Victoria Rose is a journalist and editor who covers esports and gaming. Her works have appeared in PC Gamer, ESPN, Polygon, Medium and Variety. Her current publication is ProvingGrounds.tv, where she’s a staff editor. You can follow her work at @riningear.
AM: You’ve covered esports for your entire career. What are some major takeaways brands should note before entering this space?
VICTORIA: Esports isn’t new — it’s existed in many different forms before the way the industry is today. That means people have tried anything and everything within their means to make a breadth of esports projects and initiatives work. If you think someone’s tried it, chances are someone has, for better or worse.
That also means esports as an industry has a history that you have the privilege of digging into. Do your research. Plenty of former esports players, talent and staff have their own consulting companies now that will give you genuine insight into what you can do well. Maybe some old things work, but things change.
AM: Talk as a consumer of esports content – what speaks to you the most about it?
VICTORIA: Like many other esports fans, I’m attracted to the esports part of the game and the passion other players share. Whether it’s inside jokes and memes online or being in a stadium yelling in unison with other fans, it’s that common love for the game is what makes esports so special.
And maybe it’s not the only thing that makes us happy or engaged. A ton of us are sports fans on the side. Plenty of my colleagues and friends follow hockey, the NBA, European football and the like. I’m personally a casual Devils fan! But it’s like being a fan of WWE and being a diehard Eagles fan, for instance. These are two completely different subcultures, with different things that draw us each in and keep us hooked.
So, if you loved pro wrestling when you grew up, you’ll likely feel at home in a Monday Night Raw crowd. An Eagles fan in Philly might have been in the crowds after that Super Bowl win, for better or worse. Same with esports: gamers want to be with gamers. Things just click for us. It feels natural being with others who love and understand the game, or gaming in general. And esports is an extension of that.
AM: WinStar World Casino and Resort has recently partnered with esports team compLexity Gaming. In general, what are your thoughts on gaming partnerships and casinos?
VICTORIA: The question of casinos in general, with my demographic, isn’t that Millennials aren’t willing to spend money — I go to tournaments, nerd conventions and the like where people will utilize any means possible to make it out there. But casinos, in general, are often in unique spots in trying to appeal to younger groups. My generation is iffy on games of pure chance and fewer of us can afford to do casual vacations.
Therefore, I don’t think this generation is harder to please, just different. And I think that’s why esports partnerships are actually important. In my experience, the casino industry reaching out to esports teams and event organizers feels like a genuine attempt to understand what engages the Millennial and Generation Z demographics. As I always say, gamers and esports fans are grateful for any sponsors they can get.
AM: What is something a non-gaming brand should keep in mind when speaking to a consumer?
VICTORIA: When it comes to esports, fans and organizers want anyone and everyone to sponsor us. It’ll probably get questioned at first. But the esports scene is always going to have an instinct, deep down, that they’re the underdog. Sponsorships by a non-gaming company appeal to that.
There’s a great example in my original esports home of Dota 2. During ESL One, Mercedes-Benz was the biggest sponsor and ran a few ads during the tournament. You know how car commercials have an extremely dramatic description of the car? “Introducing the X-Car, the latest and most powerful masterpiece from Y-Line. Featuring A-B-C horsepower and a Bluetooth J-Radio …” That ENTIRE car description became a meme of ESL One, where viewers would just spam the commercial’s voiceover lines in the chat. You can’t buy that kind of exposure.
Of course, in addition to ads, there was fantastic brand integration on ESL’s behalf, including an MVP award with a voucher for a new car. This really put it into perspective: this was a huge company sponsoring this event. To esports fans, this means they finally made it. I’d even say that this is an advantage non-endemic brands have over gaming brands. They’re fresh and giving our industry a chance. You still need to earn gamers’ trust through the event, but that’s a leg up.
AM: Likewise, what is something an esports brand should consider when speaking to this audience?
VICTORIA: Gaming brands now have to actively compete with each other. You have three or four different energy drink companies, a few more computer hardware companies, a similar number of gaming seat companies, and God knows how many peripheral companies. And it’s almost an obligation to sponsor an esports tournament at this point as a major gaming brand, so unless you’re giving a small tournament a chance, or you do some fantastic event integration, it’s almost no big deal to a lot of gamers.
Then, when it comes to these types of companies, gamers do talk to each other, especially now that esports has blown up on public social media. Gamers know what works and what doesn’t. That question of genuine quality is always going to be a challenge to you. Customer service, public relations and community efforts are great in that regard, but that’ll also only take you so far.
In short, this isn’t just circuits of small, thankful tournaments anymore (though I’m sure such tournaments would be grateful). Gaming brands helped make this happen, and I think gamers will be eternally grateful for that.