In April, an e-sports athlete -- Tyler "Ninja" Blevins -- for the first time generated more social media interactions than any traditional athlete. With that in mind, businesses and entrepreneurs are beginning to shift their thinking when it comes to celebrity endorsements, considering e-sports stars at a higher rate. This has also created an opportunity for third-parties interested in connecting the e-sports stars with brands.

The aforementioned Ninja works with one such company called Ader, which is funded by Disney and positions itself as the first marketplace to connect brands with e-sports influencers on Twitch, the popular streaming service that Amazon purchased for $970 million in August 2014. Ader essentially helps brands authentically engage with gamers across e-sports, gaming and social media platforms, and has a unique perspective on how e-sports stars like Ninja are generating such high engagement with fans.

I recently spoke with Ader Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Temkin to learn more about how and why businesses should be looking closely at the e-sports space for the new kind of endorsement opportunities.

Why brands should be looking at e-sports influencers as ambassadors.

Right now, around 1.2 billion are people playing video games worldwide, so there is a significant addressable market that is only growing, but how to reach that market continues to be a question for most brands. The e-sports audience is looking for authentic experiences; they are sensitive to being over-marketed to or approached with what they perceive as cheap tactics.

"By partnering with e-sports influencers, brands are leveraging the trust these athletes have already built with their individual communities," says Temkin. "With vehicles such as tournaments, live streams and giveaways and more, the e-sports environment provides a direct marketing platform that can speak to a live audience of 100K people at one time, so it's important to be authentic in that approach."

E-Sports offers fans and athletes direct contact through the game experience.

Traditional athletes offer a live experience to fans, but do not have contact with spectators during the live events. That is a key differentiator when it comes to engagement and thinking about value added for a business thinking about working with an e-sports athlete as opposed to a traditional athlete.

Temkin provides the example of Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi from Cloud9's League of Legends team who streams to more than 20,000 viewers at a time and has fans who can interact with him live - getting questions answered, receiving advice, learning game strategies, gaining insight into the game at a professional level - 5 days a week. This ability to connect in a live environment creates a real emotion connection for the fans, and the type of relationship that is difficult to replicate with a traditional sports professional. 

The most important e-sports metric for brands is cost-per-viewer.

Any brand thinking about retaining an endorser is always considering the return-on-investment (ROI), which is often hard to peg. In e-sports, the cost-per-viewer -- the time you are buying associated with the number of people watching live -- appears to be the key metric.

"Many brands make the mistake of focusing more heavily on an e-sports athlete's reach and number of followers on social, but in an e-sports environment, you should really be looking at the live audience numbers," says Temkin.

E-Sports influencers are typically engaged at rates significantly lower than traditional athletes.

Traditional professional athletes are commonly going to cost much more to serve as an ambassador for a product or service than an e-sports influencer, which makes sense since the industry is still largely in growth mode and the influencers cater to a smaller demographic for the time being, mainly centered around millennials.

Campaigns for e-sports influencers can range from $75,000 to $750,000 depending on the player or number of players involved and the goals of the company, according to Temkin. Costs are based on a number of factors that include the size of the e-sports influencer's audience, the player's skill level, what game he or she plays, team affiliation, recent performance and match results, conversions and social interactions and what platform he/she promotes through, as well as the size of the campaign and how many people are intended to be in the live audience.

Published on: May 17, 2018