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eSports marketing: a new marketing approach for brands

By Nong Ruowen 09 Feb 2018

15 years after the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) confirmed eSports  on its official sports program in 2003, eSports has since become one of the hottest sports events in China. More and more young people have converged on eSports events and  so have brands intending to find new ways to activate their marketing strategies. 

The Chinese online audience measurement and consumer insights provider iResearch,  released a report regarding the eSports industry in China in 2016, in which the company found that 68% of Chinese eSports enthusiasts were aged between 19-35. This figure may explain one of the reasons why brands are eager to get into eSports marketing. By getting closer to young people, the brand will somehow have a better future. 

The most impressive example of this trend in 2017 was the 2017 League of Legends World Championship which took place in China. Similar to many high-profile international sports events, the Championship brought together a group of global and major Chinese brands signing up as its sponsors, including Mercedes-Benz, L'Oreal Men Expert, Logitech G, Intel, and the Chinese dairy company Yili. 

As reported by NetEase, the semifinal game between SKTelecom T1 from South Korea and RNG from China attracted over 80 million unique viewers, smashing all the other games in this championship. Around 56.7 million unique viewers watched the final game  even though no Chinese teams reached the Final. 

On the biggest social media platform Weibo, the championship-related hashtag #英雄联盟S7# was read 5.4 billion times and received 3.23 million comments. By featuring this hashtag, the championship’s sponsors also received massive exposure on Weibo. 

Apart from international eSports events, big brands have also shown their interest in the domestic Chinese eSports events. King Pro League (KPL), launched in 2016, is a professional eSports league in China featuring the Tencent-developed mobile game King of Glory as its program. In its debut year, the KPL received a viewership of 560 million and 56 million in unique viewers. 

As King of Glory became overwhelming popular among young Chinese people, the KPL  grew leaps and bounds in 2017. According to the Chinese technology news website TMTPost, the games and related 2017 KPL (including 3 subsidiary events) were watched 10.3 billion times. 

The Finals of the 2017 KPL took place in Shenzhen on December 23, prior to which the league issued around 10,000 tickets. What surprised both the league and eSports fans is that these tickets were sold out within 12 minutes of going on sale. TMTPost also disclosed that 6 million people swarmed to buy the tickets, which was a new record for the game. 

But what makes the KPL more attractive for potential eSports sponsors could be the gender ratio of the King of Glory game. According to the Chinese eSports information website’s CEO Zhao Pinqi revealed at an eSports marketing forum, that over 40% of King of Glory’s players are female players and the proportion of female spectators of the KPL is nearly 50%. But for traditional PC games, the figure for female players is usually only around 10%, while for League of Legends, this figure could reach nearly 20%. 

Attracted by these special facts of the KPL, more and more brands want to become   event sponsors. The KPL President, Zhang Yijia told the Chinese sports newspaper Titan Sports that the sponsorship fee for the first season of the KPL was at 7-figure level, but when it came to 2017, it had been boosted to 9 figures. 

Titan Sports also reported that these massive sponsorship fees do not stop potential sponsors’ enthusiasm to partner with the league. However, the KPL only chose three   candidates as its partners for 2018. 

At the beginning of February, the official partners of the 2018 KPL were announced by the league. Unsurprisingly, all of the three partners are giants in their sectors. The Chinese smartphone manufacturer VIVO retains its position and the league also welcomed two new sponsors, McDonald’s and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. To some extent, it is also a reflection of the KPL’s value as a sponsorship object. 

It is not hard to see that as eSports events become more and more and attractive to the youth of today, eSports events have become new areas for brands to carry out their marketing campaigns. However, what eSports event sponsors do to activate their sponsorship is still worth watching.  

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

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