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Turning to Esports to Keep Our Sports Dreams Alive

May 15, 2020
By Brett Cummings

What to know as communicators looking to expand into esports

As sports fans, we’re yearning for the days when we were inundated with live sports around the world and around the clock. Despite the infiltration of replacement content coming at us – sports documentaries, classic game replays and at-home athlete content – the void remains.

But for all the challenges COVID-19 brought to the sports community, it’s also created a huge and unique opportunity for esports. FleishmanHillard Sports has been working across esports for years with publishers, event organizers and first-mover brands that saw the potential of esports early on. Recognizing the pandemic as a potential accelerant to the category, we conducted an esports deep-dive analysis to assess the evolution and key drivers in traditional and social media conversation with the help of our TRUE Global Intelligence practice.

Unsurprisingly, our research found that esports conversation nearly doubled from February to March 2020. The most prominent topics driving the conversation centered on watching pro-athletes compete, betting on esports, enjoying live commentary around competitions and overall support for beloved streamers. The ability of esports to more seamlessly transition to virtual community engagement and online tournament play has translated into enormous audience reach, captivating audiences who are able to unlock immediate access. As adoption and engagement rates continue to grow, it’s clear that this period will undoubtedly be remembered as a catalyst for the category that helped it reach mainstream relevance.

So, how can we as communicators help brands climb aboard the rocket ship?

For enterprising brands, there are many ways to show up – but the risks are also heightened. The esports community has high standards and will be quick to call out companies that appear to be taking from, versus contributing to, it. As in traditional sports marketing, brands must keep authenticity and reciprocal value firmly top of mind. Here are some other keys for consideration:

Expand esports storytelling to non-endemic audiences to grow your base

As consumers continue looking for new ways to socialize and connect, many are moving into gaming for the first time. Be a part of a solution that helps them do so, providing entertainment and social connection now, and on a global scale.

Meet fan demand by mirroring traditional live sports experiences

Fans are craving the competition and pageantry that live sports provide. Create esports experiences that offer these same elements and be rewarded with positive conversation. Can your brand play a role in providing popular sports commentators, half-time shows or pre- and post-event content that brings authenticity and drives greater engagement?

Lean into talent to drive conversation

Our analysis found pro-athlete and pro-gamer involvement in esports competitions dominates the conversation. Fans are hungry to know what their favorite athletes are doing in quarantine and esports is an excellent opportunity to blur the lines between esports and traditional sports. Deliver this to them, but use caution when enlisting pro-athletes or celebs for the first time and make sure their connection to the game is real.

Don’t alienate the core community, stay true to your purpose

While the opportunity for expansion to new audiences is ripe, make sure that your storytelling is grounded in how your brand is supporting gamers right now. Gamers expect seamless gameplay and a competitive experience, and disruptions to what can be considered the basics can overshadow larger initiatives.