The competitive gaming scene is fast developing into an economic powerhouse as some of the world’s most famous companies lavish it with lucrative sponsorship deals. Audience figures are soaring year-on-year and many analysts expect esports to usurp all traditional sports in the popularity stakes in the not too distant future.
The vast majority of esports fans are teenagers and young adults that have grown up with technology and gaming. Brands are desperate to appeal to this crucial demographic and they are devoting significant chunks of their marketing budgets towards esports sponsorships. Here are the five most high-profile esports sponsors right now:
Intel is known as an endemic esports sponsor, because it sells products used in competitive gaming and it therefore has a stake in the prosperity of the scene. The Intel Extreme Masters was launched all the way back in 2006 and it is the longest running esports tournament in the world. In December 2018, it signed a $100 million deal with Electronic Sports League (ESL) to extend its sponsorship until 2021.
NewZoo estimates the esports industry will be worth $1.4 billion by 2020, with the bulk of that coming from sponsorships, and Intel is the clear leader in this field. The world-famous technology form has ploughed vast sums into esports and it continues to provide computer processors and 5G for some of the biggest esports events in the world, while investing a great deal of time and money into boosting the profile of the professional gaming circuit. John Bonini, Intel’s vice president and general manager of virtual reality, said the partnership creates more long-term, sustainable paths in the industry and allows it to become more professional. IEM covers League of Legends, CS:GO, PUBG and StarCraft II and it has held tournaments in Katowice, Chengdu, Dubai, Hanover and Los Angeles, among others.
Coca-Cola is one of the world’s most recognized companies and it is non-endemic to esports, which makes its significant sponsorship efforts really interesting. The soft drinks giant has sponsored the League of Legends World Championship, which is the most popular esports tournament among fans. The 2018 final, which saw Invictus beat Fnatic 3-0 to clinch glory, drew a record-breaking 205 million fans from across the world and that saw it eclipse the Super Bowl in the popularity stakes. That shows just how savvy Coca-Cola has been in sponsoring the competition. It has also partnered with organizer Riot Games to host live viewing parties around the world. The Overwatch League announced earlier this year that Coca-Cola had signed on as the official beverage partner. This field is growing increasingly competitive, as Mountain Dew and Red Bull are among rival soft drinks brands investing in esports, but Coca-Cola has emerged as the biggest of the bunch.
League of Legends is the most popular esport in the world as it has racked up even more viewing hours than CS:GO and Dota 2, and is hugely popular with esports betting enthusiasts at Unikrn.com.
It is therefore a key title for big firms to invest in and MasterCard joined the revolution when it entered a multi-year partnership with LoL developer Riot Games. It turned MasterCard into the game’s first ever global sponsor, a huge development as the credit card firm is a massive sponsor of traditional sporting events worldwide and represents a huge vote of confidence in esports. LoL was initially released in 2009, and MasterCard’s sponsorship signals that there is still plenty of life left in it.
“Esports is a phenomenon that continues to grow in popularity, with fans that can rival those at any major sporting event in their enthusiasm and energy,” said the firm’s chief marketing and communications officer, Raja Rajamannar. “We are excited about the experiences and benefits we can bring to the world’s largest esport, both in-game and to the millions of League of Legends fans that watch and attend the tournaments each year.”
The German car manufacturer signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with ESL in 2017 and its branding was first shown on the at the €1 million Dota 2 ESL One Hamburg Major. It said the deal would allow it to make contact with “a very interesting, new target group” as it bids to secure its future prosperity.
Teams have been shuttled around in Mercedes vehicles and its branding was everywhere in Hamburg. When one of the announcers liked an amazing match to a fantastic Mercedes sedan, it sparked a huge number of memes on Reddit and social media mocking the corporate tie-in. Yet the firm managed to win over fans with a well-timed Tweet: “Proud to be part of #ESLOne and the amazing @DOTA2 action! Nearly as amazing as the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan, test drive it now!” Mercedes boasts the world’s most successful Formula 1 team and it has also competed in the F1 Esports Series.
The tech giant had its own ultra-successful esports team for many years as Samsung Galaxy won the LoL World Championship in 2014 and 2017 and finished runner-up in 2016. It invested a lot of time and money in the project and reaped the rewards, before it decided to sell the team to KSV eSports in 2017. Nowadays it retains an interest in esports through sponsorships. It recently signed up as a presenting partner for the World Cyber Games, and it sponsors all Gen.G esports teams, such as the Seoul Dynasty team that participates in the Overwatch League, providing them will technology and financial support in return for branding opportunities.
Tech and telecommunications firms are piling into the esports sector. For instance, T-Mobile has tied up deals to sponsor all manner of esports teams, including leading lights such as Cloud9 and TSM, and it also sponsored the Twitch Esports Arena, while Comcast Infinity is a patron of Evil Geniuses and Philadelphia-based teams. However, Apple is yet to get involved in the scene and Samsung has already built up a significant presence within it.