The parallel branding world of e-sports, explained by Geeta Rao
The parallel branding world of e-sports, explained by Geeta Rao
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

It used to be called video-gaming and a generation of young kids were exhorted by their parents to stop playing and start studying or else face dire consequences. That world has morphed into the trending world of e-sports and if your brand isn’t registering some sort of presence there, perhaps you need to take another look at your marketing strategy.

A recent report I read suggests that in the pandemic, advertising and sponsorships in the world of e-sports have tripled from where they were a year ago. Early entrants into this world include BMW, Disney, Apple and Red Bull. But now, e-sports offer a much wider scope for brands. In India, Mercedes was the sponsor of the last e-sports league championships. Internationally, Sephora has sponsored GirlGames, a female gaming championship. There have always been league and championship sponsorships, much like the IPL and FIFA, but there is the whole spin-off into a world of powerful influencers, new formats and branded content, connecting directly with Gen Z in a way that is difficult to envisage if you are a traditional advertiser.

Gaming and e-sports

I use the words gaming and e-sports interchangeably, though experts will tell you there are differences. It’s a bit like IPL vs Ranji Trophy vs gully cricket - but since each can feed into the other and each can feed off the other, it is easy to cross over. Big e-sports events take place in stadiums with giant screens and often have live audiences going up to 50,000 strong, besides garnering millions of online viewers.

Gaming and e-sports create a world where anything is possible, which means brands can expand their own worlds similarly. You could be a boring, slightly dated brand whose brand asset valuator doesn’t look too flattering, but a daring online presence backed by influencers could give you a new lease of life. To do that in the real world would cost time and money, and your traditional partners may not even be able to deliver.

There are brands that have always sponsored sports and so e-sports is a logical next move. But when luxury fashion and beauty brands enter, you know that this is now a lifestyle trend.

Beauty, fashion fit in

Cosmetics brand MAC has been collaborating with gamers and games both online and offline. In China a make-up line created in collaboration with Honour of Kings, a popular mobile game with over 20 million active players, sold out in 24 hours. Couture shoe-maker Christian Louboutin chose to launch his Spring collection 2021 by creating the ‘Loubie world’ on a Korean social gaming app.

Louis Vuitton, the luxury giant, has partnered with League of Legends, the biggest daddy of e-sports. It is a multi- faceted partnership, but the buzz generator was the fact that creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere would be designing ‘skins’ for the game. An LV skin – now that even Gen Z would lust after, and so would I, if it were available offline. ‘Skins’ are accessories and costumes for online gaming avatars and the opportunity to be embedded and showcase whatever fantastic design you create seems an irresistible call for fashion. Cosplay (costume play/ dressing up) is another facet of the gaming scene, where beauty and fashion fit in naturally.

A huge opportunity

In totality, e-sports in all its many avatars (pun intended) represents a huge opportunity. Unlike FIFA and Formula 1 and IPL, this is a sunrise sport; so it is relatively cheap and presents a chance to align your brand early on to something that is future-forward.

The rise of female stars is what I love most about e-sports. Like all other sports, e-sports started out being gendered and there have been many instances of women players being viciously trolled and stalked online. Assuming games catered largely to men, there were disturbing, hyper sexualised graphics of female characters in the stories. Not so much anymore. Female gamers account for almost 50% of gamers in the USA and South-east Asia.

Going forward, it will be difficult to get sponsors if you don’t have some female representation on your e-sports teams or you don’t cater to your female fans. I have no doubt that the post-pandemic age will be the ‘Age of the Female Gamer’. So, start aligning yourself, dear brands.

(The author has been Regional Creative Director, Ogilvy and has devoted many column inches and years to advertising and brands.)

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