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Why now is the perfect time to get into eSports

Romain Bigeard asks us to wait a moment. He’s not quite ready. He pulls on his white unicorn hat, which has a pink, blue and lilac-coloured mane in the centre. He straightens out his pink jersey. “So,” says the Frenchman, “these are my work clothes.”

Bigeard is the team manager of the Unicorns of Love – a team that plays League of Legends, one of the world’s most successful eSports games. Bigeard makes the golden horn on his head wobble from side to side. “If you have ever told your child that you can’t make a living from playing computer games,” he says, and grins, “then you were lying to them.”

Professional sports played with a keyboard and mouse have enjoyed huge success for quite some time. Millions watch League of Legends tournaments via live stream; the 2016 final had more than 43 million spectators. This also attracts companies who want to be involved in this business. But many are not sure how to go about it.

Lagardère Sports therefore hosted a master class at this year’s Spobis Gaming & Media – and more than 50 brands took up the invitation. Besides team manager Bigeard, Saad Sarwar from the eSports creative agency Level99 and Andre Fläckel, Director of eSports at Lagardère Sports, also helped to shed some light on the subject. “If you want to be involved with eSports, you should start now and not in three years,” explains Lagardère Sports expert, Andre Fläckel.

eSports is a global phenomenon. And is increasingly gaining acceptance. The arenas for live events sell out more quickly than concerts for superstars like Adele. The winners of ‘The International’, the most lucrative eSports event, receive prize money of €8 million, which is more than the prize money available for winning the UEFA Europa League in football. Professional players have as many fans on social media as Formula 1 drivers or top footballers. In 2022, eSports will be officially included in the programme for the Asian Games.

The potential for growth is huge. For the current year, revenue from digital sports amounts to $696 million – an increase of 41.3% on the previous year. The trend continues to rise. By 2020, the number of fans will increase to more than 500 million. And it is the background of the fans which makes them so interesting for brands: they are young, digital, educated and have a considerable income. And they can no longer be reached via analogue channels such as television, radio or print.

Now is the right time to be getting involved with the eSports business. Brands should not delay for much longer. The number of companies that have recognised the potential grows continually. Large media groups, well-known sports clubs and globally recognised brands are scrambling for a piece of the action. Mercedes Benz most recently announced its involvement as a tournament sponsor with the eSports event organiser ESL. Following the end of the master class at Spobis, several high-quality brands expressed interest in collaborating with Lagardère Sports.

The advantages of such involvement are clear to see. The target group of digital natives essentially has no reservations when it comes to brands, advertising and influences. On the contrary. If they are impressed by a product, they make superb advocates and brand messengers. Besides this, involvement also allows companies to enhance their image in the labour market. Many companies are already facing major difficulties in the recruitment and retention of good IT employees. Evidence shows those who are active in eSports are in a much better position in this regard.

Like in other types of sport, eSports is all about competing as a team or individual against your opponent. Championships are followed at the venue, but also globally on TV and on the Internet. The mechanisms of market development, sponsor activities and sports rights marketing are very similar to traditional types of sport. Lagardère Sports has over 50 years’ experience in the sports business and is also an experienced partner in this sector. In recent years, the sports rights marketer has developed a global network of experts and established relationships with all relevant stakeholders in the sector.

Unicorns of Love have also benefited from this. The Gerolsteiner mineral water brand has been sponsoring the team since the beginning of the year. Both parties gain from this. The mineral water brand is helping the eSports players shed their image as basement-dwelling nerds living off a diet of pizza and cola, and to be recognised as serious sports people. On the other hand, the eSports players are giving the brand access to a more youthful customer base.

“eSports players like us have been poorly treated for a long time,” explains team manager Bigeard. But that is no longer the case. The transformation into a respected area of business is fully under way. And Bigeard is right in the middle of it. “I love it,” he says, as he strokes his unicorn hat.