There has been much discussion about the rise of sports in the United States, such as soccer and volleyball. While these sports are certainly trending up, nationally, a non-traditional sport is usually left out of the conversation and even mocked by some: esports.

A recent report from Newzoo (a digital gaming market research agency) found that there are almost 150 million engaged esports fans worldwide. The same report estimated that 22 percent of male millennials from the United States watch esports – that is similar to male millennial viewership of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.

These large viewership numbers are derived from a number of professional esports leagues and competitions held every year. However, the new Overwatch League (based on popular first-person shooter games) will be the first to mimic a professional sports league with teams based by city that compete over the course of a season to make the playoffs. The new league has owners like Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots) and Jeff Wilpon (New York Mets COO) who have traditional sports backgrounds, bringing a level of credibility to the upstart league. A $20 million team creation fee also shows the major league status of the Overwatch League. This might become the model for esports and lead to growth of the sport.

So, this is all great, esports are a big deal, but you are likely thinking, why should I care? If you work on behalf of a brand that is interested in reaching male millennials and Gen-Zers, esports provide a great platform. Here is the basic information you need to know and how to jump into sponsorship:

Esports: Level One

There is a loose definition of esports as any kind of competitive gaming. Anything from mobile phone games (i.e., Bubble Shooter or ClashRoyale) to PC games (Leagues of Legends) to Xbox or PlayStation games (NBA 2K18 or Overwatch) fall into this category, and each has a following and various levels of competition. Some of the most popular games include Overwatch (as described above), Leagues of Legends, NBA 2K18 and Counter Strike.

How to Watch

The name of the game is streaming when it comes to esports, which isn’t a surprise based on the large millennial following. Twitch and YouTube are two of the major streamers for large competitions. Twitch is owned by Amazon, adding additional content and solid foundation for their hopes of building a stable of sports properties. Twitch receives 2.1 million unique streamers a month; their success is linked to the appeal of viewers interacting with the broadcasters and other viewers via a chat section.

While esports have grown thanks to streaming, they are also turning to the traditional methods of viewership to grow their sport. Cable channels such as TBS and the Big Ten Network have turned to broadcasting esport competitions. TBS has seen impressive audiences of over 250,000 viewers an episode during the first season of ELeague. In-person viewing has grown significantly, as major competitions have sold out venues like the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Madison Square Garden in New York. A recently announced NBA 2K18 League will act similar to the NBA, where esport players will travel to arenas across the country representing their home team in other cities.

Sponsorship

As outlined, esports offer a great platform to reach male millennials and esports leadership has taken notice. Almost three quarters of the collective revenue of esports leagues come from sponsorship and advertisement. While a lot of sponsorship funds come from game publishers, consumer brands are expanding involvement, including Geico and Coca-Cola.

Major esport competitions and leagues, like the Overwatch League, can demand top-sponsorship dollar. However, there is no shortage of opportunities for brands to partner with smaller esport entities and events. For instance, most universities’ field teams or clubs that compete locally. Like many of these colleges, the University of Minnesota offers scholarships to esports players; this would be a good team to sponsor, as they receive a relatively high level of visibility.

If your brand has interest in sponsorship or advertising, make sure to approach any activation with authenticity. The 18-25 age group is willing to interact and engage with advertising, if it seamlessly works with the content. For instance, Coca-Cola introduced a new soda at an event that was well received by the audience. Coke also hosts regular viewing parties that perfectly build a unique brand experience for esports fans.

Look for small esport sponsorship and advertising opportunities to test how your brand can work in the space.

Look for small esport sponsorship and advertising opportunities to test how your brand can work in the space. After some trial and error, find the league, event or team that most authentically connects your brand with the audience.

It won’t be long before esports are truly catapulted onto the national sports stage. Make sure you consider this burgeoning area as a unique opportunity to connect with a valuable audience.