SINGAPORE - The region's exploding esports scene boasts large and growing engagement, as well as fierce levels of consumer loyalty, so brands in Asia-Pacific need to get past the misleading “stigmas” to unlock its marketing potential, according to panellists discussing the emergence of the industry.
Hosted by H+K Strategies and Riot Games, experts analysed the branding opportunities for an industry that has been somewhat overlooked in Southeast Asia, despite being enormous in markets including Korea and Taiwan.
This is still in part due to mistaken perceptions of video game players in the region, said Benjamin Pommeraud, general manager of Riot Games Singapore and Malaysia, the creators of global gaming phenomenon League of Legends.
“That stigma is very incorrect," he said. "Demographically, more women play video games than men now, due to mobile gaming. Gaming is a not just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle now. The biggest challenge in Southeast Asia is to change this unfair perception of gaming. To do that, we need to bring in more brands that are considered ‘legitimate’ to the esports scene.”
For brands, the potential is sizeable given the viewership and engagement numbers. This year's League of Legends tournament grand final, for example, drew 36 million viewers, almost double that of the NBA finals.
During the month of the League of Legends tournament, Pommeraud said, the event drew an average daily audience of 334 million viewers. This is largely due to the growth of streaming platforms for gaming, like Twitch, on which more than 80 million minutes of gaming content was viewed in July alone.
As such, the marketing opportunities are significant, said Christopher Mitchell, associate director and VR business lead for Razer.
“A lot more mainstream, non-endemic brands are getting involved, simply because all of a sudden it’s possible to reach a huge audience through video games, rather than games being single player in an arcade with no marketing opportunities,” he said.
Adam Paris, associate director of sports and partnership marketing at H+K Strategies, gave client Gillette as an example. The brand hosted an esports tournament in London, in partnership with football video game Pro Evolution Soccer during the Euro 2016 football championships, in a bid to engage more effectively with the next generation of male groomers.
“A wholly owned tournament allowed us to build very specific messaging, and the sports genre was a seamless fit for Gillette,” he explained. “The investment was relatively low, to build sentiment, learn purchase intent and drive value back into an online community. It was a great role to have and Gillette is considering other esports opportunities.”
Particularly in Southeast Asia, the entry level for brands into esports is low, Pommeraud said, compared to traditional sports like football or tennis.
“For US$50,000 you can easily be the main sponsor of a team, and you can enjoy great visibility as a brand,” he said. In addition, Pommeraud said the esports community has the one trope brands are desperate for in young consumers: loyalty.
“Typically people believe the younger demographic is not very loyal,” he said. “That’s not at all what you see in esports. If you play a game like League of Legends and you like it, we know you’re going to play it for years, not months. When you’re a brand that invests some money into that scene, you are investing into very loyal people that you can bring your brand and its values to. It’s a real blue ocean for brands.”
Beatrice Lee, CEO of Baofeng Sports International and formerly at sports media rights agency MP & Silva, said: “Esports is everything traditional sports is trying to be: young, dynamic, digital and diverse. But it’s difficult to make traditional sponsors understand this. We’re still in an education phase.”
She pointed out that in Southeast Asia, attitudes are shifting. Malaysia has recently established an esports association, and Singapore is following suit.
Lorna Campbell, APAC director, sports marketing and sponsorship for H+K Strategies, moderated the panel. “Brands considering esport partnerships really need to think carefully about the value add they are bringing to the industry," she said. "Altruism and longevity, as well as creative and engaging content, will define a brand’s role within this space.”