Written by: Michael Murphy O’Reilly – Director of Esports & Gaming, Minute Media
While it’s true that the gaming world is thriving as a result of COVID lockdowns, from playing games to streaming and watching, it would be foolish for the esports industry to see this as ‘our moment’ given that this boom is only happening while nearly every other sports and entertainment product is on hold. No one actually knows what is going to happen in the next three weeks, let alone the next three months, and while it’s difficult to foresee what sort of environment we’ll be in for the remainder of the year, it’s important to think about what might be. Below are the five things I expect to see in the gaming and esports industry post-pandemic. Time will tell which of these come to be true.
1. Expect a sharp drop in viewership once the pandemic has passed
While the gaming and esports industry is experiencing exponential growth in terms of the player base, viewership, and consumption — Minute Media’s own platforms have seen an 80% jump in traffic month to month – there will be a significant decline in viewership for the months leading out of lockdown. This makes sense as live sports and other forms of entertainment return competing for fans’ attention. The sharp decline will worry some brands and investors, but the industry is likely to see the pandemic period as a point marking strong long term audience growth resulting from new fans continuing to consume gaming content and existing gamers increase their overall consumption stemming from this period.
2. Salience alone can affect brand investment long term in esports
Many brands across the globe have been actively moving budgets or investigating the opportunities within gaming and esports due to the lack of available opportunities elsewhere. Whether brands invest or not during this time, the overwhelming coverage on the audience and the growth will spark increased investment in gaming and esports as part of their marketing mix. These movements may be simple such as serving as the final push for brands who were considering a move into the industry. Or even more significant, mainstream coverage could change a CMO’s or Brand marketing team’s perspective on the possibilities of investing in esports. It’s a huge win when you can change the mind of an executive who previously saw Gaming only as of the outdated stereotype activity of teenagers wasting time in their bedrooms to a viable channel to engage fans that will help fuel overall growth in the industry.
3. Brands who continue investment in gaming post-pandemic will see the greatest benefits
Much like the current sentiment from the likes of Mark Ritson, The IPA, and other advertisers who have shown evidence that brands that invest when others pull away will see the greatest benefits, there will be winners and losers in esports advertising. I suspect many of these results will be determined post-COVID-19. Brands who maintain their spending in esports and gaming as part of their marketing mix post-pandemic will reap the benefit. As other advertisers move investment back to sports, cinema, and other traditional channels, remaining brands will naturally see their SOV increase amongst the audience as others stop spending. Similarly, as the audience has shown its loyalty to brands who do it right and effectively show the love, brands that increase their investment will not only gain an excess share of voice in the segment but recognition and loyalty from the community.
4. Sports teams will place more emphasis on esports as an engagement tool
While I don’t expect sports teams or rights holders such as the F1 or the Premier League to continue running their simulated counterparts as frequently after lockdown, I do expect many of them, like advertisers, to reflect on the capability to engage audiences. Organizations like Formula 1 have a history of successful esports activations, which I imagine will now become a much bigger part of their day to day conversations since the success of their Virtual League. Other sports teams and rights holders will be realizing the potential that esports can fill an engagement void.
Nearly every sports league has offseasons where gaming can play a big part in monetizing and engaging fans until regular play returns. I expect many leagues and teams will resume normal service in the coming months, make big strides to recoup lost revenue but slowly build their esports presence as part of regular operations if they have not already done so.
5. Newly discovered ‘nerds’ will help shape the way people look at gaming
While hardcore gamers and esports fans have been subjected to many stereotypes over the years, the pandemic has highlighted the many different sports stars, celebrities, and influencers who are big-time gamers, now that they have more time to indulge in them. For many, that has been showcasing athletes as passionate and even hardcore gamers. Players such as Ben Simmons and Jeremy Lin have been gamers for some time but a lack of time and other commitments has given them little time to show that side to fans. Perhaps the most surprising part for the uninitiated will be that these athletes don’t play NBA 2K, Madden, or their digital counterparts, but that they have been on Call of Duty, Fortnite, Valorant and others. I expect many endemic and non-endemic sports brands will look to use athletes and influencers as gamers to reach a new audience.