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Esports Brand Partnerships

A strategic perspective from Twitch + GMR

by Dave Rosenberg, Chief Strategic Officer, GMR Marketing and Nathan Lindberg, Director, Esports Sponsorship Sales, Twitch

As brand marketers, we have all been monitoring the meteoric growth of esports and evaluating opportunities to engage in the most effective and efficient strategic approach. You’ve likely been asking yourself a lot of questions: 

  • Is there an appropriate game for my brand or should I stay away from a first association with one game title?
  • If I decide on a game title, who are the fans that follow it?
  • What is the difference, if any, between fans of different esports genres and titles?
  • How do I integrate a media partner into my marketing approach, and if so, which one?
  • What social platform(s) should I utilize to market my brand’s involvement?
  • How do I evaluate success of an esports partnership for my brand and business? 

These are all good questions. The answers lie in understanding the esports landscape and identifying your brand/product positioning within the esports experience to drive brand value through the appropriate partnership.

Part of creating an effective esports marketing partnership strategy is understanding how and why your brand is used and perceived (or how you want it to be used and perceived), and what it means to its users. It is then imperative to weave this knowledge into the partnership, making it part of a positioning statement and messaging that is unique to your brand, or return on investment will not be achieved.

The only way to resonate with esports consumers is to speak their language and identify an appropriate association that is easy to understand. One critical point to remember is that if it takes too long to communicate or doesn’t add value to the esports consumer, the audience will quickly recognize the lack of authenticity of the partnership. Identifying the most impactful partnership strategy for your brand is critical and should be driven by data and insights that answer the questions we raised above.

Digital integration is core to the brand partnership experience

As we all know, the digital landscape is where the esports consumer lives and breathes. Most of the esports media and publicity tend to focus on the industry’s marquee tournaments and events, but there are various other touchpoints to consider across the esports calendar, including regular season matchups, player livestreams, conventions and scrimmages.

Ultimately, it is important that your brand partnership and associated communications strategy is fully integrated across the calendar to maximize and manage the way your brand is viewed by millions of esports consumers globally on a year-round basis.

A brand cannot come and go into the esports ecosystem. As you are developing your strategy, it is critical to maintain a constant voice or presence of planned content. The most successful programs in the space have not been the biggest spenders, but the most consistent participants. At this stage in the world of esports, every brand gets noticed, but those that are continually present are the ones who are embraced by the esports community.

"A brand cannot come and go into the esports ecosystem."

Navigating the partnership landscape / ecosystem

A partnership with a specific game offers a high profile and challenging integration with many considerations from a brand marketing, consumer, and business standpoint. And while it provides a prominent position for a brand, the overall esports experience should transcend more than just popular game titles of the moment.

It should include other touchpoints within the esports ecosystem. Opportunities exist in all areas of the integrated marketing mix: partnerships with game developers/publishers, leagues/tournaments, teams, players/streamers, traditional and digital/social media.

It’s important to consider that the marketing partnership opportunities associated with competitions, content and fan engagement are all vital aspects to the growth of esports, which can be leveraged by your brand through the appropriate partnership.

Just as traditional sports can scale sponsorship from sport to league to team to player, brands can identify the same level of specificity within esports. The value of a game/league partnership is the deep vertical integration it creates with the title, genre and device it is played on. By choosing a particular game title like Halo, Street Fighter or League of Legends brands that have deeply aligned themselves with successful games/leagues have experienced reciprocal benefit in the gaming space.

Conversely, partnering with teams and content platforms provides horizontal integration in the esports/gaming space. “Teams” are typically organizations with multiple rosters competing in multiple games. Brands that partner with teams have a central and consistent point of interaction and integration across numerous games and game genres, which provides a broad reaching audience strategy versus a deep rooted vertical league/publisher integration strategy.

These teams also possess something not found in traditional sport—a truly global fan base. This approach can be a liability for brands that have products or services without a global footprint, however, the reach and engagement that esports provides will offset any marketing inefficiencies for a regional brand associated with a global organization. It is important to note that sponsorship success in esports, like with traditional sports, is tied to the success of that team, which can vary greatly across the games they compete in.

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Engaging the fan

Once you’ve determined the appropriate brand partnership, it’s critical to engage fans as active contributors to maximize the esports opportunity. Esports and gaming, at all levels of viewership and participation, is not a passive ecosystem. It has a fan base with an active voice that can be the basis of a partnership’s success or failure to drive brand awareness, trial and purchase. Much of the success of the livestreaming ecosystem is due to its two-way conversational nature connecting players and fans. Brands must seek out ways to amplify those connections.

The esports audience has high expectations of brand sponsorships. Esports fans can be an incredibly loyal audience, so long as a brand provides value to fans and assistance to teams and players.

Altruism is a strategic approach that can evolve a good strategy into a great one. Esports fans know that the landscape is underfunded and one way to change this, while simultaneously gaining their loyalty, is through sponsorship. Assisting teams with travel arrangements, increasing prize pools, and bringing mainstream attention to the space are all ways to help the industry and its leagues, teams and events grow. When brands tie themselves to the social causes of esports, they forge a bond with fans that can be the foundation of a long-term consumer relationship and continue to drive success for the brand.

Pick the partners that best align with your marketing and business objectives

At this point it’s not a question of if, but when your brand will need to explore whether a partnership is appropriate and if so, which one? Esports is fertile ground for authentically reaching Millennials and Gen Z if approached with a strategic lens on your brand and business needs. The growth and success of esports are tied to the “entertainment value” being on par with traditional sports and entertainment offerings.

As a brand, you also need to understand that because esports is so nascent and the opportunities are robust, the best strategy is to select partners that allow you to maintain your brand voice while adding to the esports experience for fans and players.

At the end of the day, like all forms of entertainment, esports is about the fans. Brands should think strategically about the value they can add to the fan experience and identify ways to build their esports presence around this message.

"The esports audience has high expectations of brand sponsorships."

About GMR Marketing
For more than 15 years, GMR has worked with a broad range of top-tier clients to plan, manage and execute strategic gaming sponsorships across the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe. 

About Twitch
Twitch is the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers. Each day, millions of community members gather to watch, talk, and chat about shared interests. Twitch’s video platform is the backbone of both live and on-demand distribution for all types of content.

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