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The Marketing Dilemma of the Esports Influencer

By Justin M. Jacobson, Esq.

With publications constantly reporting on the esports “boom,” most of the world’s marketing agencies and brand managers are familiar with the world of esports and its “key” demographic. Marketers see league sponsors, such as Toyota, T-Mobile, and Sour Patch Kids for Blizzard’s Overwatch League, and other major brands aligning themselves with major esports organizations. Many major companies are taking notice and investing money into esports sponsorships and other gaming “influencer” activations. These include brands ranging from traditional endemic ones—gaming headsets, monitors, gaming chairs, game controllers, and other gaming peripheral items—to non-endemic ones such as Gillette, Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Mercedes Benz, and Audi.

While many major companies are investing time and resources into developing their brand’s presence within the esports sphere, many of these entity’s traditional indicators of a brand’s “successful” campaign—referred to as “Key Performance Indicators” (KPI)—are inapplicable to esports as the industry currently functions. In fact, these antiquated performance indicators may actually create barriers to individual professional gamer sponsorships. They may also be one of the main reasons that these types of arrangements are only a small fraction of the total sponsorships currently available in esports. For example, many brands determine the success of a marketing campaign based on how much content was generated. This includes the number of photographs, video clips, Instagram or Snapchat “stories” published, as well as which “influencers” shared the content, and the content’s total “impressions” and “engagement” figures.

In this context, “engagement” means how the viewers interacted with the particular piece of content or the total promotional campaign. For instance, it includes how many “clicks” the content receives, including “post” clicks and “link” clicks, how many unique as well as total views of the material, how many shares or retweets of the content, how many replies or comments there were on the content, the “view-through” rate of the content, and the “watch time” of the piece (i.e. viewer watching 5 seconds and closing it or a viewer watching the entire clip, half the clip, etc.). “Impressions” are the total number of views, “clicks,” or other interactions by the viewers of the activation’s content. This is typically calculated by totaling the influencer’s social media following as well as that of the other individuals who covered or otherwise shared the material.

A common misconception among brands entering the esports realm; and, one that is a fairly straight-forward conclusion based on most of today’s available data is that the social media platform, “Instagram” is the platform that matters most. This has caused Instagram “influencer” activations to be of prominent importance to many brands. NYC Celebrity fashion stylist, Megan Averbuch of Belles & Rebelles, who works with a variety of influencers including musicians, professional athletes and gamers, stated “that fashion brands are primarily focused on Instagram due to the value of the actual image, and ensuring that they receive proper accreditation on that social media platform as opposed to Twitter which is driven more by words than images.” Additionally, as described by Forbes, user statistics further reinforce the position that Instagram has become the preferred social media platform for brands.

In fact, recent studies demonstrate that Instagram has more active users than Facebook or Twitter. In addition to this larger active user base, marketing reports demonstrate that the content posted on Instagram is “getting three times more engagement […] when compared apples-to-apples with [the same content posted on] Facebook.” Studies also show the “engagement rates [on Twitter] can be less than 1/30th [of] what they are on Instagram.” When looking at these statistics, it’s no wonder that many brands have shifted their focus to Instagram and its higher “engagement” rate than other comparable social media outlets.

As a result, many brands’ marketing philosophies and “success” indicators do not align with the esports world; and, thus, have contributed to creating the existing dilemma. In particular, Twitter has become known as the source that most esports fans use. This is true as one of the key distinguishing characteristics between esports and traditional sports is that “there is a huge media world around sports with 24-hour channels and sports sections of newspapers” and that type of extensive, around the clock coverage doesn’t exist in esports. This fact has caused esports fans who want to stay on top of the latest news to utilize social media “to read about what’s going on, get the latest updates or discuss them.”  Furthermore, most of this conversation occurs on Twitter due to the fact that “all the big players (gamers) are on Twitter” and “every team is on Twitter;” so, “the amount of interaction, engagement and story development that takes place on Twitter is disproportionately large[r] in eSports when compared to [traditional] sports.” For example in 2017, per Twitter, there were more than “218 million tweets about gaming globally.”

As a result of these factors, Twitter is where most prominent esports personalities have the largest followings and best user engagements. They actually utilize their Twitter much more than any of the gamer’s other social media platforms. In fact, many professional video gamers do not have any Instagram presence at all or their Instagram following is only a fraction of their Twitter following. For example, one of the world’s top League of Legends players, Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg has over 1.4 million followers on Twitter and only 339,000 followers on Instagram. Another former top esports competitor and owner of Origen, Enrique “xPeke” Cedeno, has over 606,000 followers on Twitter and only 77,900 followers on Instagram. Despite having much smaller followings on Instagram, both of these gamers still have several major brand sponsorships, including Gillette, Red Bull, Dr. Pepper, HTC, and Logitech. It is fair to assume that these sponsorships are based more on their Twitter impressions than any other social media platform indicators.

Overall, brands should begin to understand how and why esports functions as it does to better comprehend how to align their performance indicators with ones that fit the market they are targeting. It is important for a company to properly engage its desired demographic and to focus their efforts on the proper platforms. As marketers continue to educate themselves on esports, they should continue to take note of where the most user engagement with professional gamers and related esports professionals occurs, which most often happens to be on Twitter.

This article was originally posted on The Esports Observer.

(c) 2018 The Jacobson Firm, P.C.

About the author

Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. - Vice-President, The Jacobson Firm, P.C. - Attorney Specializing in Entertainment, Sports, Esports, Fashion and Art Law. In particular, The Jacobson Firm, P.C. handles Trademarks, Copyrights, Contracts, Estate Planning, Music Business and Brand Development on behalf of creative talent and lifestyle brands.

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