eSports thus far has lived largely in isolation. In the past the big developers usually helped to stage the tournaments for their own games with outside sponsors who are usually limited to tech and gaming gear manufacturers. Recently, however, that seems to be changing. It started late in 2013 with Riot Games announcing the League of Legends (LoL) Challenger Series, an amateur league in comparison to LoL’s LCS (think AAA baseball to the MLB). Part of the announcement revealed one of the league’s sponsors would be Coke Zero. This was huge for eSports and LoL’s developer, Riot Games.
There was little doubt that Riot’s LCS would stick around with its impressive production and viewership statistics. Weekly LCS matches typically garner 100,000-150,000 viewers on average. But there certainly were questions about whether the sport could expand from the foundation of the LCS. Sponsorship is one of the issues here.
Many sponsors are skeptical about stepping into such a new field, which is why most of the sponsors from event to event are usually the same and are almost always tech companies. Sponsors get cold feet because eSports is still a very young field so they would prefer the known quantities that is the MLB, NFL, and cable television. Kevin Lin explained as much during GDC Next 2013.
This is soon to change, however, and in a big way. Coke Zero laid the foundation and now Hollywood should be chomping at the bit to get into eSports. Lionsgate Entertainment has partnered with MLG, a prominent tournament organizer, and Twitch.tv to sponsor the “Ender’s Game on Blu-ray Tournament.” As the title of the event suggests the tournament is meant to help promote the Blu-ray release of “Ender’s Game”, but it is also a way for MLG to reestablish its credibility after it dropped Starcraft II late in 2013 amidst a strong public outcry.
The sponsorship of course can work both ways, with both MLG and Lionsgate effectively reaching each other’s audiences. This is an outstanding marketing opportunity for Lionsgate, as it can directly target the large young, male audience. This article discusses that benefit and also that it may be likely that other studios may follow Lionsgate’s example with similar sponsorships.
eSports’ popularity has only increased the past few years, with Twitch.tv claiming larger and larger audiences since its inception. The Coke Zero and Lionsgate sponsorships show that the upward trend in popularity should not slow down, and other companies might want a piece of the ever-popular eSports pie. It also shows that outside entities who boldly cross into the realm of eSports stand make significant gains in marketing opportunities. Who knows, maybe someday we will see a “SyFy Presents: The Sharknado 2 Straight to DVD Release Starcraft II Tournament.”