eMLS - Brands
Mike Koeshartanto

esports & Soccer: Fad of Circumstance or Future?

Over the past few weeks esports has seemingly garnered more and more attention as on-field sporting events are paused. Sports fans looking for alternate entertainment are turning to esports, sometimes in large numbers. A few weeks ago, a NASCAR iRacing event raked in 1.3 million viewers on FOX and FS1.

We thought it would be interesting to take a deeper dive into the esports world and see what opportunities exist for brands through a soccer lens.

esports, soccer events during COVID-19

To those of you keeping tabs on the soccer world in these trying times, you’ve likely seen teams and leagues turn to gaming and social stunts in recent weeks, absent the opportunity for on-field play. In fact, we recently put a list together of some of our favorite creative moments.

As staying home to flatten the curve continues, more esports-themed partnerships and stunts have debuted. Here’s a quick rundown to get you up to speed:

Whether soccer-themed FIFA tournaments or celebrity first-person shooters, there’s currently no shortage of esports and soccer crossovers. The obvious question, of course, is whether this trend is one born of circumstance or if this is a sign of soccer and its fans melding into the ever-expanding esports consciousness.

The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle, although the current situation and inability to play between the lines assuredly benefits the online streamer in the short- to medium-term. Before we discuss the role brands can take in this unfolding phenomena, let’s jump into some numbers.

esports continues maturity on global scale

You may not know a thing about the esports world, but you’ve likely heard of a few of the following: Fortnite, League of Legends, Grand Theft Auto V, Apex Legends, World of Warcraft. The five most-watched live non-esports (meaning the viewing of unofficial competition) games accounted for over 3.6 billion hours watched on Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer in 2019 according to Newzoo’s 2020 Global esports Market Report.

Crazy numbers, right? Hours spent watching FIFA may pale in comparison to the games at the top of the table; however, the globally-recognized soccer video game is no slouch, either. In 2019, there were 206 million hours of live non-esports viewership for FIFA 19 and FIFA 20.

This number represents almost a 50 percent increase from 2018 and points to a trend of increased interest in soccer as a vehicle for gaming. Fun fact: FIFA is the only sports game in the top 25 of most-watched games. As the saying goes… a rising esports tide lifts all soccer boats… or something like that.

Newzoo - Esports Revenue Streams 2020

A few more interesting stats to point to from Newzoo’s most recent report:

  • Global esports revenues are forecasted to surpass $1 billion in 2020 – up nearly 16 percent from $950.6 million in 2019
  • In 2020, over $820 million in revenues (75 precent of all revenues) will come from media rights and sponsorships
  • China is the largest market by revenues, followed by North America’s $252.8 million in revenues

Finding brand value in eMLS

In Newzoo’s 2018 report, sponsorship accounted for 40 percent of all esports revenues. In 2019 that number jumped to 58 percent and illustrates the growth in interest and opportunity among brands. Where does soccer (FIFA, PES, etc.) fit into the mix?

Earlier this year we discussed eMLS and, thanks to our friends at Zoomph, we were able to paint a better picture of something previously murky and untamed – what’s the potential ROI for brands interested in league’s burgeoning esports platform? According to Zoomph’s research, among a host of other brands, PlayStation, the official platform provider, saw nearly $250,000 in social impression value during an eMLS event held earlier this year. That may seem like a small number when you consider global esports revenues will top $1 billion in 2020, but remember, a rising esports tide lifts all soccer boats and we’ve yet to reach high tide.

What’s next for brands interested in esports?

According to Brad Silber of Ogilvy’s Sports Network, over half of esports fans and viewers have a positive attitude about brand involvement within their games because the landscape is still in its infancy. They understand that brands can help grow esports and create cool, engaging experiences. This esports and advertising post from AdMonsters is a great resource for discussion, so we’ve highlighted a few of the main considerations below.

  • Advertising in this space can be traditional billboards and signage, sponsored characters within games themselves, using creators and streamers to showcase products, as well as sponsored activities through platforms (e.g. the decisions made during Old Spice’s Nature Adventure were fueled by Twitch chats)
  • Branded content is also a growing area in this space, as the likes of ESPN, Fox Sports, Turner, and Overtime devote more time and effort toward behind-the-scenes shows where gaming culture is in the driver’s seat
  • Brands that will be successful in this space are ones willing to listen to the audience in two-way, participatory relationship
  • Innovation with an unlimited imagination is the name of the game – no idea is too crazy because the space is largely still to be written. Disruption and creativity will help brands cut through the esports landscape
  • For a brand considering sponsorship of a top sports league, but worried it’s too much, esports could prove to be a better entry point to test the waters

There’s a lot of positive momentum in the esports world and it’s not just because of the COVID-19 situation. The innovative industry continues to develop as the numbers from Newzoo and other sources illustrate. This is all good news for soccer because as esports industry value grows, more and more dollars will be injected into platforms that unite soccer’s young, tech-savvy, hardcore soccer fans with gamers.

Categories: eSports, Major League Soccer, Sponsorship