Esports industry experts predict that sponsorship in the space will make up 40% of global revenues this year, which would count as a 53% increase from 2017. As such, it is clear that sponsorships are a critical part of the esports ecosystem.
But esports is also becoming a critical part of brands' sponsorship strategy. Take for instance HP, which invested as a league sponsor in one of the newest esports leagues, the Overwatch League (OWL), which drew 10 million streaming viewers in its opening week in January alone.
I recently spoke with Josh Kocurek, Global Marketing Manager for Gaming and Esports at HP to get a better feel for what HP is thinking when it comes to sponsorship strategy, particularly in the esports space.
What percentage total of your sports-related ad spend is on esports at this point, do you see that percentage increasing and why is HP so interested in the esports industry?
Kocurek: As it relates to our current investments around Gaming, esports is definitely a significant portion of that, which includes the partnerships we have with global organizations like the Overwatch League and professional teams from around the world, such as Counter Logic Gaming.
OMEN, HP's gaming brand, is 100% focused on being the best competitive PC gaming brand in the world. This is reflected in how we target our marketing efforts, focusing on PC gaming enthusiasts who have a strong affinity for esports and competitive gaming. Given the rapid growth we're seeing in esports, and the trajectory it is on over the next 3-5 years, we know this is an area we are going to continue to invest in for quite a while.
What type of ROI have you seen from your sponsorship of Overwatch League and what do you use to measure that?
Kocurek: While we're extremely happy with the how the first few months of the Overwatch League have been going, it's still a bit too early to start attributing significant business impact to the sponsorship.
Our primary objectives, going into the first season, were to increase the overall awareness for OMEN and show fans the value we're bringing to the esports scene through the various ways we're supporting the Overwatch League. OMEN is coming up on its two-year anniversary in May, which means we're still the new kid on the block.
Sure we're HP at our core, but in terms of our presence with OMEN in the gaming space, we still have a lot of growing to do. The outstanding viewership numbers we're seeing out of the Overwatch League, and all the excitement coming from hardcore and causal fans-alike, are a great sign that it will help us hit those objectives."
What are your biggest challenges in creating meaningful engagements with consumers and/or businesses when advertising in association with esports?
Kocurek: Creating meaningful engagements with the esports audience requires a completely different approach from HP, but it's definitely a fun one. The audience is so immune to a lot of the standard practices we see in traditional advertising.
We've ramped up our investments on social media platforms and original content creation significantly, to make sure we're reaching that audience in a meaningful way. We've also put more emphasis on our event activations, where we are able to make a deeper, hands-on connection with the esports audience. We've doubled the amount of gaming events OMEN has a presence at from the previous year, and have put a lot of work into creating must-see experiences at these events vs. doing a traditional tradeshow booth build-out."
What have you found to be the most effective strategies in esports sponsorship, which may be different from what you've found in more traditional sponsorship campaigns?
Kocurek: My advice for any brands who are interested in getting into the space, but have never done so:
- Put in the effort. One of the most common things you hear about marketing to gamers is to remain authentic to the space. Traditional messaging and tactics, like simply slapping your brand's logo everywhere, aren't going to be effective if you're trying to make a legitimate impact with the esports audience. We do a ton of social listening to identify the topics esports fans care about, and then work with our esports partners to make content we know they'll engage with.
- It's not about you. The esports fan base is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about everything relating to the game, the teams, and the players. Company's looking to be successful need to put the fans and community first. Take the time to listen and bring real value to the table by supporting what the fans care about most - instead of pushing your own agenda. You'll be surprised how many are willing to listen to what you have to say once you've earned credibility with the community.
- Be patient. Sure esports is a hot topic right now, but it's still getting its sea legs. Come in with a level head and be ready to commit for the long haul. We look at our investments with teams and leagues as building something great together, which is why we go into all discussions with a multi-year partnership in mind. Short term, unreasonable expectations can actually cause brands to recoil - hurting the industry in the long run.