Everybody in marketing knows about esports. They aren’t new. Lagardere Sports, a giant of the traditional sports rights and marketing world, has itself been involved in the sector for more than three years.
But what brands and marketers still overlook, says Lagardere director of esports Andrew Flackel, is how much growth remains to be had in esports, especially in Southeast Asia. Despite esports already being a multibillion-dollar global industry, brands can even today still get in on the ground floor, which Flackel says is remarkable.
“The potential to grow a market and be part of that growth is the foundation of a very good value-building long-term partnership, rather than just putting your logo somewhere,” he explains. “That’s a unique feature of the esports market right now, and I don’t know how long it will stay that way.”
Flackel’s comments come shortly after Lagardere Sports announced its commercial rights deal with Singapore’s Team Flash, the first such esports deal to take place in Southeast Asia. With teams in both Singapore and Vietnam, competing across many games—Team Flash recently reached the FIFA eWorld Cup—Flackel says it was the right opportunity to help package and sell the burgeoning esports brand to sponsors and partners looking to enter the market.
“We started [in esports] in Europe with the business model we felt most comfortable with, and with something that has a local footprint," he says. "This is exactly what we did in Asia as well with Team Flash."
Most significant in today’s maturing esports market, he adds, is that Lagardere entered the sector in an authentic way, which both served Team Flash and the wider esports community, as well as eventually partners and sponsors.
“Taking something you’re already good at and adding it to these organisations, means you’ll have to grow the organisation,” he says, referring to the marketing, branding and of course financial acumen brands can bring to esports teams. “A lot of these organisations are more professional than you might think, but there are certain things they don’t have on their minds at all—internal processes, a real healthcare system—things that maybe a football club knows from the ground up.”
Brands can help esports teams, or even leagues, become bigger, more professional outfits and build brand equity that is extremely hard to come by these days, Flackel adds.
“You’ll have helped grow the esports market, so you go beyond being just a sponsor. This is a very authentic way to enter the market, and we’ve partnered Team Flash because it has a lot of potential in Southeast Asia.”
To that end, first on the list of priorities for Team Flash is creating a proper marketing and PR strategy, and discussing which brand categories the team believes are most suitable for partnerships. It might be old hat to still talk of issues around gaming stigmas, particularly with esports growing so quickly, but in terms of suitable brands, Flackel says it is still a big problem.
“Attitudes are not changing fast enough,” he admits. “Even if we have a CMO or marketing director who likes the market and wants to push it, sometimes they still struggle to overcome the internal politics. The question then is what can we do to help them?
“Marketers have to be more pushy and enthusiastic than usual to get [an esports proposal] through. For the people who have successfully done this, it will be easier for them in five years’ time, than those who wait for their competitors to do it first, because they’ll be behind.”
It’s early days for Team Flash and Southeast Asia’s esports industry, which is not nearly as large and sophisticated as its North Asian counterpart. But Flackel says there is still significant potential for brands who want to get ahead in what will become a leading market soon.
So, will the FIFA eWorld Cup one day be bigger than the FIFA World Cup, whose current edition in Russia is mesmerising audiences worldwide? Flackel chuckles.
“If you ask esports gamers, probably 50% would say ‘Yeah! Of course’ and the others would say ‘Erm, no, not sure’,” he suggests. “But even European football clubs are jumping on the gaming bandwagon. When it comes to football, both in the real world and digital world, they’re coming together and seeing a great opportunity to expand their fan base.”