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Esports goes mainstream: Are brands ready to join the game?

In conversation with BestMediaInfo, experts stated that advertisers can leverage the engaging and nurturing nature of esports to create impactful campaigns

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Saptak Bardhan
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New Delhi: Esports has been a growing segment in the country within the gaming sector. The esports titles almost doubled to 19 in 2023, with approximately 1.8 million Indians participating in them, as per a report by FICCI-EY.

The report further suggests that revenue for esports is expected to reach Rs 1,400 crore by 2024. While the segment is on the rise, linear television has taken notice of the trend and cashed in on the opportunity. 

Recently, Star Sports announced that it would air Battlegrounds Mobile India Mobile Series season 3, as well as the Esports World Cup. According to experts, esports in India has reached a point where they have moved from niche online communities to growing mainstream acceptance.  

They further stated that for the third consecutive year, the BGMI Masters Series (BGMS) will be televised live on Star Sports, signifying a shift in how esports content is consumed.

Akshat Rathee, co-founder and managing director of NODWIN Gaming, stated, “Television rights are crucial for several reasons. Firstly, they bring esports to a broader audience, including those who might not be active gamers and followers of the sport. The wider reach increases visibility and credibility, positioning esports alongside traditional sports like cricket.”

Rathee added, “Secondly, television coverage helps attract more sponsors and advertisers, who see the potential in reaching a diverse and expansive viewership to reach their target group of Gen-Z and youth. Lastly, televised tournaments foster a sense of legitimacy and prestige, encouraging more players to pursue careers in esports professionally.”

Furthermore, experts believe esports viewership has been changing rapidly over the past few years. The presence of esports on television is a testament that the sport is no longer just for teenagers or young adults; people of all ages are tuning in to watch their favourite athletes and teams. 

Karan Pathak, associate director-esports, Krafton India, highlighted, “The growing television presence is essential in such a competitive market because it helps legitimise esports, brings it under the umbrella of mainstream entertainment, increases visibility, and attracts a more diverse audience, thereby contributing to the sport’s growth and reach. By broadcasting esports, traditional TV can tap into the growing popularity of competitive gaming and engage a younger audience that has migrated to OTT platforms for content. This move could revitalise TV viewership, offering fresh content that appeals to a broader and more diverse audience.” 

Various experts believe that televising esports tournaments offers linear television a fresh and dynamic content stream that appeals to younger demographics. With esports now competing with traditional sports like cricket in terms of viewership and popularity, television networks can tap into the growing audience of 500 million gamers in India, diversifying their content portfolio while retaining and attracting younger viewers who are increasingly shifting to digital platforms. 

According to a FICCI-EY report, total participation in esports tournaments reached approximately 1.8 million across prominent levels and competitive levels, with participation estimated to reach more than 2.5 million by 2024.  

Experts opined that esports tournaments bring high levels of engagement and interactivity, as often seen in traditional sports. Engagement can lead to higher viewership ratings and increased advertising revenues, assisting television networks to establish themselves as innovators and first-movers.  

When asked how advertisers are going to capitalise on the broadcasting of esports on linear television, experts added that the tournaments are a medium for reaching the Gen-Z audience. They further stated that advertisers can leverage the engaging and nurturing nature of esports to create impactful campaigns.  

“Esports advertising is slowly gaining momentum, even though the pool is smaller. Brands in consumer electronics, like IQOO and OnePlus, are expected to lead in advertising due to their alignment with gamers’ interests and preferences. Some of the repeated sponsors of eSports tournaments have been LG, TVS, and Hyundai, showcasing consistent interest from the technology and automotive industries in engaging with this highly engaged audience. Additionally, there is growing interest from the FMCG sector, including brands in categories like ice cream and paint,” Pathak added. 

Experts emphasised that since a significant portion of the esports audience is 13 years and older, brands are required to utilise innovative marketing strategies due to limited targeting options for those under 18. This includes using influencers, organising watch parties, and employing in-app advertising, among others. These approaches allow brands to reach a broader audience organically and engage with them deeply and directly.  

Advertisers stated that while televising esports tournaments is in a nascent stage, it helps brands build recall.  

Paramjeet Singh, marketing head-consumer PC and gaming, Systems Group, ASUS India, said, “The phenomenon of televising esports started last year but it has been prevalent on popular content streaming channels like YouTube. While it is nascent, it gives brands like ASUS India another opportunity to reach out to their core target audience, which will ensure increased recall. I am certain that in the coming years, the televising of esports that is at the moment restricted to mobile gaming will also foray into PC gaming titles and act as an opportunity to seamlessly cater to a niche audience.”

Moreover, brands emphasised that it was imperative to connect with audiences. While brand exposure is important, it is only one aspect of the marketing efforts. 

Chetan Siyal, founding member and CMO of Snitch.co.in, stated, “Esports tournaments have really opened up new avenues for us to connect with our audience. These events bring together a passionate and tech-savvy community that’s always excited about the latest trends. When engaging, we’re able to reach a diverse group of people in a setting they love. It’s more than just brand exposure; it’s about building real connections and relationships. Esports offer a dynamic and interactive platform that allows us to engage directly with our target audience, making our marketing efforts more impactful and memorable.” 

According to experts, they expect to see a range of endemic and non-endemic brands advertising in esports. The demographic values, authenticity, and innovation make esports an ideal platform for brands looking to go beyond traditional advertising mediums to tap into a wider audience by establishing a strong and meaningful relationship with the consumer base.

Furthermore, advertisers have become increasingly particular about how they engage with esports content. Many brands see the potential to reach highly engaged audiences and are willing to tailor their messages to fit the context. Moreover, most eSports tournaments have strict regulations and codes of conduct to ensure a positive and respectful environment. 

Experts concluded that the key for advertisers is to align their brand values with the content and find creative ways to engage the audience without endorsing violence. They added that by doing so, they can tap into the massive and growing audience of esports while maintaining their brand integrity.

Gen Z BGMS Esports
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