Dear Brands, Pay Attention to E-Sports

We’re a of gamers here at INPHANTRY, and we’re damn proud of it. Many Fridays we’ll dive into some serious Rocket League or Rainbow Six: Siege before the weekend, not to mention all of the VR gear we’ve been hoarding lately. We’re also big sports fans, and how can you not be in the city of Boston? Yet as much to the dismay of our Art Director / Resident Rocket League Expert: Manny, becoming a pro gamer doesn’t have the career, accolades, and respect of pro athletes. That however, is going to change with Blizzard’s Overwatch League. 

To those unaware, Blizzard Entertainment is one of the most respected developers out there, with their catalog including the Diablo and Starcraft series’, the international phenomenon World of Warcraft, and most recently Overwatch. A team-based first-person shooter, Overwatch revolves around a group of international heroes joining back together to save the world, and for some reason to capture and hold points on a map. To keep it simply: Combine the art style of The Incredibles, the diverse team of The Avengers, and the camaraderie of Band of Brothers.

overwatch-1

Overwatch has already surpassed over 25 million players, but Blizzard’s next move is looking to catapult not just their player base – but their entire fanbase. Overwatch League is Blizzard’s new eSports initiative that hopes to bring the fanaticism, hype, and aspirations of popular sports to the digital world. The best players in the country participate in a combine, then get drafted onto teams based in major international cities. These teams will compete in a season, just like the NFL and NBA, and hopefully with the advertising dollars to match. Still a little confused? Check out this quick video that best explains the new eSports phenomenon.

So why does this matter, really? eSports is already a $500 million dollar industry, with some of the biggest competitions shelling out over $20 million in prize money. Games like Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Dota 2, and others have been doing this for years. The difference with Overwatch League? Blizzard doesn’t just want to lead the next eSports craze – they want to lead the next sports craze. They don’t want to just connect with millennial males, they want Overwatch League to be for fans of all ages and genders. Think jerseys, handmade signs, primetime broadcast coverage, rivalries, the works.

With all the praise, there are many who are skeptical about the success of the new eSports initiative. In a recent report by Morgan Stanley, the investment firm forecasted the potential failure of Overwatch League, citing fatal flaws including its trendy nature and inability to garner a casual audience. In addition, many believe it is too early for Overwatch to build eSports prominence. Games like Counter-Strike and League of Legends took years to build their reputation as eSports leaders, while Overwatch launched less than a year ago.

overwatch-2

The International 2016: The annual Dota 2 championship with payouts of over $20 million. 

Despite the skepticism, there is plenty of data that shows Overwatch League could be a huge success. If Blizzard can win over the casual audience, build successful teams, and get proper coverage, they could bring in over $100 million in revenue at launch. According to Morgan Stanley, Overwatch League could potentially bring in more cash than Major League Soccer, putting the eSports league next to WWE. Right now, teams are looking to be sold for anywhere from $5 to $15 million, with some cities like Los Angeles selling for closer to $50 million. The best part, many organizations are considering bringing eSports teams into their circle. Matt O’Neil, senior VP of brand marketing for the Dallas Cowboys, recently spoke with Ad Age about the organization’s future involvement in eSports , “When it comes to something like e-sports, it makes so much sense for us because we’re such a sales driven organization…If we thought we could buy a team for — gimme a number — $2 million, $3 million, $5 million or whatever, but get $7 million in sponsorship deals over the next couple years it becomes a no-brainer.”

So, now what? Teams are getting organized, players are working hard to get drafted (and hopefully getting trained by the pros at GamerSensei), and companies are shifting their budgets to fit eSports efforts. Listen up, brands, because its your turn to jump in. Teams will need sponsors, media coverage will need ads, and who knows what other branding opportunities come with eSports.  Overwatch League is shaping up to be the future of digital sports and competitive gaming – there is a HUGE untapped market that brands should be excited to introduce themselves to.

We’ll leave you with a look at Blizzard’s future vision for Overwatch League, complete with a Serena Williams cameo. I think Manny is buying his jersey as we speak…

 

If you are a brand interested in exploring the world of eSports, or just want to chat about Hanzo mains, shoot us an email at base@inphantry.com.