TNL Esports Brand Tracker 011: Mercedes-Benz

Formula 1, golf, tennis, stadium naming rights - and now esports.

Since the end of last year, Mercedes-Benz  has sponsored not only traditional sports but also esports as a partner of ESL One. 

After the sponsorship of ESL One Hamburg in October 2017, tournament sponsorship for Mercedes-Benz continues with ESL One in Katowice this past weekend.

In the run-up to the tournament, we spoke with Jens Thiemer, Vice President Marketing Mercedes-Benz Cars, about the success achieved so far and the tournament in Poland.

 

Esports is a huge trend. As a new sponsor in esports, which opportunities do you see for Mercedes-Benz?

Jens Thiemer: First of all, esports is the perfect tool for reaching young people. It is an important piece, which is a big part in our branded entertainment initiatives. It's an enhancement for our brand in reaching and gaining enthusiasm into new target groups and therefore, I think we are very well positioned with our plan to support esports in a substantial way for the future.

How does esports sponsoring differ from traditional sports sponsoring?

Jens Thiemer: Compared to many sport structures you would consider as more traditional – take soccer, tennis or other sports – esports is much more dynamic. Esports is offering us a lot of flexibility, so we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we just act as a pure sponsor. We can act as a real partner. For me, it is one of the perfect examples for being a co-creational partner for big tournaments. We are partnering for example with ESL, which is giving us great possibilities to create real value for the target group.

The collaboration with ESL started last year in Hamburg. How were the first experiences as an esports sponsor?

Jens Thiemer: For us, this was a complete success. Per day, we were not only meeting more than ten thousand fans and of course, we were seeing millions of fans on the streaming portals, but in addition we were able to test out a new activation. We added a new thing: We call it the Mercedes MVP. We honored the best player of the tournament with the fans voting for it and in addition, it was not just the honor which was given to the player, but we also gave a completely new Mercedes-Benz car to the MVP which was highly appreciated as you can imagine.

How did the fans react to Mercedes-Benz’ sponsorship acitvities??

Jens Thiemer: We are one of the very rare companies which is not perceived as the so-called endemic sponsors in that surrounding; we are a completely new player in that field. I was absolutely positively surprised about the very positive feedback we received. I think we are partner on eye level with the esports community. It is amazing how that community gets directly in touch with new partners as us and appreciate its commitment to esports in general.

The first Dota 2 Major tournament is about to take place in Katowice, Poland. How important is this particular tournament for Mercedes-Benz?

Jens Thiemer: Katowice has been the epicentre for European esports for quite a while. That is due to the Intel Extreme Masters which was Europe’s first big esports event ever. With that tournament in the last few years, the city has been building a reputation as a place that is open to modern technology and especially also to youth culture. Katowice has established itself by hosting that tournament for quite a while. Therefore we are very proud to be an additional partner of the first Dota 2 Major tournament in this great city.

A lot of experts see esports as hype that is just beginning. Do you agree with this?

Jens Thiemer: I absolutely agree and Esports is a mass phenomenon.  You see rising figures all around the world, you see enormous prize money, you see millions of viewers on streaming portals and it's just a fascinating platform. I am convinced that one day esports will be bigger than soccer today and it has not reached its fullest potential yet. There will be many more things to come.

Content partnership with Esports Marketing Blog.

Brands See Esports As A Risk And They Shouldn't

Industry Guest Post: Chris Blivin is Director, Commercial Partnerships & Esports for Lagardere Sports.


Why aren’t more brands using esports as a marketing platform? It reaches an attractive attractive millennial demographic. From the classical marketing viewpoint, the customer lifetime value of the esports millennial is significant for brands and worthy of meaningful marketing spending.

The answer to why brands aren’t taking advantage of esports is simple: perceived risk. No one wants to be laughed out of the room for suggesting an investment in a platform that few understand or are familiar with. Esports is still in its infancy. Twitch, the largest digital streaming platform for gamers, still isn’t mainstream outside of gaming and esports communities. Sponsorship investment decisions are also often emotional, no different than anything else we invest our time and money into. Every sponsorship opportunity must navigate the personal prejudices and preferences of the individual decision maker in the organization.

As someone who believes in the long-term value of esports as a legitimate platform, it’s my job to “de-risk” esports for brands and to help educate decision makers on why investing in esports is not the risk it’s perceived to be. So, let’s walk through some of the biggest obstacles to overcome:

 

COMPLEXITY

Esports is complicated, and we don’t trust what we don’t understand! There are so many different game titles, genres, tournaments, leagues, and such: “Who is watching what?”; “where is my audience engaging?”; “am I better off sponsoring a league, a tournament operator or a gaming publisher?” The fragmentation that defines the professional esports landscape makes it intimidating for brands to feel confident about their capability to come in and tell their story in a cohesive way.

