Contrary to popular belief, eSports and online gaming has been present for quite some time now. However, the past couple of years have seen a surge in the number of investors, developers, and even gamers.
This growing popularity, especially amongst millennials in India, has resulted in brands taking more interest in the industry, with investors and developers leveraging it to experience lucrative returns.
Campaign India takes a deeper dive from behind the console of the eSports and gaming industry, to understand why it's growing, how brands are looking to leverage their associations with it, and how the game is set to continue.
Reasons behind the boom
Experts have opined that there are certain metrics for any sport to flourish. And eSports too fits the bill.
Jogesh Lulla, COO, Cornerstone Sport, (that recently announced its entry to the eSports place
), believes that the right infrastructure to train and compete, right platform to gain visibility and recognition by the appropriate sporting bodies is what fuelled the growth of eSports.
He added, "The processing power and affordability of smartphones, along with affordable high-speed internet and 5G skyrocketed the growth."
Adding to it, Abhishek Madhavan, SVP, brand marketing and design, MPL, states that 65% of the Indian population falls under the age of 35, which is a significant reason for India’s thriving esports market.
With people being locked in at homes and physical sports not being played as much, eSports and the hardware that assists playing that has undeniably benefitted. Jason Wang, country product head of consumer and gaming PC, system business group, Asus India, stated that the company’s gaming laptop brands ‘ROG and TUF’, recorded an 80% growth in 2020 and are expecting about 70-80% year-on-year growth in 2021.
How brands leverage eSports
WARC data suggests that eSports brands are expanding their business to invest in untapped markets such as Asia, which will lead the consumption, with global brand investments cited to cross US$ 1 billion in 2022.
Toshan Patil, co-founder and director, Meraki Sport and Entertainment claims that while tech device brands are the obvious fit, as they are used by the athletes, any brand looking to connect with the audience that eSports attracts, can leverage the discipline.
KFC India recently partnered with BattleGround Mobile India to reach out to the gaming community.
Explaining the initiative and the reason for picking eSports, Moksh Chopra, chief marketing officer, KFC India, said, “We treated the winners of the ‘OR championship - Legends Rise 2021’, to an actual KFC 'chicken dinner' and it has become more of a sentiment to claim triumph. As a brand, we have been actively venturing into the world of gaming with innovative launches such as the Gamer’s Box. This was our way of celebrating the emerging trend of eSports and engaging with the passionate and ‘always-on’ gaming community of India."
The Gamer’s box has a built-in joystick and slot for one’s smartphone, allowing gamers to indulge in their KFC favourites while playing their games.
Asus India had announced the launch of its first virtual ‘ROG (republic of gamers) Academy’ program, which identifies PC gamers and provides them with a platform to enhance their skills and prepare them for eSports tournaments on a national and a global level.
Speaking about the impact of its collaborations, Wang said, “It allowed us to take the right information strategically to the correct audience, resulting in brand awareness and customer education. It also helped drive sales of our gaming products, since eSports influencers help consumers in their decision-making journey to purchase products”
Although eSports allows a great segmentation targeting a variety of audiences, Patil reminds us that many brands fail to leverage this platform due to lacklustre campaigns. “If a brand jumps onto the eSports bandwagon, it must ensure that they do it creatively to generate the ROI they seek.”
However, Lulla suggests that it is, indeed, the right time for brands to get the first-mover advantage to gain visibility with eSports fans in a cost-effective manner.
The advantage to non-relevant brands
Patil points that any kind of sponsorship is embarked upon, to connect with an emotionally invested audience. “In most cases, the brands sponsoring the property or team have nothing to do with the sport in question. However, what the sport allows them to do is create conversations with potential consumers,” he adds.
Sreeram Reddy, founder, OpenPlaytech, names brands like Intel and Dell, as well as Red Bull and Pepsi, not all of which have a direct connection with eSports or gaming, but have leveraged these mediums successfully.
“The unique nature of the sport allows athletes to even talk about or mention the brands while they are streaming content, which is something that is not possible in traditional sport,” Lulla says, adding that it also gives brands other benefits like in traditional sports broadcasting.
Sidharth Kedia, CEO, Nodwin Gaming, calls to mind one such traditional brand, the SBI Yono App - which aims to leverage itself as youth-centric, through its association with eSports. "Is my connection with the machine, or the man?", is what Kedia believes every brand needs to ask itself.
Madhavan of MPL states that non-gaming brands have also been able to bolster their platforms by developing and hosting interactive and fun content for gamers.
On the flipside, Nodwin Gaming does not partner with brands that it thinks would not have an organic youth connect with its audiences.
Challenges for the eSports and gaming community
Lulla highlights that in India, eSports is still majorly limited to mobile gaming due to the exorbitant cost of gaming consoles and PCs.
Wang adds that laptop gaming is relatively new in India. He says, “There is a need to develop the professional gaming ecosystem to bring our gaming industry at par with its global counterparts. The e-gaming industry’s growth relies on a well-rounded development of the larger ecosystem and many industry-first initiatives.”
Speaking of the negative connotation concerning kids being exposed to eSports, Kedia explains that it’s largely about the addictiveness levels. “At the end of the day, parents will always believe that academics lead to progress, not sports. The same thing is happening today, but only with changed equipment. It can't be blamed on gaming. As long as you have a balance - whether it is imposed or self-imposed, you’re good to go,” he added.
With eSports being included in the Asian Games in 2018 and now being counted as a 'medal sport' in 2022, there's a belief that the negative perception around it will change with parents and the society at large realising that it could be a rewarding career option.
Future of eSports
According to an EY report, the industry is forecasted to reach INR 11 billion by FY2025 and is expected to grow at 46% CAGR over the next four years.
Wang believes that the Government, too, has now initiated proactive steps to establish the community more concretely.
Madhavan believes that it's poised to become one of the biggest content generation industries in the country. He explains, "This will happen through steady investments pouring into the industry and sponsors and social media brands contributing to make eSports an enticing user experience."
Reddy, in addition, is certain that the investor money will also make its way to cloud gaming, crypto gaming, streaming and AR/VR startups, paving the way for a new wave in gaming.
Answering the question of where eSports stands in comparison to traditional sports, Kedia says, "It has already taken over every sport, except cricket. Its viewership is more than that of cricket in other countries. Indian cricket and the IPL are the only two games that have more viewership than eSports." He adds that in four to five years, eSports in India would even give cricket a run.
However, Patil is certain that there won’t be a drop in the interest in physical sports as it is not a replacement, but an addition to the vertical of sport.
Co-founder and marketing director of Baazi Games, Varun Ganjoo concludes by stating that the industry aims to create a certain niche, which is free from the stigmas associated with real-money gaming. "Though there has been a shift in the way people perceive eSports and gaming, we still have a long road to cover," he says.