Back in 1989, Universal Pictures released a beautiful piece of cinematic art called The Wizard. (Well, okay, it’s basically just a 90-minute Nintendo commercial with a 28% Rotten Tomatoes rating.) In the movie’s final scene, a little boy named Jimmy (a.k.a., “The Wizard”) must beat Super Mario Bros 3, a game he’s never played before. SPOILER ALERT: young Jimmy wins (in the final seconds, natch), taking home a $50,000 grand prize and, of course, all the glory.
Flash forward 26 years later, and competitive gaming — or, eSports — is more popular than little Jimmy could have ever imagined. Tournaments and championships fill arenas and stadiums around the globe. There are eSports stars and eSports bars. ESPN 2 has even aired eSports on TV (which definitely did not sit well with some old-school sports purists).
In short: eSports have arrived. And they’re a cultural force of super-lucrative nature that’s showing no signs of stopping. The global fan base for eSports is massive; 134 million, and growing, according to SuperData Research; fans are young (more than half are under the age of 35) and overwhelmingly male (87%). eSports are projected to generate close to $500 million per year in global revenues by 2017, according to Newzoo.
Anytime there’s a boom this big, with this much potential, brands are sure to follow. Already, big names like Red Bull, Intel, American Express, Nissan, and Samsung — just to name a few — have entered the eSports economy, using it primarily as a niche way to market to younger audiences. Most recently, Coca-Cola inked a smart deal with Cinemark Theaters to sponsor eSports events livestreamed on the big screen. It’s a savvy move by a brand looking to stay relevant, connected, and engaged with younger audiences whose tastes can be so difficult to pin down and whose attention is even harder to grab.
This is helping solve a challenge for theaters, who are in serious need of reinventing the theater experience for Gen Z teens. “This content is attractive to the teen millennial and 30-something audience,” says Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s Head of Global Gaming. “This is a new form of media consumption and the world is changing, movie theaters are keen to evolve. Theaters have been very receptive to eSports even with blockbuster summer movies playing.”
eSports are more than just a new and exciting form of entertainment; they’re an opportunity for publishers and sponsors and every brand in between to get in early with a burgeoning industry. “It’s become an important business channel and an important marketing channel, but it’s also a whole new extension and a brand new industry that’s been created inside the larger game industry,” says Michael Sepso, president and co-founder of Major League Gaming (MLG).
Finding ways to engage with fans and taking advantage of this new opportunity means really getting to know the millions of Gen Zers and Millennials who love eSports. It means partnering with them to understand not just their likes and dislikes, but their ideas and perspectives on how to make the entire eSports experience even more entertaining. Brands that forge these partnerships now have a real shot at building something awesome together with eSports fans and getting in on the ground floor of something huge. Something different. Something that’s only going to get bigger…