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Why is esports becoming a significant part of sports marketing in India?

Cashing in on user loyalty and the huge reach of esports platforms, brands are directing their attention towards the category to reach out to the millennial and gen Z population. Experts suggest that brands have increased their ad spends in the space by at least 30 percent in the past two years

Published: Jun 6, 2022 03:33:24 PM IST
Updated: Jun 6, 2022 05:09:23 PM IST

Why is esports becoming a significant part of sports marketing in India?In FY 2021, there were around 17 million viewers of esports in India. Image: Shutterstock 

With an ever-growing community on its back, esports platforms are aggressively luring brand partners with the promise of better reach, access, and engagement. Brands too are going big with their spends, which has already doubled in the past two years, say experts. The category, therefore, is a new favourite amongst marketers.

Talking of reach, business intelligence firm Statista states that in the financial year 2021, there were around 17 million viewers of esports in India. The number was almost double that of 2019. It is also estimated that in 2025, there would be around 85 million viewers of esports events on 20 different platforms making India one of the fastest growing markets for esports viewership. In a way it has reached mainstream status with OTT players such as Voot, SonyLiv, JioTV, MX Player and Hotstar, streaming some of the biggest esports tournaments. More number of platforms mean more content and more ad time.

No wonder esports is now a huge part of the sports marketing landscape in India.

Brands such as Pepsi, Airtel, Flipkart, BookMyShow, Red Bull, Mercedes-Benz, Yes Bank, and many others are already collaborating with esports platforms and tournaments to make the most of this growing space.

While these brands are the early adopters in the segment, other players and sectors are also following suit as the scope and growth of esports increases and they become more convinced of the benefits and viability of this category.

However, it is not just about the reach, it is also about the audience category that the segment offers.

“Esports is where the millennial and Gen Z audience is and that’s what marketers are after. This is the audience set that is no longer watching TV or reading the newspaper. They are online and they are playing games and watching e-sports tournaments. That apart, esports as a category is driven by communities and that makes targeting all the easier for marketers,” says Rajan Navani, VC and MD, JetSynthesys.

Navani’s estimates say brands have been pushing their ad spends in the segment by 30 percent to 50 percent in the past two years given the huge growth in traffic that came from the stay at home crowd.

“Some brands that were already invested in the segment have even doubled their spends in e-sports to unlock the true potential of its offerings,” he added.

E-sports now, as EY calls it in their recent report, is an ‘attractive option for brands to connect with young and empowered audiences.’

The report says the market size of the industry in India is expected to touch Rs11 billion by FY2025 and would be collectively defined by 1.5 million players, 85 million viewers, 20+ broadcasters and several brands, organisers, and publishers.

The expected economic value to be generated out of the segment is estimated at Rs100 billion between now and FY2025. Overall the industry is expected to grow at 46 percent CAGR over the next four years where streaming platforms are expected to generate the largest chunk of the revenues.

The tournament sponsorship and syndication revenue according to the same report is also likely to touch Rs 3.5 billion growing at a CAGR of 45 percent.

Brands just have to get creative, says Skandaram Vasudevan, partner—strategy, Mudramax.

One of the ways to innovate could be using the platforms to reach out to the Bharat audience through these platforms.

The scope of reaching a vast and wide audience, including audiences consuming regional content is an added benefit, he explained.

PUBG Mobile World League East for instance had a consumption in Hindi by 12x more audiences as compared to English. Tournaments streamed on Loco were broadcast across six languages—Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and English. “This presents a very interesting way for brands to reach out to audiences, who are close to reaching viewer fatigue with the regular commercials and advertisements. This is an unique opportunity to reach audiences and influence brand image in the same way,” he said.

Expanding on opportunities, Vasudevan says there are also brands which end up having their own gaming platforms—such as PayTM—that sponsor and host other events to raise greater awareness for their own platform.

Lokesh Suji, director, Esports Federation of India and VP of the Asian Esports Federation points out the only deterrent in the industry at the moment.

“In India, esports still lacks government recognition as a sport, even though it's included in this year's Asian Games as a proper medal event and pilot event at Commonwealth Games, Birmingham 2022. Endemic brands include e-sports in their marketing budgets but non-endemic brands still invest once in a while, so once we get the recognition of the sport, it will open up plenty of barriers from a brand perspective,” he said.

However, Suji is still confident that the number of brands showing interest in the genre will only increase from here. Numbers from the FICCI-EY M&E report 2022 also say the same. It says the interest of brands in this segment is increasing, with 72 brands investing in 2021 (up from 45 in 2020). The count is expected to reach 100 brands in 2022.

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