In January 2020, the first case of a new viral strain was detected in the United States. Within months, the nation watched as the number of infected grew exponentially, forcing entire industries to shutdown in attempts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Not even the video game community was safe from the repercussions of the ill-prepared response. However, it didn’t take long for one facet of gaming to re-emerge as the esports industry quickly found its footing in a world marred by lockdowns.
A lot has changed in a post-pandemic world, forcing new esports marketing tactics to take shape. The question remains, how does that affect esports organizations? Below, we’ll take a moment to discuss:
- How COVID-19 affected the esports industry
- How esports can continue during and after the pandemic
- Tips for marketing in esports in 2021
How COVID-19 affected the esports industry
One of the first measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was to shut down nonessential businesses. Unfortunately, that meant outlets specifically designed for esports events – and the events themselves – were directly affected by the onset of the pandemic. However, if history has proven anything, it’s that the gaming industry is quick to adapt.
How esports streaming thrived in spite of the pandemic
There is one powerful tool that the esports industry had that other’s shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t really benefit from – the online ecosystem. While esports events brought thousands together within massive arenas, the industry was also tailored to online-only events. In fact, shifting to online formats and integrating esports streaming was a logical step for events like ESL’s Intel Extreme Masters World Championship tournament.
When the Polish event was forced to remove options of an on-site attendance, the organizer, ESL, was quick to swap to an online-only viewing experience. Since many live esports events are already simultaneously streamed and broadcast online, the biggest hurdle was refunding tickets to the on-site event.
According to a study performed by PwC, a global consulting service, the pandemic actually had a positive effect on esports streaming. The study showed that, during the 2nd quarter of 2020, watch hours for online streams on YouTuber, Twitch, Facebook, and Mixer grew by nearly 3 billion hours. With more viewers engrossed in the medium, that meant esports influencers had more opportunity for their own growth.
Breaking down the new gaming trends that emerged during the pandemic
Though 2020 was an exasperating year, the gaming industry pushed on, finding its footing to combat the escalating challenges. Maybe one of the most important trends to emerge during the pandemic has been an increase in 3rd-party investing.
According to Evolve Funds Group, which oversees Evolve E-Gaming Index ETF, video game investing has spiked. This is largely due to the increase in sales caused by consumers being forced to remain home. Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold exponentially well and even had a hand in boosting the sale of Nintendo Switch consoles, which have remained in short supply since.
Going hand-in-hand with the increased time spent at home, the industry also saw an uptick in:
- Video game service subscriptions
- Cloud-based gaming service usage
- Esports streaming and virtual sports viewership
Of those trends, cloud gaming is expected to see one of the biggest growths over the next four years. Business Wire released a market research report from Technavio that projected a cloud service growth of $2.75 billion. According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic is said to be directly responsible for the planned boom.
The future of esports in a post-pandemic world
So, what does all this mean to the esports industry and to the esports influencers that keep it churning? The picture that’s painted is a potential for a productive future that esports organizations and brands will want to be a part of. Even as the world falls back into place, there is plenty that indicates esports will thrive, so long as the industry plays its cards right.
Can the esports industry continue to grow throughout 2021?
As it has found the means to thrive during the pandemic, the esports industry shows promise going into 2021. Executives remained confident as to the growth of esports months after the pandemic started, with 56% of the esport executives polled by the Esports Business Summit and the Esports Business research Group believing the COVID-19 pandemic would have a positive effect. Additionally, an Esports Ecosystem Report by Business Insider showed an expected growth of over 600 million viewers by 2023.
By following old trends that still work, integrating new trends, and perfecting post-pandemic esports marketing, it’s expected that the industry will prosper throughout 2021.
Pandemic gaming trends that are here to stay
Due to the pandemic, on-site events have largely been canceled in favor of online-only viewership. With platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and even TikTok available for broadcasts of esports events, we are sure to see a larger presence of online-only events.
The COVID-19 pandemic also inadvertently injected users into the mobile gaming industry. AppsFlyer’s “State of Gaming App Marketing” report noted that app downloads jumped by 45% in 2020. Even after the pandemic lifts, GamesIndustry.Biz predicts that, by 2024, the mobile gaming industry will increase its revenue by nearly 56% from 2019.
New esports and gaming trends we could see in 2021
As we get further into 2021, the gaming industry can expect to see a few new trends take shape or increase in popularity. One that has slowly been ramping up is virtual reality. Once so expensive it priced out entire markets of gamers, there are several virtual reality options capable of playing AAA titles at a more affordable price.
Though it slowly started to emerge in 2020, 2021 will see an increase in brand advertising. Prominent brands like TikTok and G Fuel have already utilized esports and gaming to market their products, and it’ expected that even more will jump on in the coming months to take advantage of the growing popularity of esports.
Of course, the end of 2020 brought two new high-power gaming consoles to the market. The release of the Xbox Series X/S and PS5 saw limited quantities and few exclusive releases in 2020. 2021 is sure to see next-gen gaming trend as more games release, and the hardware becomes more readily available.
Other trends that may pop up during 2021 include:
- Augmented Reality
- Esports as mainstream entertainment
- Improved competitive mobile gaming through 5G
Fresh tips for esports marketing in 2021
Esports as a marketing tool is a fairly new concept. To help organizers and brands make any headway, here are five tips to follow:
Determine your audience
When you are narrowing down your audience, you have to consider the different genres of gaming. Your audience can be defined as fans of:
- Sports games
- Real-Time Strategy
- First-person shooters
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games (MOBA)
- Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG)
By understanding your target audience, you can better tune your esports marketing materials to appeal to them.
Find the best channels
Do you know where to broadcast your content? Though Twitch and YouTube are the most popular options for streamers, other channels include:
- Gosu Gamers
- Bigo Live
To choose the correct platform, follow your audience. Do you find that your target audience, MOBA fans, migrate to Twitch? Then that’s the channel you want.
Create or sponsor an esports team
When you’re at the helm of an esports team, your brand is everywhere. Along with providing an outlet for talented esports prospects, you’re also increasing the exposure of your brand or organization. As the creator of an esports team, you control the marketing and improve visibility.
Work with esports influencers
Esports influencers come with a following that they can market your brand to. The biggest challenge is finding an influencer that meets your standards, has the right audience, and is active on the platform you want to use.
Influencers boost visibility by using a trusted public figure.
Start small and work your way up to larger events to get your brand noticed. By taking on larger events too soon, you can become overwhelmed and miss opportunities to market your brand. Types of events that can be held online include:
- Streamer collaborations
The resilience of esports streaming
There is certainly something to be said about the resilience of the esports industry. During a period of devastating financial and personal loss, it found a way to thrive and continue to grow. By integrating new trends, working with up-and-coming esports influencers, and emphasizing the benefits of streaming, there can only be a bright future for the industry – even in a post-pandemic world.