According to Business Insider2, the shift in preference from traditional to digital content is only gaining momentum. Gaming and esports have succeeded in capturing and maintaining the engagement of younger target groups through an overflow of freely available content. Twitch Usage Statistics indicate that average concurrent viewers on the leading free-to-view platform for live gaming, jumped 34% to 2.84 million in 2021, whilst the number of live channels grew 30% to 9 million3 as esports events and gaming-related content drew in record numbers. So, what’s attracting these audiences?

Gaming is the favourite media and entertainment activity for Gen Z’s. As other traditional categories, including watching live TV, listening to music, and using social media fall further behind1 , is it now time for brands to include a gaming route in their sponsorship approach?

Esports pros (who compete in tournaments & events) and content creators (a broader category of anyone who produces live-form gaming content on a streaming platform) have been a key part of this trend. Although the pandemic certainly helped accelerate the growth in popularity of gaming talent, the return of live sport has not halted their progress in capturing market share – according to YPulse, 32% of 13–39-year-olds say they would rather watch an esports competition that a traditional sports game4. They are the next big media influencers, particularly among the younger target groups and traditionally hard to reach audiences. Fans are turning away from traditional sports role models in favour of those who are more aligned to their interests.

Esports pros are the athletes at major esports events, such as the 2021 League of Legends’ (LoL) World Championship, which according to ESI, secured a peak viewership of over 4 million5. There is growing conviction that some of these events will become some of the world’s most recognisable sporting events among Gen Z’s, and athletes like Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, one of the most notable LoL players globally, will command most of the headlines. Whilst we shouldn’t overstate this claim, it will be interesting to see if the indicators hold merit when we watch esports at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and compare its viewership with the more traditional sports events.

Content creators have also become established gaming influencers through providing engaging, interactive, educational, relatable, or enjoyable content on their own personal channels. To put their popularity into perspective, the top 15 most subscribed Twitch channels are all individual gamers, and 2 of the top 5 most subscribed YouTube channels globally are gaming related. They have built a huge fan base who not only watch but support them in various ways – live-stream advice platform, Stream Scheme, suggests between 5-15% of their total viewers, which is anywhere from 50% – 125% of their concurrent viewers6, have provided an element financial support.

So, they are clearly popular, but why and how should you sponsor gaming talent?

When it comes to athlete sponsorship, gaming talent have an equally strong allure as with traditional athletes. For brands, it can improve their image and consideration among this affluent audience, whilst also increasing sales through improved exposure to new fans and gamers. For many sponsors, there is an opportunity to provide proof their product is effective by connecting the talent’s performance with their product whilst it also provides a face to their brand to become more acceptable, authentic, and engaging.

An affiliate marketing approach is already prevalent among content creators, with a huge number of brands already offering a hassle-free means to join their affiliate gaming network. It is a safe and reliable way for brands to cast a wide net and tap into the communities of low to mid category streamers. However, through a pure sponsorship deal of the most recognisable gaming talents, there is an opportunity to stand out, champion them for their abilities and make all-important authentic contributions and engagements with their huge following of loyal supporters.

Adidas put their faith in one of the most recognisable content creators, Tyler ‘Ninja’ Belvins and were immediately rewarded as their shoe colloboration sold out in just 40 minutes7. However, brands must acknowledge that they can’t just chuck dollars into an athlete. They must have an authentic approach, as gamers are highly sceptical of brands who just badge and have no active engagement or activation in the community. Ninja may be the biggest, but there are several others who have just as much influence when it comes to integrating brand messaging into their content.

From an activation standpoint, these individuals are often on stream, 8 hours a day, and can push and promote products to thousands of followers for a sustained period, something traditional sports athletes are unable to replicate. Real time data and stream flexibility enables brands to implement a variety of activations and content initiatives to consistently engage all audience members; including reels, giveaways, competitions, and challenges, that can all help drive brand awareness. Through targeting the hardcore gamer demographic in esports tournaments, and the more mid-core viewers in individual talent livestreams, brands can unlock multiple audiences that have traditionally been hard to reach

Here’s how Fuse can help?

Fuse’s credentials include proven strategic capabilities within sponsorship, partner acquisition and activation strategy whilst its dedicated gaming and esports team specialise in optimising brand appearance and visibility during live streams, along with creative activation and implementation. Our expert insights team can determine the most suitable esports pros and content creators to collaborate with a particular brand and engage in contracting and negotiation on their behalf. Additionally, our data and analytics tools can help brands assess their partnership performance and be confident in their approach through comparison with cross industry benchmarks.

Talent in this space can deliver on par with, and in some instances more than traditional sports talent. Gaming talent has thrived in promoting endemic brands to their audiences given their natural fit, but we are slowly seeing the opportunity for global brands who feel they can add value to these audiences through their products and services. Like Gillette with Raheem Sterling or Optum with Rory McIlroy, esports pros and content creators are equally as suitable to be brand ambassadors. Fuse would welcome any strategic alignment concerns that may arise and provide assessment on whether entering this space is the right approach for your brand.