15/02/2017 10:28 GMT | Updated 16/02/2018 05:12 GMT

Why Brands Are Beginning To Take eSports Seriously

Long gone are the "plug-and-play" days when gaming was almost exclusively an offline activity. With the migration of gaming activities online, and the subsequent expansion of the gaming community, a whole host of behaviours now fall within the remit of gaming even when they don't actually involve picking up a controller and playing anything.

Gaming as an entertainment category has been evolving to encompass everything from mobile gaming (which has helped to expand its appeal across a range of demographics), to the act of sitting and spectating while others play your favourite games. And as our data shows, spectator gaming has been quick to make an impact in this space; 1 in 5 Internet users across the 36 markets we survey say they have watched a live gaming stream, and just over 15% report having watched an eSports tournament.

Given the size of the potential market, it's not hard to understand the $1bn price-tag Amazon paid for videogame-streaming site Twitch back in 2014. In the west at least, Twitch has largely held the reigns when it comes to spectator gaming, but the continued popularity of this genre of entertainment has led to competitors sprouting up in quick succession. Most notably, Google's YouTube entered the fray in 2015 with YouTube Gaming (1 in 10 YouTubers say they used this game-streaming service last month, according to our data). But things are also heating up in China, with established name Douyu TV (recently valued at $100m) facing competition from newcomer Panda TV.

What's particularly important here is that spectator gaming has a very desirable demographic. Neither the predominantly male composition of this audience nor the skew towards younger Internet users is likely to surprise. But that almost a fifth of 35-44s are watching live-streamed videogame footage and around 1 in 8 are tuning into eSports tournaments indicates that this enthusiasm is by no means restricted to Millennials. From a regional perspective, the pivotal role of South Korea in the development of spectator gaming as well as Tencent's success in driving uptake in China pushes APAC above all other regions for both activities. Nevertheless, look just at 16-24s in regions like Europe and North America and figures for these metrics rise sharply.

The appeal for brands here is obvious - and since the start of this year alone we've seen Audi, Adidas, Lionsgate and Visa weigh in on the action, while the National Basketball Association just announced plans to create an eSports league of its own. Arguably, though, it's the income breakdown for these activities which is most striking: for both of these online behaviours, we see figures rise directly in line with wealth. Good news for brands then, as this is clearly an audience with disposable income.

eSports in particular is still very much evolving as a platform for brands and advertisers, but the genre's initial migration from online TV to broadcast media via the likes of Turner and ESPN should increase the appeal for brands still sitting on the fence. After all, like all conventional sports events, each unique eSports tournament broadcast has scarcity value. By bringing together this growing number of viewers in one place at one time where, there's real opportunity for brands to have a powerful message and be associated with this trending movement. Even so, this is an audience already at the forefront of watching TV online - consuming almost as much content online each day as they are watching via traditional broadcasts. The convenience of online TV's pay-for-what-you-want approach to content will assure it a major role in the future distribution of eSports broadcasts. And it's not like these users won't be inclined to pay - on the contrary, our research shows that they are 74% more likely than the average user to be paying for digital content (83% are).

In a similar vein, it's for non-traditional brand interaction points such as playing branded games or interacting via social media where we see this audience over-index the most. Put this in the context of their device ownership and usage habits - with smartphones near universal and eSports Fans being 43% more likely to have watched a video made by a brand - and it's clear that there is a serious opportunity to tap into this community.