The world of esports competitions is host to a variety of games for different types of players. Some of these games, like League of Legends Dota 2, are immensely popular, and their competitions have documentaries made about them for TBS or Netflix. For people even vaguely aware of esports competitions, these games immediately come to mind.
But like kingdoms, game franchises rise and fall. Most games decline in popularity or take time to grow, building infrastructure and supporting an ever-expanding community of players.
Part one examined some of the kings of the esports industry. This article, on the other hand, will look at some other games which, while popular, are still finding their places as competitive esports.
What to Consider Before Partnering
In part one, we looked at five key factors in making sponsorship decisions, which were simplified to infrastructure, formats, audience, accessibility, and brand fit. For a more in-depth look into these, see part one in this article series.
To summarize the points in that article, before a brand decides to sponsor a game competition, the brand should consider:
- Infrastructure: How well-supported and established the competition and game franchise are. Can the organizers provide in-depth, reliable, and accurate data on the performance of and audience for their competitions? Can they support large audiences?
- Formats: What advertising opportunities do brands have? How can brands best advertise to audiences without disrupting viewing experiences?
- Audience: Who’s watching events? What is a brand’s target audience? Finding common ground between these two audiences while targeting the right streaming platforms is key. Alternatively, brands can consider live audiences, if applicable.
- Accessibility: Can events appeal to casual viewers, or people who know next to nothing about the games?
- Brand Fit: Does the sponsorship align with a brand’s positioning? Can a brand offer a product to esports viewers that will resonate with them?
With that overview out of the way, here are some esports competitions that are developing and becoming more mainstream.
Growing Leagues and Tournaments
Fortnite: Battle Royale might have made waves with its 2017 debut, rapidly becoming a phenomenon, but its position in competitive esports is still fairly new.
Epic earlier announced that it would be directing $100 million toward competitive esports, and so far, this money has been put into a variety of competitions, with 2019’s World Cup distributing a total $30 million prize pool, the Summer Skirmish Series awarding a total $8 million prize pool, and the Fall Skirmish Series awarding a $10 million total prize pool.
These can all be considered initial efforts in developing a larger league infrastructure, something which Epic seems to still be fleshing out. Epic only this March added the Arena mode, which allows players to compete against each other for placement in official events.
However, Epic and Fortnite have made big strides forward in their advancement of esports. The former commissioner of the Overwatch League, Nate Nanzer, recently left his position to oversee Fortnite esports. Fortnite’s new Champions Series looks like another stride forward, though details on that have yet to emerge.
Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS)
The esports infrastructure for Rocket League, another massively popular game from the past five years, is also still developing.
The Rocket League Championship Series began in 2016 as a collaboration between Psyonix and Twitch. At first, Twitch gained exclusive broadcasting rights of Rocket League competitive events while aiding in the growth of Rocket League’s competitive infrastructure and community.
This collaboration has since dissolved however, with Psyonix moving its esports management in-house. Although Twitch still managed sponsorships and ad sales for Rocket League at first, Psyonix made a deal with Turner Sports’s ELEAGUE early this year, with ELEAGUE now handling both advertising and sponsorships, among other things.
Following that, Epic Games acquired Rocket League and Psyonix. Epic has been pretty quiet following the acquisition, with Rocket League’s season 7 championship series taking place in late June, but more developments are sure to come.
Rainbow Six Pro League
Rainbow Six: Siege is an unusual story in the esports industry, and the existence of a Rainbow Six Pro League at all is perhaps a testament to Ubisoft’s tenacity, given the cancellation of the previous installment. Rainbow Six: Siege is another addition in the more-than-a-dozen game franchise, Rainbow Six, which began with Tom Clancy’s novel in 1998. What’s even more unusual is that Siege was envisioned as the reboot to the franchise, yet even following awards and praise quickly lost steam.
Only when Siege responded to its strongest criticism – an overall lack of content in its initial release – did it pick itself up and gain a strong following. Almost three years after its release, Rainbow Six: Siege continues to add content for players, keeping itself fresh and relevant.
Rainbow Six’s Pro League began in 2017, hosted by ESL in association with Ubisoft. The league includes four region divisions, representing Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific. Initially divided into four seasons per year, the Pro League shifted to two seasons of six months each starting in 2018. Following those two seasons, players compete in the Six Invitational, Rainbow Six’s most prestigious tournament.
In 2018, Ubisoft announced the Rainbow Six Pilot Program, a partnership program which would give select teams a cut of the revenue from sales of in-game cosmetics. The goal is to make competition more sustainable for players.
Evolution Championship Series (Evo)
The Evolution Championship Series stands out from other tournaments in many ways. For one, Evo isn’t dedicated to one game franchise, instead including a variety of competitive fighting games. Evo also predates the major esports boom of the last decade, first appearing in 1996, well before Twitch or YouTube came on the scene. Finally, Evo is not an event players qualify for – it’s completely open to the public, taking place annually in the Las Vegas and drawing in players from around the world. Evo is considered the largest and most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world.
Each player pays a $10 entry fee, with players competing in an array of different fighting game tournaments. The entry fees then together form the prize pool, with first place receiving half of the total money, and seven more players receiving a proportionate amount based on their placement.
Evo 2019 featured Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Street Fighter V Arcade Edition, Tekken 7, Mortal Kombat 11, Soulcalibur VI, Dragon Ball FighterZ, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, Samurai Shodown, and Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st]. It drew in more than 9000 entrants, over 3500 of which entered to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This made Evo 2019 the largest Super Smash Bros. competitive event of all time.
Although data has not been released for Evo 2019, Evo 2018 generated 5.2 million hours of Twitch and YouTube viewership, an increase of more than 24 percent from its previous year.
Esports competitions represent an array of unique and diverse opportunities for brands. While many of these competitions are still building and establishing themselves, even different types of competitions like Evo, which aren’t exclusive and don’t offer the same opportunities as some of the major competitions covered in the last article, can still be boons to brands.
For one, a growing competition might offer a trust or intimacy that a larger competitive event might not, allowing brands a closer connection to audiences. Some competitive events, like Evo, also offer a rare niche in the esports industry, striking a chord with casual audiences and retro fans, even if they don’t offer the same kinds of immediate returns.
Most of these events show positive trends for the esports industry however, as more competitive events and game franchises seek to encourage competitive play by offering larger prize pools, as well as through other incentives such as Rainbow Six’s Pilot Program. By turning even microtransactions into net positives, giving the money back to competitive players and communities, companies have shown a degree of ingenuity, even turning that element into something which might not cause controversy at the same scale.
Ultimately though, as before, brands should consider what benefits their brand strategies and image while helping their bottom line. Gamers are savvy audiences, and while marketing to them can often be challenging, they know how to follow brands in ways that other demographics might not, engaging online and through social media. What matters is having an actionable product that translates to esports audiences.
With part one covering some of the most prolific competitions in the esports space, and part two covering competitions still establishing themselves or taking a different approach, part three will examine some of the newest competitions in the esports industry.
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Disclosure: I’m an Account Director at Rogers & Cowan responsible for managing and supporting global esports sponsorships (digital, social, and offline activations) for Mastercard.