Gaming and esports are becoming big business and an increasingly attractive proposition for brands looking to connect with consumers. The 2019 League of Legends World Championship Finals, hosted in South Korea in 2019, attracted more than 100 million unique views, a larger audience than the Super Bowl in the same year. Globally, esports have been projected to attract revenues of US$1.1 billion, according to research from Green Man Gaming.

A recent digital Sunday Times Gen Next in partnership with HDI Youth Consultancy event focused on how gamification and esports are giving brands access to new youth audiences. Bongani Chinkanda, CEO of HDI Youth Consultancy pointed out that even luxury brand Louis Vuitton has dipped its toes into the esports industry through a partnership with publisher Riot Games which saw the French fashion house design clothes for characters in fantasy video game, League of Legends. The partnership also saw the company design a carry case for the League of Legends World Championship trophy.

Essentially, esports is competitive gaming, explained professional gamer and esports personality, Julia Robson. “It’s a virtual sport which relies on competitive players and spectators. Players are considered athletes. In order to succeed they need to be mentally agile.”

YouTuber, digital artist and content creator, Thendo Mukhavhuli said live streaming is about broadcasting yourself to an uncapped audience allowing digital content creators to interact with their communities in real time.

One of the most influential video games in recent history is Fortnite which has inspired a cultural phenomenon with more than 250 million players worldwide. Prior to Fortnite video games were not as interactive or proactive, explained Mukhavhuli, adding that what Fortnite has done particularly successfully is to keep players coming back for me.

The million dollar question, however, is how do brands get involved – and which kind of brands should get involved in this space?

“Critically, they need to first understand the esports ecosystem before deciding to get involved,” advised Bronson Mokebela, the founder and MD of Digigage Sport & Entertainment. “While brands can follow a traditional route by including their logo’s, the real opportunities lie with getting involved with the content and the players.”

Increasingly, non-endemic brands are becoming more active in the esports space, said Robson, revealing that some brands have worked with her as an influencer rather than as a gamer. The industry still needs to be grown in SA which provides brands with an opportunity to get involved with esports from a grassroots level. The kind of brands which are well suited to esports, she said, include fast food outlets, health, sports, fitness, beauty, healthcare, clothing and retail brands.

There is growing awareness of esports in townships, driven by brands such as Ekasi Esports, a gaming lifestyle brand which is focused on building an inclusive gaming ecosystem in SA.

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The big take-out: Brands need to understand the esports ecosystem before deciding to get involved with the industry.