Previewing Esport & Gaming Partnerships

There’s no doubt esports and gaming overall had its spotlight in 2020. What a year it was.

It should be no surprise that the esports sector will continue to develop in 2021 with the potential it brings and how brands can introduce themselves into the space. Just like its counterpart in traditional sport, we’ll start to see new partnerships emerge in addition to the evolving offerings that made its way this past year.

So here we go - my top four “fantasy” predictions and previews for 2021 in respect to partnerships.

Programmatic Advertising

Paid ad spend had definitely made its mark during the pandemic as eCommerce sales were at an all time high. Brands are finding ways to get in front of the consumer especially during tournament play.

Anzu.io is a world leading provider of in-game advertising solutions who announced a partnership with Axis Games in October 2020. The terms of the deal enables programmatically AI delivered and blended in-game ads during a live esports tournament. The ads in this case were displayed on in-game objects such as stadium banners to enhance and replicate an environment closely representing the real world.

According to MarTechSeries, this partnership was ground-breaking considering that it was the first time in history advertisers had the opportunity to run programmatic campaigns on PC during a live esports event.

As programmatic companies look to pounce on an opportunity with brands to expand their eCommerce offerings, this may be a category to keep your eye on for 2021. A partnership category like this is an interesting play because non endemic brands who are trying to find ways to get involved in the ecosystem do struggle. Brands understand that those involved in the esports community are both tech and marketing savvy which makes this an intriguing case study. A case like this examines and helps preserve the player and audience experience.

Social-Cause Marketing

In prior years, we’ve seen peer to peer fundraising become an effective tool with funding in the charitable and non profit sector. Thanks to the pandemic, fundraising targeting efforts have shifted by utilizing a global audience through the esports and gaming community.

Organizations like CauseForce have made its name known already in corporate events such as Enbridge’s Ride to Conquer Cancer in support of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in Canada. On an esports front, CauseForce inked a partnership this past year with OverActive Media in Toronto looking to assist the Canadian esport giant in reaching that global audience.

With the new generation likely to side with organizations who want to be part of uncomfortable discussions or are looking to make a societal impact, we’ll see companies like CauseForce or other technology firms as partners in 2021 to help ease the efforts and maximize results.

Performance Drinks

Remember how BioSteel infiltrated the hockey market to optimize performance in-game several years back? Let’s just say that performance drinks will no longer just be for traditional sports. Incoming GFUEL among others are looking to target gamers to ensure they're ready for their matches as well.

Last spring saw the partnership between Enthusiast Gaming and GFUEL emerge with the latter positioned as a leading gaming drink – a much healthier alternative to standard energy drinks. Although the gaming industry has long shared the space with high sugar food and less nutrient dense beverages, a healthy conscious audience plus the high performance gaming athletes may start to favour the healthier option.

Organizations like FaZe Clan and Luminosity Gaming have already signed deals with the performance drink company in addition to several other prolific streamers.

Mental Health Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the only pandemic prevalent in 2020.

Mental health became even more of a talking point as additional lockdowns and measures were put in place during the tail end of the year. At a time when seasonal depression, met ‘ongoing’ depression plus the fatigue of COVID-19, the collision course really started to normalize the discussion of mental health.

As early as 2018, mental health technology created waves in traditional sport with Headspace partnering up with the NBA. As part of the deal, players and employees of the NBA, WNBA and the G-League received free subscriptions. Headspace and the NBA continued to produce guided training content to help pave the way for normalized conversation and partnerships for athletes and those involved in the esport space alike.

Those familiar in the gaming community understand the pressures mounting on teenagers pursuing a content creator career or those playing in the professional leagues. Whether it be hateful comments online or ensuring performance is top notch as careers are short in esports, players and leadership realize more than ever that safeguarding the young generation is a necessity. Talking about mental health, addressing depression or anxiety will continue to emerge as a hot topic as esports will push its prominence forward into the second year of the pandemic.

Empowering Women in Gaming

Note the difference between gaming and esports.

You’ve heard it here first: We will see more partnerships for women in the space in 2021.

In a predominantly male driven space, there’s no better time to help showcase women in gaming which will then transcend to esports.

In 2019, we saw Bumble collaborate with Gen.G to launch Team Bumble, an all-women professional Fortnite Team. In 2020, Gen.G and Bumble then released a four part series called ‘Play Like A Girl’ that invited influencers to play while getting to know members of the team. The series included casual game play displaying the women’s skill and normalizing their presence.

Similar to mental health, the more esports fans and gamers see that women can hold their own, toxicity and negative pressures can subside.

I predict there will be another sponsorship in the works similar to Proctor & Gamble and Secret Deodorant with the NWSL.

What other brands do you think we’ll see expand their relationship with women in gaming?

Cheers to hoping for more support in gender equality and social justice messaging!