Activision’s eSports Brand Challenge


(Photo: MLG)

(Photo: MLG)

In a recent article on VentureBeat titled “eSports’ Ticket To Going Mainstream: Big Brands, Bigger Audience focused on a conversation with VP of Activision-Blizzard Media Networks Mike Sepso at GamesBeat 2016.

There were a few points that I thought were interesting.

/01 “We’ve done some research recently that shows that, in the U.S., only about 15 percent of consumers are even aware of esports. But that 15 percent is probably watching hours of it every week.

I’m guessing that more than likely references Newzoo’s data report showing eSports awareness levels globally — but you already know how I feel about these types of reports.

(Photo: Newzoo)

(Photo: Newzoo)

With awareness levels so low, that shows a large potential runway for eSports in the US.

If 15% are only aware in 2016, I’m not sure why he would believe in 2013 at the very same GamesBeat conference that MLG alone would be bigger than the NHL by 2015

We all know how that turned out as the NHL generated ~$4B in 2015 and MLG was sold to Activision for $47M.

(Source: The Next Level)

(Source: The Next Level)

The second part around hours consumed is absolutely true and probably the #1 metric that most Brands and Agencies I speak with get the most excited about.


eSports has a audience that consumes a massive amount of content.


Now we just need to scale that in the US.


/02 “They were watching eSports, not basketball [NCAA Tournament]”

He was referring to MLG’s Counter-Strike Tournament in Columbus back in April which was happening during the same time as the NCAA Tournament.

Who would take the time to analyze TV and eSports ratings at 3:42AM while waiting for Frank Ocean to drop his new album and loving every minute of it?


This guy.


It wasn’t too hard because I already did this THE NEXT LEVEL 005 back in May.

The thing is, during MLG’s event — there wasn’t a NCAA Tournament game on

Unless it was the Women’s Championship game.


I thought a better comparison was MLB’s Opening Day game between the Cardinals and Pirates on ESPN. I’ve covered plenty of times why Total Consumed Minutes/Event Time is the best gauge of actual eSports Viewership but there’s no way Activision is going to release that data so let’s just use the 2nd best metric of Average Concurrent Viewers (ACV).

(Source:  The Next Level )

(Source: The Next Level)

(Source:  The Next Level )

(Source: The Next Level)

Even haircutting my estimate further, that’s a pretty strong showing against MLB's Opening Day game.

As I said previously, it’s a great opportunity for Brands to invest in eSports especially based on the Advertising ROI and eSports median age — although that figure ranges as high as 32 as well:

Activision can boast engagement and user numbers as much as they want but there’s a simple reason why Activision/MLG has failed to deliver any Non-Endemic Brand Advertisers:


Activision/MLG’s eSports content is currently all First-Person Shooters.


Let me break down the past 10 months of activity and the Non-Endemic Brands they’ve delivered:


Oct 2015: Activision announces new eSports group led former CEO of ESPN Steve Bornstein and MLG Co-Founder Mike Sepso

Jan 2016: Activision Buys MLG

Apr 2016: MLG Columbus with Counter-Strike: 0

May 2016: Activision-Blizzard Media Networks IAB Upfront

May 2016: MLG Arena with Counter-Strike: 0

Jun 2016: MLG Anaheim Open with Call of Duty: 0 (Presented by Playstation)

July 2016: MLG Arena with Gears of War NA Open: 0

Aug 2016: MLG Orlando with Call of Duty: 0 (Presented by Playstation)


And the upcoming $1,000,000 Gears of War eSports league?

(Photo: Microsoft)

(Photo: Microsoft)


Sponsored by Microsoft, MLG and Gfinity

[Although I will have something shortly on why Microsoft throwing money at eSports is one of the smartest moves ever.]

Sure the next Call of Duty may have a Doritos or Mountain Dew or even a QSR Sponsorship but it’s had that for years. For Call of Duty to be associated with a Toyota or State Farm or AT&T is going to take a lot of effort.

The next thing is that no one watches Gears of War.

This is from this past Sunday’s NA Open:


Don’t worry about Activision though.

I left out the B’s:


Bottom line is Blizzard is the Brand Bonanza.


If anyone’s going to bring Brand dollars to Activision-Blizzard it’s going to be the 2nd half of the company name based on one thing alone: Overwatch.

Running against the same MLG Gears of War NA Open was this Overwatch event:


Overwatch will be the next big eSport game and you can reference this article a year from now. 


Ill even repeat it.

Overwatch will be the hottest new eSport title if not already.

Overwatch will be the hottest new eSport title if not already.

Overwatch will be the hottest new eSport title if not already.


Further, when I looked at Overwatch in THE NEXT LEVEL 007, it had 5 Brand Partnerships prior or during launch with Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Dolby, Uber and Razer.


[Yes, all of this will be added to THE NEXT LEVEL Brand Tracker 😎 ]


That’s just 1 title in Blizzard’s arsenal and we haven’t even talked about Hearthstone’s massive potential and their Geico association and Heroes of the Storm, which Blizzard could easily market via Collegiate eSports.


But maybe the Blizzard side of the Brand business is being handled by a whole other group?


There is one comment made that wasn’t really picked up that I believe is a big new opportunity for Brands. 

I’ll talk about that soon.