With impressive viewership numbers second only to the Super Bowl, it’s about time brands and advertisers explored their options in the gaming industry, thinks Connor Mulvaney, Associate Director CROSSMEDIA Philadelphia.
The biggest League of Legends (LoL) tournament of the year just kicked off in North America for the first time since 2016. The League of Legends World Finals or “Worlds” is a month-long tournament held each year which pits the top teams from around the globe against one another – each hoping to be crowned World Champion. Players and fans know there is more than simply bragging rights up for grabs. This year’s Worlds prize pool totals over two million dollars in cash for the 16 teams participating. This number will increase further as the LoL developer studio Riot Games contributes a portion of champions cosmetic “skin” sales – more than doubling that baseline prize pool.
While the monetary value of winning key tournaments is often the main focus of fans, players, and esports organizations, I wager there is another group of people with even more to gain – brands and advertisers. There are a TON of eyes on esports tournaments and League is one of the best examples. In 2021 the peak concurrent viewership for Worlds was almost 74MM unique users. To give you some context on the scale there, that is more than twice the peak viewership numbers for the 2021 MLB World Series, NBA Finals, NHL Stanley Cup Finals, and the MLS Cup Finals combined. Only the NFL Super Bowl can compete with 97MM peak viewers across TV and streaming in 2021.
There is incredible opportunity for driving brand awareness at scale toward key segments marketers want to reach. 70% of esports viewers are between the ages of 18-34, and 72% of those users identify as male. 30% of esports fans have incomes higher than $100K and show a propensity to spend their income on electronics and related products.
That is the first area where advertisers are seeing easy wins – endemic sponsorships and integrations. One of the core sponsors for Worlds 2021 was Secretlab. This brand builds and sells top of the line gaming chairs both used by esports pros and average gamers alike.
“The best League of Legends athletes require the best equipment,” said Naz Aletaha, Head of Global Esports Partnerships at Riot Games. “Secretlab’s award-winning chairs offer seating that’s optimized for peak performance and comfort, making Secretlab the obvious choice for top League of Legends players competing for the highest stakes.”
Combinations like the video game League of Legends and gaming chairs pass the eye test – it intuitively makes sense to reach users consuming League of Legends esports content. These are the same avid gamers who are in that core demographic who both have disposable income AND look to spend that money on products complementary to their core gaming interest.
Looking beyond the obvious
The question many brands and advertisers have asked themselves is ‘is there room for a non-endemic brand within esports?’. Passing the eye test is much more difficult with a brand that does not have a direct connection to gaming and esports. This is important because gamers and esports viewers require authenticity from advertisers to be open to the message. There are great examples of big brands doing exactly that in LoL.
State Farm began their partnership with the North American League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) in Spring of 2018. This partnership extended through the 2021 Worlds tournament. State Farm tested multiple activation styles throughout the years from 30s non-skippable ads, to sponsoring the analyst desk, and even creating a branded highlight segment called the “State Farm Assist of the Week.” In this series, Worlds viewers were shown an exciting 30 second clip of gameplay from a key moment that week where a player provided critical backup and support for a teammate. This allowed State Farm, an insurance brand focused on communicating the dedication of their customer service to provide assistance during difficult times, to find common ground with professional video gaming. This sort of tactic and creative direction bridges the gap for a non-endemic sponsor to connect with gaming fans in an authentic way.
Major brands, both endemic and non-endemic, have already committed to the 2022 Worlds tournament. State Farm is once again sponsoring the analyst desk; Amazon Prime Gaming deployed custom display ads through an integrated direct buy to avoid being ignored by users with ad blockers; and the brand OnePlus is creating content for the broadcast using their high end cell phone cameras to highlight the host city and venue. Marketers are taking advantage of the opportunity, each with their own angle for connecting with fans in an authentic and meaningful way. There will be branded activations in the physical arenas for fans, sponsored segments on the live broadcast, and of course each team’s jerseys will have their partnered brands logos highly visible.
At this point, no one is ‘just watching Worlds for the commercials’, not even me. However, I do think we will see Worlds close the gap on the Super Bowl this year both in peak viewership and fan engagement with the advertising this year. Until then, strap in for some exciting 5v5 action from the very best players across the globe. And, if you’re a marketing nerd like me, strap in for some exciting new ad integrations from the very best brands around the globe too!