Ready advertiser one: How to spawn Gen Z awareness through esports

    Once a much more stereotyped activity, professional video gaming, or esports, is today watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world, presenting marketers with a new way of connecting with Gen Z consumers.

    Esports has transformed itself from a niche pastime to a sport watched by over half a billion people worldwide and is expected to generate $1.38 billion in revenue this year. This rapidly growing marketing channel is populated mostly by elusive younger consumers, with an estimated Gen Z audience size of 14.3 million, per Horizon Media’s recently released Gen Z Field Guide. But gaming is not only a major entertainment cornerstone for the young cohort, it’s also a major point of passion.

    “With that comes an incredible opportunity for brands to start tugging at the heartstrings and the passion points of that really highly sought-after demographic,” said Chris Mann, a senior vice president who leads the gaming and esports group REV/XP at rEvolution, a sports marketing company.

    A diversifying market

    While many things have led to the rise of gaming, technology is one important factor. It is also what provides advertisers with unique opportunities to engage the audience. 

    “Technology has gotten better. Hardware has gotten better. The games have gotten better,” said gaming commentator Scott Cole. “I remember back in the day, you could hardly do online gaming on dial up and things like that, let alone talk to your friends. It’s interesting that there (is now) a social part of gaming.”

    As this valuable marketing channel emerges, marketers need to be aware of both its limitations and benefits. Esport marketing requires a more tailored and hands on approach than traditional sports advertising, meaning a change in strategy will be necessary. Additionally, the demographic of fans can change dramatically from game to game, meaning a one-size-fits-all strategy won’t work.

    It’s important to figure out which type of game fits itself best into a brand’s strategy. A family friendly brand may not want to partner with a violent first-person shooter game such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive and may opt for a more universal offering, such as the cars playing soccer game, Rocket League. While no real link has been found between video game and real-world behavior, advertisers remain wary that a violent game may tarnish their brand’s reputation.

    Additionally, the demographic of each game’s audience can vary dramatically in key areas such as gender, race and age. Diversity in esports games offered is one of the main reasons behind its growth, but keeping track may cause a headache for marketers.

    “Ten years ago, [esports] was mostly focused on shooter games but now this has moved into battle arenas. So I think this is one of the key reasons why the esports audience is growing so fast and will keep growing so fast for the future years,” said Hugo Tristão, market lead for esports at Newzoo, a games market data company. According to Tristão, diversification in games has led more women to take part in the sport.

    Esport enthusiasts also tend to be distinct from the general online population and even those who are casual esport fans. They are more likely to have a full-time job and a high household income, according to Newzoo. Additionally, 66% of esport enthusiasts are men and just 34% are women. However, when Gen Z is isolated, 54% of gamers are men and 46% are women, per Horizon Media. The median income is $20,800.

    It is also important to note that while esports is growing in the U.S. and Europe, Asia remains its epicenter. Asia has a livestream audience of 442.5 million and an esports enthusiast population of 160 million. Europe has a live stream audience of 172.8 million and an enthusiast population of 31.6 million. North America lags behind, with a livestream audience of 103.7 million and an enthusiast population of just 22.4 million, per Newzoo.


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