How Gamefluencers are Shaking Up the Esports World
Nathan Pillot, Strategic Planner at We Are Social Paris, explores the phenomenon of Esports and the opportunity it creates for brands to form innovative partnerships.
For more than 20 years now, Esports have seen exponential year-on-year growth, paving the way for the multi-billion dollar industry that it is today. Starting as an underdog’s Eldorado, Esports competitions are now filling the world’s biggest stadiums. According to Newzoo, the industry was set to generate nearly $1.38 billion in revenue globally by the end of 2022, and will engage nearly 640 million viewers by the end of 2025.
It’s clear from this remarkable growth that Esports have officially entered the pro leagues, granting players their hard-earned pro-athlete status, with jaw-dropping world championships and opening ceremonies gracing some of the world’s most esteemed sports stadiums, like the 2017 World Championships in Shanghai.
In their initial years, Esports teams were measured purely on their performance and competitive prowess. We’re now seeing those teams shift their focus towards creating a powerful emotional connection with their audiences. Teams such as G2 Esports and Gen.G Esports have created strong communities and engaged millions of fans on social media by generating a deeper connection with their fans.
Esports teams quickly started to look at the most engaging influencers in the gaming industry: gamefluencers – endemic influencers in the gaming world such as Lirik, Ninja, NadeShot. Most of the major esports teams on the planet (Cloud9, Team Liquid, Vitality) teamed up with multiple streamers to grow the reach of their performance, create content, engage new audiences and become team ambassadors.
Influencer marketing success in gaming is not up for debate. Streamers are one of the biggest pillars within the industry, and their rise is showing no evidence of slowing down. However, these partnerships seem to have reached their peak in the past years, with hype generation becoming slower and slower…so what does the future of the industry look like?
A new challenger has entered the arena – the influencers themselves, creating their own Esport teams. Following NadeShot creating the 100 Thieves structure, French streamer Kamet0 creating Karmine Corp, and Spanish streamer Ibai teaming up with Gerard Piqué to create KOI esport, a new kind of team was born: Gamefluencers teams, and they’re not here to play around.
With rising crowds, filling stadiums all around the world and winning multiple titles, these structures encounter a yet-to-be-seen success. These new teams are also bringing new audiences into Esports, democratising these competitions towards more casual gamer communities, without leaving the traditional hardcore gamers behind.
Their secret? They bring something new that the industry previously lacked – they give the community a strong emotional reason to gather together and support their team. When the teams were previously capped in terms of hype, they now seem limitless in durable fanbase creation.
Growth in Gamefluencer community creation over the years is slower than on other social media platforms, but the connection they create with their audience is certainly much stronger due to numerous factors:
- The media creates proximity through interaction that doesn’t exist in any digital space.
- Live Streaming and all its slings and arrows create deeply emotional moments.
- Platforms like Twitch have features that aim to create proximity via chat, subs, channel points rewarding loyalty, emotes, sub-only modes and interactive gameplays.
Loyalty towards your favourite streamers has always, and will always be rewarded through these interactions and features, giving the viewer a deep sense of belonging.
Since the theorisation of influencer marketing and the rise of social media, we’ve talked about the parasocial relationship between influencers and their communities. Gamefluencers have become a companion, and to some, a friend, playing an important role in their audience’s everyday life, with hours and hours of content watched across multiple social touchpoints.
This emotional connection, paired with the implication of influencers in their team’s performance, is the key reason for the success of this new generation of influencers. They give the audience something to gather around: a symbol, a recognisable personality. If G2 Esports CEO Carlos Ocelote became a symbol over the years, he might be the one and only CEO that has historically thought about business wisely (even though he used to be a pro player) and has been able to have such an impact. In a world where success mostly comes through viral content and social media presence, having an integrated, dedicated and legitimate team of ambassadors is a highly valuable asset to emerge.
This model is undoubtedly the future of Esports for years to come – more entertaining, more integrated and more thrilling whilst also generating more revenue in merchandising.
So, how can brands dive into this new playground? By rethinking the way they partner with Esports teams. Esport universe and influencer structures are less standardised than classic sports structures, with less regulation, giving an amazing creative opportunity to conceive ambitious and innovative ideas.
It’s a new way for brands to enter an esports market that used to be hard to invest in for non-endemic brands – partnerships are as serious and professional as always, but more emotional. To be successful, marketers need to think further than a logo on a jersey. They need to find a legitimate space to create a symbiotic and mutually beneficial partnership. There’s one fundamental question they have to consider – What does my brand bring to the table?
In a way, brands almost operate as the ‘ultimate fan’, whilst also fulfilling a higher calling – supporting the players training, providing everyday life support (nutrition, commuting, for example), while enhancing their viewer’s experience.
More than ever, legitimacy and usefulness are the keys to successful investment within the gaming space. Understanding the audience, their behaviours, and the reason behind their emotional connection with gamefluencers has never been quite as important as it is today.