For decades football stars have been the most renowned global superstars, their faces dominating our gossip magazines and plastering the bedroom walls of young fans. In 2018, Forbes named Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo respectively as the world’s 8th and 10th highest paid celebrities.
Fast forward to 2019 when Twitch gamer ‘Ninja’ (earning an estimated $560,000 a month) had more social media interactions in the month of April than Ronaldo, clocking up 150m interactions to the latter’s 130m. Certainly, this might be the most famous man that no one over the age of 40 has ever heard of.
According to Warc, e-sports is no longer an emerging trend – “it is well and truly here and starting to command the attention of some of the world’s biggest brands”. And the audience is by no means niche. According to Touchpoints data, 11.12m UK adults are watching gaming content up to once a year – and 1.56m are watching daily. This growing genre is giving rise to a new era of sporting celebrities – the online gaming megastars.
So where do brands come into this phenomenon? Well, there is without doubt commercial opportunity. E-sport stars are making small fortunes on Twitch through micro payments. Twitch streamers that meet certain criteria (mostly around time logged streaming and growing a small audience) can become Twitch Affiliates. Affiliates are then able to access earning opportunities, most notably through in-platform payments. Once a live-stream is set up viewers can elect to pay them – as cash donations or in a custom Twitch currency, Twitch Bits – as the action unfolds. Usually these will be small amounts to show appreciation to the player and enable them to continue creating content; in this regard the viewers are subsidising their favourite stars and paying their salary directly.
However, some entrepreneurial streamers have made larger sums of money by promising to undertake certain challenges once thresholds are reached. If fans help them reach their financial targets within a stream they will take desired actions within play, allowing viewers to determine content storyline.
One thing that is absolutely apparent amongst Twitch streamers and viewers is that the sense of community is extremely strong. Viewers will part with money to support the streamers, get close to them and to curate their own content.
This is also an audience who will mobilise quickly. Recently US rapper Drake challenged Ninja to a game of Fortnite on Twitter – the challenge attracted a live audience of 600,000 people and went on to attract 8.6m views on YouTube where the footage was later uploaded. Levels of engagement most advertisers only dream of!
This community spirit has also filtered outside the world of Twitch and into philanthropy, as e-athletes raise incredible sums of money for charity. The platform is well-placed for fundraising as it can easily accept these micro-payments from viewers in-stream. This has given rise to live stream charity fundraisers, an exciting way to engage a non-traditional audience with charity.
At GuardianCom in 2018, several streamers participated in a gaming fundraiser to raise money for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The marathon stream raised an incredible $2.7m. In just four hours, streamer Dr. Lupo raised $356,000 for the charity, breaking fundraising records.
In February 2019, JustGiving added gaming-specific services to its platform to help streamers set up fundraisers. These features include overlays to connect fundraising pages to Twitch and other gaming platforms as well as a monthly ‘Hall of Fame’ to recognise gamers who have generated money for non-profits.
UK-based charity, Shelter, held a fundraiser inviting people to game for 135 minutes, one minute for each family that becomes homeless every day in Britain. Each participant was invited to host their own fundraiser on GivePenny, which had a leader board recognising those that had raised the most but also those who reached or bettered their target. This was a great example of a charity engaging with a younger fundraising audience while keeping charity’s need messaging at heart.
Early mover advantage
These examples all demonstrate the huge leaps being taken by this growing marketing opportunity. The gaming community presents a great opportunity for brands to access the loyalty and trust audiences feel for their favoured streamers. The key for brands will be addressing these audiences early, before the market becomes saturated and to forge partnerships with streamers to allow for organic, integrated content.
By Emily Smith, Senior Business Executive