Navigating Esports

Over the past few years, esports has quickly become one of sponsorship marketing’s most popular subjects. Sponsorship spending in the space has skyrocketed, with Newzoo’s 2018 Global Esports Report indicating that brands invested $694 million USD globally in the space in 2018, accounting for 77% of the segment’s total revenue. It’s projected that this brand spend will grow to $1.4 billion USD by 2021, representing an even greater proportion (84%) of esports total revenue. In particular, brands are beginning to gravitate towards esports as it allows them to market directly Gen-Z around one of the cohort’s strongest passion points.

Esports is the fastest growing non-traditional sport by brand spend. Alongside that rapid growth in spending comes an element of uncertainty and risk. Like any good sponsorship strategy, marketers need to make decisions about their investments in esports that tie back to business and brand objectives while ensuring they have a clear understanding of the category and its nuances. Before jumping in it is important to look at the esports ecosystem and understand where the different entry points could exist.


Publishers– They own the rights to game IP, with many of them running their own esports leagues/competitions such as Blizzard’s Overwatch League and Riot Game’s LCS. Other publishers license out the right to third-party league organizers to run competitions using their titles.

Titles– Titles are the games themselves, which are produced by the publishers.  For example, Blizzard is the publisher of popular esports titles Overwatch and Starcraft.

Leagues and Tournaments– These are the organized structures in which esports’ teams and athletes compete. As mentioned above, some – like the Overwatch League– are run by the publishers, while other competitions, like EVO, will license the ability to host around various titles such as ARMS, Tekken 7 and more.

Teams– Teams in the esports world are comprised of multiple gamers and groups of gamers that compete across various titles under the same banner. For example, team Echo Fox currently fields players and supports gamers who play League of Legends, Dragonball Z Fighters, Madden, Street FightVand more. 

Platforms– Streaming platforms are the most popular medium for watching esports, connecting with influencers and consuming other gaming content. 


Know your audience and understand where they play

Do your homework before deciding which teams, influencers, publishers, and/or tournaments to engage with. Esports is an expansive and complex category that features numerous genres and titles with varied demographics, levels of fan affinity, and sponsorship opportunities. When aligning on an opportunity, brands should take the same approach and considerations they do when aligning with traditional sports or lifestyle property sponsorships. While male fans make up 71% of the esports base this isn’t consistent across all titles, for example male fans index higher on CS:GO, making up as much as 90% of the total game fans[1]. Using a traditional sports example, a brand like Etsy (whose purchasers skew heavily female) might be more likely to sponsor yoga as a consumer connection points, as opposed to hockey, given that yoga indexes higher in female fans than hockey does. Similarly, in the esports and gaming context Etsy would look to align itself with Simulation, Puzzle and Strategy Games as these categories index higher in female fandom than Shooters and Sports Games[2].  Being mindful of this approach is important when identifying which esports titles, tournaments and influencers to align with. 

Be authentic and show that your brand is a fan too

Esports fans are fickle and discerning. It is important to understand that esports has risen to prominence on the backs of a community. For many years local tournament organizers were running tournaments out of their love for gaming and not as a commercial opportunity. 23% of esports fans believe that non-endemic brands activity in the space is not at all appropriate[3]. Fans have not been afraid to call out sponsors who have come off as inauthentic or tried too hard to push their own agendas. To prove your authenticity in the space is to show that you have a deep understanding of the history, titles and fan passion points. There are inherent risks to going all-in on an esports platform. It may require you as a brand to stretch some of the edges of your brand’s comfort zone. However, when activated effectively, brands have seen the same loyalty fans show their favorite titles and teams be extended to sponsoring brands. A great example of this is when Arby’s entered into a partnership with ELeague and CS:GO, Arby’s put together a series of brand spots that incorporated humor and slang unique to CS:GO and its fans. Brands need to ensure that they are creating curated experiences that put the property out front and show that the brands are fans too. If you can do this successfully, brand loyalty and affinity will follow. Arby’s has seen this come to life for their brand as social, earned media and attribution results around their campaign have been incredibly positive.

Be prepared to get in for the long-haul

Esports is a category that is continuing to grow and evolve quickly. As a result, brands should not treat partnerships with a short-term mind set, but rather as a long-term relationship that needs to be nurtured before reaching full potential. At this point in the category’s lifecycle, brands have the opportunity to build equity by acting as founding partners and early adopters that have helped enable the category to grow and reach its full potential. A long-term approach allows brands to work with properties to fill-in the white spaces and address fan pain points. Non-endemic brands have been working with traditional sports properties for years to enhance the fan experiences and unlock unique opportunities to connect. With many of the top esports tournaments being multi-day events located around the globe, brands can emulate how they have successfully activated traditional international sporting events and properties. Brands can take a similar approach to how they have celebrated athlete and team successes and brought fans closer to the games and competitions.

How to bring your esports platform to life

Logo placement in streams, dedicated social posts and jersey patches are some assets that help build your brands association with the category, however to truly win share of voice as a brand you will need to go further.  The brands that have broken through the sponsorship clutter and won share of voice within the category have done so by creating activation strategies that utilize non-traditional assets.  As with more traditional sponsorship properties, brands should look to create ownable space by creating attractive content, to activate in ways that enhance the fan experience and not interrupt it and remove barriers that provide fans better access to their favorite teams, gamers and competitions. 

Esports can seem like an intimidating category for a sponsor however if a brand takes the time to understand the category, the connection points and the fans, it has the ability to create a truly unique partnership that will allow it to benefit from all of the advantages the category has to offer. With 52% of Gen-Z males spending more time following non-traditional sports than traditional sports newer niche categories like esports allow brands to reach a cohort that will account for 40% of all consumers by 2020[4][5]. Building brand equity and supporting a favorite non-traditional sport as it continues to establish itself will help your brand win share of mind and offer the ability to pay long-term dividends as Gen-Z begins to have stronger influence in the marketplace. 


  • [1]Nielsen, 2017
  • [2]Newzoo, 2017
  • [3]Nielsen, 2017
  • [4]Whistler Sports, 2018
  • [5]MNI Targeted Media, 2018

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Navigating Esports