Additionally, there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding esports teams. As it currently sits, the majority of esports teams can be viewed like American college sports, which have many different teams competing across different sports under the same “Ohio State” or “Alabama” structure. Most major esports teams have a professional roster across a multitude of games — for example, Fnatic has rosters for at least seven different esports, like Dota 2 and Vainglory. This can make things confusing for a brand looking to partner with an esports team. Understanding which teams are part of the package, which assets you’re getting access to, and the social numbers associated with each team can be complicated.

Yet, as esports matures, we will continue to see a consolidation of tournaments and leagues into simplified solutions that brands can grab on to. We are already beginning to see the “professionalization” of esports from larger game publishers in the form of Activision Blizzard creating the Overwatch League and Riot creating the North American League Championship Series.

It is important that the leagues, tournament operators, and game publishers create desirable assets that mimic traditional sports-style sponsorship opportunities that brands can trust and attach themselves to, without compromising the unique culture of gaming. At the same time, brands will need to be open to leaving their comfort zone to work with gaming rights holders to create innovative content that reaches their target audiences in ways traditional sports properties cannot.

Teams will have to work hard to simplify their assets. Creating separate social accounts for each team is one way they can help increase clarity about the social reach that each team has, which will help establish trust with brands.

 

AUDIENCE MISUNDERSTANDING

The esports audience is fickle, opposed to marketing (many use ad blockers), nuanced, and risky to try and communicate with. The esports industry has excessively cautioned brands that if you “do it wrong”, the esports audience will turn on you. It’s hard to fault brands for being afraid to invest in esports – the risk of the community rejecting their product and the potential damage to their brand image isn’t worth it — a “first-mover disadvantage,” as it were.

In addition to the attitudes of the fans, there is also skepticism around the size of the audience. Numerous reports detail large audience numbers and project significant growth, yet, you probably don’t know anyone yourself who you’d categorize as an esports enthusiast/fan. “If there are so many fans, why don’t I know any? Where are they all hiding?“

While there are elements of truth to these statements, there are a couple factors to consider. First, people are very susceptible to false-consensus bias. They think that everyone they associate with is a fair representation of the population at large, causing them to have a false understanding of reality. WWE is a perfect example of this – it has one of the top 5 most valuable sports brands globally (WrestleMania), yet, depending on the circles you run in, you may not know any fans.

Secondly, it’s a mistake to assume that only esports fans are fickle or opposed to bad marketing. The difference is that the established major properties (NBA, NFL, MLB, etc.) have been around longer and brands can mitigate their risk by referencing what has, and what has not, worked when creating current campaigns.

 

MEASUREMENT

Now more than ever before, marketers are being put under immense pressure to show return on investment on all sponsorships. The trouble is, with the bulk of esports being consumed digitally and socially, it can be hard to get accurate data on who is consuming the content and where they’re located, not to mention fake accounts inflating social media numbers.

There are a number of traditional research firms looking to tackle the problem but primary research studies can often be expensive and have a high variance of accuracy. If a brand is going to invest in an esports sponsorship, it is important to include a brand tracking study as part of the asset package.

It may also be worth the effort for your brand to create a dedicated esports social channel, similar to what Coca-Cola and Red Bull have had success doing. This is helpful for a few different reasons. First, it offers the opportunity to create engaging content and have it live on your own channel, plus the social media channel of the property you’re investing in. Second, it’s a good way to get feedback on both how effective and efficient your sponsorship is working. Third, it’s an easy way to quickly get data about who is noticing your brand. Creating additional touch points allows for further customer engagement.

Lastly, one final way for brands to combat the digital/social measurement dilemma is to invest in the experiential component of your esports sponsorship. Brands who have a meaningful on-site presence at esports events create the opportunity to amplify their connection with the esports industry and collect their own primary data.

De-risking esports won’t happen overnight. It takes time to educate people and build trust. But, brands that invest in esports and take advantage of this early window will see more long-term commercial success as the industry matures.

TNL Esports Brand Tracker 010: T-Mobile

TNL Take: Another big win for Activision-Blizzard's Overwatch League in securing T-Mobile as a brand partner.

T-Mobile isn't new to the space and has made several esports investments over the past few years including:

For Overwatch League, T-Mobile becomes the official wireless carrier for multiple years and will include the exclusive title sponsor of the Regular Season MVP, Finals MVP awards and branded content.

TNL Esports Brand Tracker 009: Sour Patch Kids

TNL Take: Overwatch League brand sponsorships are on a roll with another week of play and more announcements.

After Flyquest Sports partnered with Snickers, Overwatch League has their own confection/candy activation with Sour Patch Kids.

Sour Patch Kids will have branded Overwatch League content, onsite experience, branded thundersticks and expect plenty of free candy. 

In addition to Snickers and Sour Patch Kids, the confection category saw another partnership last year between Esports Arena and the Bean Bazzloed brand by Jelly Belly.

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