Review | Future Games Summit 2017

From October 31st until November 1st, the Future Games Summit took over the Congress Centre in London. The fun didn’t end on the last day, though, as on Thursday 2nd November an intimate esports workshop was held, featuring some of the biggest names in the esports biz.

The half-day workshop set to explore best practice from industry professionals to help guide businesses to make esports investments that would bring a return-on-investment and engagement from the esports fan base. As well as this overarching theme, other topics were explored - what needs to be done to build an esports ecosystem? How can brands, media and entertainment companies capitalise on the industry? All these questions (and more) were posed and debated during the afternoon. Here are the keynotes that Fast Web Media took away:

The art to successfully monetising esports in the U.K

After a welcome and introduction from UKIE’s David Yarnton, the day kicked off with a keynote from James Dean, the Managing Director of ESL U.K. The topic of discussion was how businesses can successfully monetise esports in the United Kingdom; a key theme throughout the afternoon was esports in the U.K, a slightly more opaque market place than in the United States or elsewhere in Europe.

James shared his insight on how to get the best from your company’s partnerships, from non-endemic brands to licensing and everything inbetween. The keynote also touched on engagement, managing expectations and consideration for the esports demographic, a diverse and sometimes fickle audience.

When discussing engagement, James focussed on 4 key steps to success:

  1. Know your game: this leads to authenticity
  2. Collaborate with others: it makes a difference
  3. Empower the community: speak with, not at
  4. Embrace the memes: these symbolise the gaming culture.

MERCEDES-BENZ & DOTA 2

An example of a brand successfully engaging with the esports audience came from Mercedes-Benz. A partnership between Mercedes-Benz and ESL One Hamburg, a Dota 2 Major that boasted a huge $1 million prize-pool. To make this partnership a success, Mercedes-Benz followed the above 4 steps to positive engagement.

Mercedes-Benz may seem an unlikely meme candidate, but after an announcer at the event relayed the usual sponsorship spiel of “that game was great, but not as amazing as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan…”, internet users everywhere took it upon themselves to produce this into a meme. Soon, everything from esports players to gaming heroes were being measured up to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan. The /r/DotA2 Reddit subscribers were particular protagonists in creating these memes and jokes, often copying and pasting the Mercedes-Benz Sedan inventory and description as a response to otherwise unrelated posts.

With esports fans globally making a mockery and joke out of the Mercedes-Benz sponsorship, it would have been easy for the team at Mercedes to view this as a failure. They came across too sales and market-y and the esports audience sniffed it out. Instead, Mercedes-Benz decided to acknowledge the joke, much to the delight of 4,938 /r/DotA2 members.

The truth is, Mercedes-Benz probably received most of its PR and exposure from these online gags and memes. By embracing the running joke amongst the esports community, Mercedes-Benz successfully engaged and embraced the nature of esports, earning itself respect and kudos from the online audience.

STAKEHOLDER LANDSCAPE

The fundamental point to take away from the keynote was that, even for stakeholders, esports cannot be owned by a single entity. It’s a difficult industry to regulate, due to its lack of infrastructure, and it is in continual development. Each entity in esports feeds in and relies on each other, following a similar funnel to this:

  • Games publishers
  • Tournament operators
  • Professional teams and players
  • Broadcasters and press
  • Sponsors
  • Cities and venues
  • Service channels

What’s important for stakeholders to understand and consider is that all this lies solely with the community. For example, if a games publisher releases a game and the esports community doesn’t take it on, moving on to tournament operators and professional teams is already jeopardised. Even further down the funnel, if the community rejects chosen sponsors or cities and venues, the overall success of an esports investment is at risk.

The biggest risk to stakeholders and those looking to invest in esports is dismissal by its community. Coming back to the 4 key steps to success, by considering these throughout your esports investment journey, your chances of industry victory can be largely improved.

How can partnerships allow fans to get closer to the action?

The latter part of the afternoon opened up a panel discussion, focussing on how partnerships in esports can allow fans to get closer to the action. The panelists were:

  • Veronique Lallier, European General Manager and Vice President Global Marketing, Hi-Rez Studios

  • Mark Brittan, Chief Commercial Officer, Gfinity

  • Jodie Fullagar, Head of Entertainment, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment

  • Grant Rosseau, European Operations Manager, Splyce Inc

  • Mark Cox, UK Head of Publishing, Riot Games

  • Craig Fletcher, Multiplay Founder & Senior Vice President Esports, GAME

The panel considered the questions: what investment opportunities are we lacking in the U.K and what can be done to improve this? How can esport entities manage relationships with brands and prove an ROI? What can we learn from the traditional sports structure to encourage esports growth?

The panelists discussed various avenues in which brand partnerships and alignments allow fans from any demographic to get closer to esports, largely through creative advertising. The key seemingly lies with non-endemic brands; these brands open up a pathway of recognition to the less-engaged, casual esports fans. Having that familiar face of a brand you don’t particularly associate with esports resonates with these potential audiences, increasing the chances of converting them into more dedicated esports fans.

The opportunities for brands to form partnerships in esports is exponential. Esports is now a legitimate conversation starter, with conversations only getting more diverse and widespread. The development of esports over the past year or so is reflected in the likes of the legendary INSOMNIA gaming convention. Previously, INSOMNIA was largely male, millennial dominated, boasting little gender diversity. Now, the INSOMNIA audience ratio is balancing out in terms of gender, with the 40,000 attendees a mix of gamers, enthusiasts and even families and children, making esports more approachable and bringing it into the mainstream.

The general learning from the panel is that partnerships are not a simple as throwing money at something you do not fully understand, they must be formed with long-term sustainable growth at the forefront of the strategy. Simply sponsoring a single event will do little to resonate with the community and will not achieve the goal of bringing fans closer to the action and growing the industry.

A recent example of an effective and successful esports partnership came when our client, Gfinity, partnered with the iconic Formula 1 to bring the Formula 1® Esports Series. Fans of esports and Formula 1 were given the chance to race against each other to become the virtual racing champion of the world. The event was impressively watched by over 282,000 online viewers; just 40,000 less than the real Formula 1. The partnership symbolises Formula 1’s long-term investment in esports and gaming as well as its continued ambition to build a greater connection with wider audiences, especially younger fans.

Conclusion

The workshop afternoon of the Future Games Summit allowed businesses of all different industries (law, advertising, and education to name a few) to gain profound insight into the esports industry from professionals and veterans themselves. With a keen focus on esports in the United Kingdom, the events and lessons learned were a refreshing change from focussing solely on international audiences.

What role do you see partnerships playing in the esports industry? Is it simply to monetise the business or can it successfully be used to bring fans closer to esports? Tweet us your thoughts, @FastWebMedia

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