Gaming has exploded like never before: a cultural force that needs to be recognised. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Twitch’s traffic has increased by 20% with 71% of the audience being millennials. These new platforms allow us to engage with student audiences in a completely new and unexpected way.
Gen Z and their successors Gen Alpha are demographics that are playing by their own handbook when it comes to content and consumption. The era of pure promotion and in-your-face advertising is over: when it comes to purchasing decisions, most teens are influenced by their peers and authenticity. They perceive advertising differently to the older generations, and in order to get your institution in front of their eyes in a way they’re going to remember, esports is definitely something that should be on your radar.
First things first, (and it’s okay to think this) what exactly is esports?
In short, esports is competitive video-gaming where teams play against each other for the gold. Throughout the year (check out the Esports Calendar for more on that), there are a number of tournaments and events with hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes up for grabs, sometimes even entering the millions. To tune in, the majority of events are streamed on Twitch, but esport tournaments also have the ability to pack stadiums like Los Angeles' Staples Center for ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Call of Duty’ competitions. Facebook Gaming has even launched new tool Tournaments ahead of schedule, to help users stay connected during the Covid-19 lockdown, by hosting tournaments for esport gamers.
So why should student marketers be interested?
We know students are attracted to advertising that makes them feel something, can be experienced with friends or adds to their personal brand; you only have to look to influencers and user-generated content to see how well that works. And with esports, it’s a similar psychology. Games such as Fortnite are intrinsically linked to connecting with friends, allowing real and virtual worlds to coexist and creating a community.
To look further into the potential of esports, check out Gillette’s ‘Bits for Blades’ campaign with Twitch. The campaign focuses on the experimental element of Gen Z advertising and building of a personal brand, and gives ad-viewers the opportunity to earn Twitch Bits (in-platform donations) that they can use as virtual currency to support streamers, which is a majority pillar of esports’ community.
Advertising on esports harnesses the power of authenticity, which is what has grown the influencer industry into the powerhouse that it is today. Twitch offers their ad revenue sharing programme to the top 17,000 streamers and these esports players then jump onto Twitch to practice playing, potentially drawing in thousands of viewers, and then during a break (to grab a drink, stretch the legs), they ask viewers to watch an ad, noting that it will help support their career. The relationship built between player and viewer is what will get your brand seen.
"It creates a much more honest and genuine relationship between the advertising and the content creators because there is a direct link there." - Nathan Lindberg, director of global esports sponsorships at Twitch.
But take care. Twitch isn’t the magic solution to all your marketing problems. It can be expensive, and the activity is unlikely to drive clicks. You should only be thinking about using Twitch if you’re looking to promote your brand in a new context; this is the perfect audience, but you need to be relevant and cautious in your approach. Think the rules for Reddit or TikTok - you need to know your audience and platform inside out before diving in.
So why is it important? Put simply, scale. Esports is huge, surprisingly huge. It’s worth
$139 billion a year and growing, making it bigger than the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL combined. Over 1.2m people from different backgrounds claim to watch esports in Great Britain alone. In Brazil, there are over 30 million people confessing to being esport fans. The potential of accessing this highly-engaged, majority younger generation, audience is phenomenal.
And in terms of where this sits for the education sector? Some universities have even begun offering esports scholarships. That includes University of California, Irvine, which last year opened a 3,500-square-foot ‘esports arena’ that includes 80 custom gaming PCs and a webcasting studio capable of broadcasting matches to millions of viewers. Students are tuned in, engaged, and invested: are you ready to get in the game too?
What’s changed since COVID-19?
In esports, inevitably, the live stadium component of viewership has been benched, but the competition continues, with many competitions adjusting to play-from-home models. But what’s interesting is that player recruitment has skyrocketed. In the first week of lockdown, the US noted that peak-hour online gaming was up 75%, and this trend is consistent across the globe.
And with lockdown affecting esports events, it’s affecting traditional sports broadcasting even more. Esports could pull spend from other more traditional marketing channels (live sport tv) that have been disrupted, if this opportunity to engage with students even during lockdown is harnessed correctly. The Chief Executive of the British Esports Association, Chester King comments: “Sponsors who have taken their money out of live sports will have the revenue to invest with us”.
However, where there’s opportunity, there’s space to grow too. Currently, the industry lacks formal standardised measurements, and quantifiable advertising results from competitions and events. But it could pay to be the first to ride the wave of this already very successful platform.
But where do you start?
While gaming might not be the traditional choice of platform for student marketers, it’s worth recognising how important games and esports have become in society, particularly during lockdown. It’s easy to dismiss them as a fad, but esports are here to stay, building an authentic sense of community, encouraging collaboration and facilitating positive shared experiences.
For those who take time to understand how to fit into the esports world, support the closely-knit community and speak their language, there are many valuable opportunities for content, advertising and sponsorship. But homework is compulsory; gaming has its own culture and vocabulary, so don’t expect the copy for your Google ads to work on platforms such as Twitch.
The esports landscape is whitespace for universities, so including it in a brief to target students could be the right thing for your audience. To connect meaningfully is going to be more difficult. But if you’re willing to be bold, it’s exciting to think where this brand new world can take us.