2 million viewers worldwide by 2024.

Global esports audience growth

Esports influencers enable you to reach a young, educated, and engaged audience

62% of esports viewers are aged between 16 and 34, with a global median age of 32. But it’s the characteristics of this young audience that should excite brands. 

A significant number of fans are in higher education or full-time employment. They are internet natives who are highly engaged, fuelled by the always-on nature of platforms such as Twitter and Twitch Chat. 

This engagement translates into watch time, with almost 50% of esports fans watching competitive events more than once a month.

Leveraging esports influencers is an effective marketing strategy

Partnering with professional video gamers for your esports marketing campaign can give your brand a huge boost. It can be way more effective than traditional marketing methods, with Apex Legends’ launch strategy being a prime example of this.

Apex ignored conventional pre-launch video game marketing strategy and focused almost exclusively on esports influencer word of mouth in the days immediately before and during launch. Enlisting some of the industry’s biggest names such as Ninja and Shroud to play the game led to $92 million generated in the game’s first month, sitting atop Twitch’s most-watched list with 50 million users.

How to Include Esports Influencers into Your Marketing Strategy 

Leveraging popular players and streamers pays off, but how should you go about it? Let’s explore a few effective ways to collaborate with them.

Sponsorships

Different types of gaming sponsorships represent the most popular marketing method in the esports industry, with estimated revenues of $641 million in 2021. 

Sponsorships are an accessible way for your brand to enter the professional video gaming market. If your research suggests that a particular influencer will resonate with your target audience, sponsorships are a comparatively simple and safe strategy. 

Given the strength of the connection between an influencer and their audience, having them interact with your brand in a genuine and enthusiastic way makes for effective sponsorship. 

Oakley recently partnered with the Call of Duty professional player Scump, making him their first esports athlete in a deal that will see him wear Oakley glasses on stream and at events. As one of the biggest competitive gaming stars who’s worn glasses throughout his career, the move makes sense for both parties.

While collaborations like Oakley and Scump come more naturally, creative integrations of esports influencers can make a seemingly unnatural partnership work. 

DHL partnered with ESL One Hamburg to support content on ESL’s own channels, a partnership that could raise eyebrows at first glance. One piece of video content featured an influencer acting as a DHL delivery agent preparing welcome packages for competitors. Another involved an in-game Dota 2 courier rebranded as DHL’s EffiBOT delivery robot.

By demonstrating knowledge of the industry and storytelling your brand in an organic way, a whole host of different sponsorships and partnerships become possible.

Giveaways

Giveaways are a relatively frictionless way to raise brand awareness around esports fans while building goodwill by default. 

From one-off giveaways on social media through to longer-term plays such as routine giveaways on Twitch streams, giveaways work. You could even combine digital and physical worlds with giveaways at events, for example, by mixing physical swag with in-game promo codes.

Creative campaigns

Presence at a professional video gaming event is a big commitment indicating to fans that you’re serious about the industry. Activating your brand in different ways at events allows you to demonstrate what your brand represents, and encouraging genuine interactivity can help with that tremendously. 

Speaking of unique brand activations, getting creative with your influencer marketing always helps you to generate added interest. Coca-Cola partnered with Fifa 18 (EA Sports) to create a fictional soccer star in the game itself—a star conveniently sponsored by the brand. Gaming predominantly operates in virtual worlds, so the closer your brand can integrate with those worlds the better.

Rather than leading with the type of activation that you’re comfortable with (e.g., giveaways or sponsorships), consider the unique perspective your brand has that could resonate with an esports influencer and their audience. 

A great example of this approach is Benefits Cosmetics and their YouTube series with Gen.G, which highlights the experiences and challenges female streamers face in the gaming community as an underrepresented demographic group. Joining the conversation as a brand that has experience and understanding is great for authenticity—you’re filling a gap in the industry as opposed to when you force yourself into the conversation.

Adidas also emphasizes the importance of content itself, compared with just the medium you use to deliver it. The brand’s partnership with G2 Esports involves the sponsorship of clothing, but both parties realize the potential for much more. G2’s CEO, Carlos Rodriguez, discussed how content is key to creating audience connection with the brand—it’s not just about a team winning. 

Esports influencers represent a great way to create content that will generate a buzz in gaming culture, but how do you select them?

Choose the Right Esports Influencers

Influencer selection is critical to your success since different esports categories reach different gaming audiences

Find the best Twitch channels for your brand with Twitch Influencer Discovery!

Data from McKinsey revealed four ‘clusters’, defined as different lifestyle interests of a particular audience based on esports consumption. For example, mature electronic sports fans (League of Legends, CS: GO) consume self-help products and are interested in e-commerce, business, and fast cars. Compare that to newer esports (Fortnite, Overwatch) fans, who are more focused on outward personal appearance. 

Lifestyle interests of esports fans

Data like Mckinsey’s should inform your influencer selection—there’s little value in targeting esports stars who have an audience with vastly different interests to your brand. 

Education around the competitive video gaming industry and culture is key to gaining the respect of your target audience. 

A lack of education can alienate your target audience—just ask Bud Light. Their “Bud Light All-Stars” campaign was supposed to identify the best players in esports, but, in reality, included retired or low-ranked players who the brand simply saw as potential ambassadors. 

Cases like this emphasize the need for a team with real knowledge of the esports industry. Unwise marketing strategies won’t work on these educated, highly engaged audiences.

Conclusion

Electronic sports represent a massive opportunity for brands to reach new, engaged audiences at scale. Global powerhouses like Gucci and IBM are already taking advantage, and leveraging esports influencers is key to their respective marketing strategies. Professional gamers and content creators authentically represent everything esports stands for, and audiences resonate with that. 

While esports marketing has tons of potential, it’s important to educate yourself around the history behind each influencer, what games they play, and who their audience is. A lack of education could lead to an unnatural integration, leaving the typical competitive gaming fan unimpressed, damaging your brand’s reputation in the space in the process. 

Brands need to utilize expert insights to develop influencer campaigns and esports marketing strategies to stand out in an increasingly competitive space.

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