eSports is not gaming: Why advertisers need to note

Industry players contend that the two sectors are independent of each other, and it's key for marketers to distinguish between esports and casual gaming as they offer different opportunities to brands

by Shantanu David
Published - November 18, 2022
5 minutes To Read
eSports is not gaming: Why advertisers need to note

While esports and gaming continue to see unprecedented growth spurt in the country (collectively the sectors may value upwards of $8 billion or nearly Rs 65,000 crore by 2026), industry experts are getting increasingly vocal about making a clear delineation between the two sectors.

Lokesh Suji Director, Esports Federation of India and Vice President of Asian Esports Federation (AESF), celebrates the fact that eSports is not far from being considered a mainstream sport now, courtesy of the efforts by AESF and OCA (Olympic Council of Asia), but insists that stakeholders, especially advertisers and consumers, need to be cognizant of the difference between esports and gaming, a term that includes everything from our daily Wordle to online Poker to video games.

Suji was speaking to e4m on the sidelines of the India Game Developers Conference (IGDC) held in Hyderabad.

And to bring home the point, the International Olympic Committee has just confirmed that its inaugural Olympic Esports Week would take place in Singapore in June 2023. As the Olympics website itself reads, “The announcement marks the next major step in supporting the development of virtual sports within the Olympic Movement and engaging further with competitive gamers.”

Blurred Lines

Rohit Agarwal, Founder and Director, of marketing agency Alpha Zegus, agrees that, presently, gaming in India is a vague term, especially because it encompasses sectors like real-money gaming, hyper-casual gaming, and more.

“Esports, in particular, is a different league altogether. Brands, without a doubt, should be looking at esports in a similar way to cricket - it's highly competitive, the stakes are high, the audience base is massive (and loyal), and the career progression is similar to any of the traditional sports.”

Sharing the sentiment, Rohit N Jagasia, Founder and CEO of Revenant Esports, says, “Let’s compare this to a traditional sport. Cricket is a game; IPL or the World Cup are competitive experiences of the game. Likewise, in Esports, there are different games that have competitive significance when teams like us come in.”

Agarwal contends that brands have many opportunities to captivate a large, young audience base through esports. “The numbers are soon catching up to TV/OTT. Since most of the esports industry relies on digital and tech, all brand campaigns become highly trackable, and there are endless possibilities to innovate.”

Opportunity Cost

eSports events and tournaments, much like any sporting tournament, provide opportunities for brands to reach and engage with their key demographics. Animesh Agarwal, CEO and Founder, 8Bit Creatives, and a former eSports athlete himself, observes that at the smallest scale, tournaments hosted by individuals or small organisations allow for massive digital marketing opportunities, including becoming the title sponsor, contributing to the prize pool, or even in pre- and post-event marketing activities.

“In large-scale events, all possible opportunities like jersey sponsorship, team sponsorship, event rights, naming rights, logo placements, advertising and more are possible. As esports events have made their way into television, more and more brands are eyeing the various branding spots to reach the esports audience, which is growing by the day, and is already established as a key marketing focus for marketers,” he points out.

Talking about connecting with the audience, Jagasia says, “Brand sponsoring teams help them connect with the team’s audience in order to build brand advocates and have fan engagement activities with the brand. We’ve also had brands like PUMA, Fan Clash, Cybeart & AMD partnering with us because of our diversified approach in esports.”

Rohit Agarwal further says, “While they are in fact completely independent of each other, the fact that esports are perceived to be under the same umbrella of gaming has a trickle-down effect. Advertisers start withdrawing their budgets from esports, and that has a domino effect on the different stakeholders of esports.”

Stakeholders include end users as well, as many people have carved out a career playing esports apart from the athletes themselves. Video streamers, often youth from Tier -II, Tier-III cities, who can have millions of online followers make a living from their viewership numbers, brand deals and sponsorships.

For instance, Rooter, which streams both esports and gaming, recently became the first platform to financially empower its streamers, while allowing them to work with and earn from top glocal brands. “We have a very diverse audience, which is still well-segmented. This gives brands a very unique opportunity for targeted advertising and so brands from different categories will approach us and say they want to make deals with our top x number influencers of a particular esport or game,” shares Piyush Kumar, Founder and CEO, Rooter, which has been able to rope in over a 100 top brands like Flipkart, Amazon, Intel, HP and Pizza Hut.

The Tussle

With the recent news around bans/regulations on real money gaming advertisements and other decisions taken by state authorities and high courts, brands at times confuse esports and regulated games with prohibited ones. This is despite continuous recognition of the distinct nature of esports by international sports bodies, including the Olympics, Asian Games, and the Commonwealth Games.

“We work closely with the Ministry of Sport, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and other central ministries as well as with regulatory bodies, and they are all aware that esports has nothing to do with gambling or even gaming for that matter. We need brands and the public to also make that distinction,” Suji reiterates.

Animesh Agarwal reaffirms it's important for marketers to distinguish between esports and casual gaming, purely because of the kind of engagement that happens in the two important components of the gaming and esports world.

“Casual gamers and streamers create a relaxed and casual atmosphere, where the audience expects a lot of fun engagement, and brands would need to curate campaigns that speak directly to the gamer’s audience. Meanwhile, in esports, there is a competitive and fun environment that involves a lot of visibility to the brand’s identity. Clearing this confusion will help curate campaigns suited to the medium being used,” he noted.