Level up: How gaming has the potential to drive engagement for brands

Industry observers tell e4m that marketers tap gaming brands as it gives them a unique opportunity to attach themselves to passion points

e4m by Shantanu David
Published: Jul 6, 2022 8:20 AM  | 7 min read

Brands are showing an increasing affinity to working with gamers for tapping into the growing demographics of the sector, which is enjoying an upward growth trajectory. There is a consensus in the industry that with increased support for the sector, gamers can help brands and products reach the right audience.

The world of gaming has clearly a lot to offer to the marketing world – games and gamers form the centre but then there are developers, studios, composers, production houses, platforms, creators and others who are part of the larger process.

Animesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO, 8bit Creatives, a former esports athlete himself, points out: “The growth of gaming depends on three solid pillars - gamers, the ecosystem and the infrastructure. The audience definitely wants to consume gaming content and production houses and gaming creators are coming up with newer formats of content like docu-series, web shows, and innovative streams to entertain and engage and take it to the next level. This will keep increasing the proportion of the population engaged in gaming.”

Sharing similar views, Faraz Sayed, Director – Media Planning, Carat India, says that due to its ‘always-on’ nature, e-sports provide a perennial opportunity to drive value for the brands. Players who play competitively often live stream during the “off-season” as they hustle to improve and prepare for upcoming tournaments.

“This means that fans are able to watch their favourite players practise all day, every day, and ask them questions whilst watching them get better at their sport. This is a tremendous opportunity for fans to engage directly with their favourite streamers, which in turn, gives brands a unique opportunity to attach themselves to fan passion points. It’s a level of engagement that can be valued differently from passive traditional sports TV broadcasts,” Sayed noted.

Growth Story

The Indian gaming market is set to value up to $5 billion by 2025. The domestic industry, comprising games, platforms, studios, players and talent management, attracted $350 million (approx. Rs 27,000 crore) in investments from venture capitalists between 2014 and 2020 (CAGR of 22%), with that figure ballooning up to $1.6 billion in just the first nine months 2021, a report by Maple Capital Advisors said. It should be noted that this figure was largely due to two major deals: Dream Sports and Mobile Premier League, which raised $785 million (approx. Rs 6,200 crore) and $375 million (approx. Rs 3,000 crore), respectively.

In 2022 itself, among a slew of other deals, Loco added $42 million (approx. Rs 332 crore) in funding to its already formidable kitty, while Rooter raised $25 million (approx. Rs 185 crore) in Series A funding, with the latter investing Rs 100 crore in the acquisition of leading e-sports teams like GodLike and other initiatives. Rooter has also recently acquired the media rights to all esports and gaming tournaments on Skyesports, a major host in the space.

Meanwhile, Loco, among other investments and acquisitions, has tied up with another gaming major Nodwin Gaming and secured digital screening rights for the latter's BGMI Master Series Tournament.

For Ashwin Suresh, Founder, Loco and Pocket Aces, this progression of the gaming industry in India is the same as abroad but at a much-accelerated pace. “Gaming investors who had previously invested in markets like the US and Japan are now coming to India as this is where the new audience is. It’s also important to remember that gaming markets in the West were built on the back of PCs and consoles and gaming rigs, which were expensive and already set a barrier to entry.”

India, he says, is firmly a mobile-first market and has skipped that step. Hence, it is leading the world in the mobile gaming market. “You can get a decent phone on which you can play any popular game for under Rs 10,000. Data is cheap and increasingly accessible across even remote parts of the country. All that is required to become a skilled gamer is practice and young people are seeing the opportunities for that in a hugely expanding market.”

Piyush Kumar, Founder, Rooter, says India has provided a unique opportunity for international gaming conglomerates. “In India, almost every household has a 10 to 25-year-old, who regularly plays games on the phone, and the market size is huge. That’s why you have huge companies that have never made mobile games before, making mobile versions for the Indian market, which then also do really well.”

"Close to a million people are gaming content creators that log into Rooter every day, and that's the bottom of the pyramid. Then we have a roster of 3,000-5,000 popular professional creators to whom we have contracts with, and pay monthly salaries to create content for our channels. And the third tier is exclusive sponsorships that we've got with the top gaming and streaming talent in the country,” says Kumar, saying that this adds up to a huge pool of consumers.

Mitesh Kothari, Co-Founder and CCO, White Rivers Media, believes that every platform, big or small, is looking to drive engagement and grow its user base, collaborations with up-and-coming pro-gamers are the way to go, and exclusive partnerships are just the beginning of the hopeful transformation Indian gamers have been waiting for.

Rishabh Bhansali, Co-Founder, FanClash, which recently raised $40 million (approx. Rs 318.17 crore) in Series B funding, points out that there are 500 million core esports viewers globally, growing at 20 per cent CAGR. In India, this number stands at 100 million and is expected to grow threefold by 2025.

Brands that are building fan engagement platforms, athletes and teams help them gain access to the fan community and help in faster adoption of the brand’s proposition. While for the gamers, the current conventional form of fan engagement is limited to fan interaction during streams, cheering through social media and a few LAN events.

“Partnering with brands can broaden this fan engagement in a tangible way. For example, the concept of fantasy within esports transforms an avid fan from a passive viewer to an active team manager who can create his own imaginary team of real-life players and win cash/prizes based on the real-life performance of the chosen players in tournaments across the world,” Bhansali added.

According to Suresh, investment companies, as well as advertisers (endemic and now, non-endemic) are increasingly turning to platforms like his, and others, because they are at the centre of this entire ecosystem. “We work with gaming studios, their distribution channels, users themselves who download and play the games, a subset of whom stream videos of themselves playing the games and a smaller subset that plays competitively.  And these competitive players have audiences and followers that reach up to the millions, and advertisers want to reach out to them.”

“Influencers are, without a doubt, one of the most indispensable and organic marketing agents today. They offer a unique human connection that helps brands relate to viewers and retain their interest. From the looks of it, we’ve got a lush abundance of credible influencers in the Indian gaming scene. While pro-gamers and esports athletes can enjoy the lucrative fruits of this multi-billion-dollar industry with these deals, brands can reach their desired audience, attract more traffic, and engage them in creative ways,” says Kothari, pointing out that it’s truly a win-win for all involved.

Talking about gaming gaining acceptance in the country, Abhishek Aggarwal, Founder and CEO at Trinity Gaming, says in the past two years, parents have gone from complaining to him over email, calls, and personal interactions about the time their children waste on “playing video games” to lauding his gaming marketing and talent agency’s efforts.

“With gaming and esports becoming competitive events at international events like Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and soon Olympics, coupled with the growth and chances for success in the field, many parents are now happy to encourage their kids to pursue gaming as a viable career option,” says Aggarwal. Trinity Gaming will soon be doing outreach programs at colleges and universities to bring on board the next generation of pro gamers and creators, he added.

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