It’s taken a while but brands are now on board with the world of gaming, with the meteoric rise of esports being a critical catalyst, says Twitch co-founder and COO Kevin Lin.
Speaking to reporters at the All That Matters conference in Singapore, Lin said gaming is now being seen as “both a marketing tool and commercial opportunity” for numerous brands outside the industry and that esports has been “a great path for that”.
“We’re all about creators [at Twitch], but esports is a great amplifier of everything and its own industry now,” he says.
Founded in 2011, Twitch quickly established itself as the go-to streaming platform for the gaming community, which until then had been at best underserved and at worst ignored by the business and digital world.
“But now that you’ve got all these big investors from sports and music coming in, celebrities getting involved, that’s brought a lot of mainstream attention, which has been very positive,” Lin says. “Sponsors now get it more, there are more people evangelising, more people inventing other business models around it.”
For Lin, the equation is simple for advertisers, and it’s only surprising that it’s taken so long for many to understand the value of today’s gamers, who are a far cry from the stigmatised introverted shut-outs they have been portrayed as for so long.
“They don’t just play games 24 hours a day, they go to concerts, get on planes, stay in hotels, all the things millennials do,” he states wryly. “We have a very desirable, young millennial audience, that’s very present on the site—15 million people a day watch for two hours, probably one of the most engaged platforms on the internet.
“So that’s been a really good story to tell to advertisers and brands, and we’re continuing to innovate and re-invent solutions for them to reach our audience, whether that’s content activations, esports activations or products that really lean in to the culture of Twitch.”
Amazon bought Twitch in 2014 for US$970 million, a deal that helped shift the platform into the mainstream. However, Twitch has come under significant fire recently for the changes to its subscription Twitch Prime product. Rolled into the suite of Amazon Prime services, Twitch Prime users are now seeing advertising, unlike before, despite the fact they are paying a subscription. Those that want to go ad free must pay an additional subscription fee for new service Twitch Turbo.
Lin says plainly that the changes were largely made to expand Twitch’s variety of revenue sources. “It helps our creators and it helps us. I mean, we’re a business, we have to be able to make money.
“Historically as we’ve surveyed our users, around subs particularly, the feedback has largely been the reason why they’re buying [is] around supporting streamers. So [ad revenue] felt like an ok thing to tease out. People understand that creators make money from that advertising, and Prime users are high-value viewers on the site. So it seemed like the right decision.”
Lin is quick to add that the changes are being closely monitored, as is user feedback. “We felt like it was a safe bet, but we’ll see. We listen to our users, we listen to our community, we shift our products around all the time, but it felt like the right thing to do.”
More broadly, for advertisers, Lin says the growing sophistication of streamers and esports athletes in their interactions with brands means the industry is at the start of a new and exciting period for advertisers to get deeper, more meaningful engagement with the gaming audience.
This stems, says Lin, from the fundamental difference between esports athletes and traditional athletes: proximity to fans. “Esports athletes develop a much tighter relationship with their fans. They’re much more accessible and approachable, and in fact they’re there talking to you, potentially playing games with you. You don’t really get that kind of access to athletes.
As brands start to learn about the space, and players start to engage with more brands, Lin believes there will be “unique ways” to reach the gaming audience that are more native to the format.
“Posting a picture on Instagram and getting paid to do that is great, and you might actually see decent results as an advertiser doing that, but there are many deeper ways to get involved as brands,” he says. “That’s just getting started.”