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Drop in to a new world

The legends of esports offer new partnership opportunities for a variety of businesses

Jersey Mike’s Subs extended its partnership with international esports outfit Team Liquid last month to continue its reach into an estimated 34.8 million-strong U.S. fan base. Team Liquid, which competes across 17 distinct esports including League of Legends and Fortnite, will continue to create co-branded content and offer perks with Jersey Mike’s through 2022.

As for esports fans, 3 in 4 are millennials and 1 in 4 are beyond the reach of traditional media, meaning they don’t see television commercials. Even online, their savvy has 9 out of 10 of them deleting cookies, using private browsing windows, or blocking ads, GlobalWebIndex’s 2018 Esports Trend Report found.
The difficulty in targeting this audience and the ripe opportunity of a growing fan base, projected to be 46.2 million by 2023, has brands like Jersey Mike’s, LG Electronics, BMW US, and Mars Wrigley forming partnerships with well-known esports teams.

Katie Nolan, Jersey Mike’s marketing coordinator in charge of sports partnerships, characterized the company’s partnership with Team Liquid “as if the Giants also played baseball.” In one aspect of their partnership, called Subs for Dubs, Team Liquid fans receive special discounts on sandwiches and meals when the team wins a tournament. Since Team Liquid is one of the winningest teams in esports, their opportunities for Jersey Mike’s discounts abound, and fans get excited about it—to the point of chanting “subs for dubs” when the team wins.

Jersey Mike’s esports team, Team Liquid.- TEAM LIQUID

Jersey Mike’s esports team, Team Liquid. – TEAM LIQUID

“I think a great measurement of [the value of the partnership] is Subs for Dubs and seeing the fans come into the actual stores or ordering online. The passion behind the Team Liquid players and the fans, they all seem to love the Jersey Mike’s brand right back,” Nolan said.

A growing suite of gaming products at LG Electronics USA, based in Englewood Cliffs, spurred a brand partnership with streaming platform Twitch and an activation with well-known gamer Pokimane, who on Nov. 20 led an all-female team through a two-hour broadcast League of Legends battle that showcased the picture quality and speed of LG’s UltraGear monitors. Concurrent viewers – that is, how many viewers are watching at each second – reached 50,927 during the stream, 263 percent higher than Pokimane’s typical viewer count. In all, 1,473,682 people tuned in during the event, and LG spokesperson Christopher De Maria said there was “definitely a spike in sales during that time.”

“It was a good barometer to see if we ever wanted to do anything like that again,” he said.

The question is no longer “if”—yes, they would do it, he said—but “what.”

“We’re still in the middle of analyzing that activation and how we’d do the next thing we do. Will it be an event sponsorship? Sometimes, a onetime thing is what you need. Is there another Twitch event that we do or will [the partnership] be broader? Do we affiliate with one particular team or do we align with other partners?” De Maria said. “We’re definitely looking to do more activations.”

LG’s partnership with Twitch and the Pokimane activation allowed the brand to talk directly to those most inclined toward their products. Unlike Jersey Mike’s partnership with Team Liquid—plenty of people like subs and they don’t have to be gamers to chow down—the esports audience comprise the market for LG’s suite of gaming products. UltraGear monitors’ one millisecond response time is the fastest on the market, and its OLED televisions were upgraded in the fall to include NVIDIA G-sync technology, firmware that enables gaming on a television without the flicker, tearing or stuttering problems common on displays.

“In terms of our gaming hierarchy, we used to just have gaming monitors. Now we have TVs that are considered high-end gaming monitors and cell phones created with the gamer in mind. You should expect more from us,” De Maria said. “This looks to be a growing category.”

“I thought, ‘do people ever get up?’ but that’s what gamers are. They’re passionate, they don’t want to put the game on pause. They view the game like they play it—the passion levels are really high,” LG spokesperson Christopher De Maria said. PEXELS

According to GlobalWebIndex, the issue for brands isn’t just getting in front of esports fans, but getting them to take action. In order to prompt action, brands like Jersey Mike’s and LG “must provide engaging content with a sense of exclusivity, while fostering a brand image which applies itself to the esports community.”

By releasing more gaming-appropriate products, LG is doing the former. By offering discounts on food, along with exclusive content like “Sub Bombs” where fans can interact with players through “JerseyMike’s” Twitch account, Jersey Mike’s is doing the latter.

It bodes well for a brand if it makes it into the esports in-crowd: fans are 24 percent more likely than the average 16- to 24-year-old to engage in peer-to-peer recommendation by promoting a product if it’s pertinent to their friends’ interests, according to GlobalWebIndex.

Nolan, a longtime fan of traditional sports, draws plenty of parallels between esports fans and sports fans. They wear their favorite jerseys and they fill stadiums. But there’s a key difference: the focus of an esports fan. She noticed it immediately at the tournament she attended at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, which amped her up for Jersey Mike’s Team Liquid partnership.

“They’re not getting up to go get a hot dog, they’re sitting in their seats, they won’t miss a second of the whole game,” Nolan said. “They’re just focused on that screen, watching every little move. It’s really cool to see the passion.”

De Maria has noticed the same thing in the tournaments he’s watched online.

“I thought, ‘do people ever get up?’ but that’s what gamers are. They’re passionate, they don’t want to put the game on pause. They view the game like they play it—the passion levels are really high,” De Maria said.

Seeing esports fans engage with the game in person is hard to explain, said Nolan.

“You really get it [when you see it in person]. It sold out the Barclay’s Center. It’s just as big, if not bigger, than traditional sports. It goes way beyond people playing video games,” she said.

Gabrielle Saulsbery
Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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