Brand Sponsorship: Marketers are Playing to Win in Esports

Esports, the global video game-playing industry, is worth nearly $700 million – and that value is growing. Video gaming is no longer just a hobby; it has become an industry that is attracting sponsorship from top brands such as Coca-Cola and Gillette.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University Online Master of Business Administration program.

How the involvement of key companies offering sponsorships further legitimizes the concept of esports.

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Esports Statistics

Could esports eventually overtake the NBA or NFL in viewership? Esports industry statistics are steadily climbing, and fans are equally passionate.

From Humble Beginnings to Global Industry

Esports’ roots began in 1972, when Stanford University held a Spacewar tournament. The concept grew with the 1981 launch of the gaming world record organization Twin Galaxies, and continued to flourish with the introduction of competitive multiplayer console games and local area network (LAN) PC games in 1990. The 1997 founding of the Cyberathlete Professional League further added legitimacy to esports, and the creation of advanced esports teams and the establishment of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) in the 2000s helped establish the esports concept as a legitimate competition-driven concept.

The esports industry is indeed on an impressive trajectory. It enjoys a global audience of 385 million people and is projected to have an industry value of $1.49 billion in projected revenue by 2020. This figure includes $655 million in sponsorship and $224 in advertising.

The top esports players are also becoming household names, not to mention wealthy. For instance, Kuro Takhasomi (user ID: KuroKy), earned more than $3.5 million from 88 tournaments. Amer Al-Barkawi (user ID; Miracle) earned more than $3 million from 42 tourneys.

The top streaming platforms for esports include Twitch, Newzoo, YouTube Gaming, and Mixer. League of Legends topped the most watched esports games in 2017, with people watching 274.7 million hours of action.

The Popularity of Esports vs. Traditional Sports

Esports viewing is not too far off from watching what’s typically considered traditional sporting events. Every week, American gamers spend 1.17 hours watching esports tourneys and 1.8 hours watching others play video games online. Gamers also spend 1.7 hours watching traditional sports online and 2.45 hours watching traditional sports on television.

Brands with Money in the Game

Gaming is losing its “teenager in mom’s basement” stereotype. Esports appeals to audiences across the globe, and brands have seized sponsorship opportunities. This appeal comes in many different forms, including unique team names, likeable players, intense competition, and exciting content. Some of the top brands involved in esports sponsorship includes Monster, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Gillette, and HP.

Partnership Activation

Inking deals with players if valuable for brands only if the players are authentically and creatively engaging fans. For instance, the esports organization Evil Geniuses drink Monster energy drinks on camera and does Q&As in their EG Raidcall channel. The esports organization Major League Gaming features BIC commercials and is involved with the Dr. Pepper Ultimate Gaming House. The brand iBuyPower features blog posts written by LCS team members about their careers and thoughts on topics like recent patch changes.

The Gamer-Sponsor Relationship

Like all emerging marketing opportunities, esports requires that brands tread carefully and research the audience before getting involved. For instance, China makes up 45% of esports’ global adult viewership, and audience psychographics reveal that 70% of esports fans are introverted, and 92% of fans believes technology improves life. Additionally, studies indicate that 61% of esports fans fall into the 18-34-year-old demographic.

Tips for Sponsoring Esports

There are several pointers for companies to bear in mind before taking the plunge into esports sponsorship. It’s critical to understand demographics, as each game is considered its own type of sport and has a specific audience that must be properly targeted and engaged. It’s also vital to be authentic, as marketers must be aware that these audiences are quick to judge and therefore should be ready with ads that bring value. Additionally, they should look for long-term partnerships with teams to be embraced by esports fans and gamers. Finally, to be successful and be mutually beneficial, the sponsorship relationship must be based on trust and commitment.


In esports’ early days, brands hesitate to get involved in such a relatively obscure and introverted environment. Today, esports fans are more engaged and vocal. Brands would be wise to consider opportunities in esports and make long-term investments.

Learn more about Ohio University’s Online Master of Business Administration program.