Online gaming in Asia is booming. According to MarketWatch, APAC is forecast to be the largest online gaming market by 2023, valued at over US$241 billion, with the Southeast Asian market growing by 22% from last year, making it the fastest growing region globally. This region is also projected to have more than 250 million mobile gamers by 2021.
And if consumers aren’t playing, they’re watching esports on channels like Twitch, Nimo TV, YouTube, and social media—at a higher rate than traditional sports. APAC accounts for over half (57%) of global esports enthusiasts, and for the first time ever, online gaming will be featured as a medal sport at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games next month.
Esports and online gaming are now a mainstream source of entertainment and have fast become a perfect playground for marketers and brands to access huge audiences of highly engaged, tech-savvy consumers with growing spending power, namely millennials and gen Z.
Those that made early bets on online gaming are already reaping huge rewards (like Nike, Intel and Tencent) and will continue to do so. And as market appetite increases (32% of marketers have invested in esports in 2019, with almost 80% planning to invest in the future), marketers are increasingly coming under pressure to make their play.
With all this said, many brands are still hesitant to dive headfirst into unfamiliar territory. But the tides are turning. Many are beginning to realise that staying idle in online gaming means risking getting left behind. Ignoring this booming market is no longer an option. But what will it take to make the first step?
This need not be complicated, nor must it come at incredible expense. By fundamentally understanding that online gaming communities are diverse—each with a unique sense of social identity—marketers can identify, target and connect with them accordingly.
This is one of the major challenges facing marketers: understanding who the modern-day gamer really is. Online gamers are not a homogenous group and the old stereotype of them being predominantly young and male (aged 13-35) no longer holds true. Across Asia, there is an even mix of male-female, high-low income, and young-old players, which marketers must address differently.
Another obstacle many brands face is that they do not have a clear idea of the numerous ways they can market to these audiences without simply running traditional display advertising on gaming platforms. Instead, brands can consider everything from entry-level influencer activations, sponsoring online tournaments, creating branded content or even partnering with a competitive esports team or league.
Regardless of method, online gaming is live and therefore highly interactive, but conversations surrounding it will look markedly different across markets, particularly in diverse regions like Southeast Asia. Learning how to engage with the gaming public and speaking to them in a way that resonates will be crucial to building meaningful relationships with these communities over time.
Of course, this can be complicated to do for those less familiar with the inner workings of the esports and online gaming space. The key will be to find and work with partners that can help navigate each ecosystem and test-and-learn different strategies in a controlled manner. These partnerships can help reveal how audiences generally engage and how brands can join the conversation.
Ultimately, we are sitting on the intersection of gaming and popular culture, and brands must be agile and ready to adapt to the shifting interests of their key demographics. Leveraging on the expertise of a partner with deep understandings of key markets of interest, as well as established relationships with leading gaming companies, influencers, content creators and media could be the fast-track brands need to build their name in the online esports sphere.
Charlie Baillie is the co-founder and CCO of Ampverse.