Esports teams need sponsors to pay the bills, just like regular sports teams
Playing esports for a living doesn’t come without its costs; teams can’t just rely on tournament prizes to keep food on their tables and roofs over their heads. That’s what sponsors are for.
As teams start getting their names on leaderboards and making regular appearances at well-watched tournaments, relevant brands get interested. With esports growing more and more, non gaming-oriented brands are getting interested too.
Which leads to MeUndies sponsoring Immortals, a deal announced Tuesday morning.
Immortals is one of the hottest new esports organizations, acquiring a dominant League of Legends team in October 2015 and a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team in June this year. The LoL team is running down the competition, already ranking first in the North American League of Legend Championship Series.
For a new team to make its mark like Immortals, it needs great players and sponsors willing to back them up with capital, Immortals CEO Noah Whinston said. In the nearly $900 million esports industry, over 70% of that value comes from sponsors and advertisers. That’s not too far off from how teams make their money either, he explained.
“In esports, sponsorships can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars a month if you just want something like social posting, all the way up to high-six, low-seven-figures,” Whinston said.
Those high-end deals could be something like a year-long contract where a brand gets placement on team jerseys. And if a team like Immortals is going to lock into an agreement like that, they’re only going to go with brands they already like or want to rep.
“We’re definitely not enthusiastic about looking for sponsorships out there for products that we aren’t authentically excited about,” he said. “Especially with the [esports] demographic, people hate being advertised to inauthentically.”
“Esports fans can be particularly hostile when it comes to advertisements.”
Esports fans can be particularly hostile when it comes to advertisements or sponsorships appearing alongside their favorite games, partially due to the fact that older fans remember a time when esports weren’t really commercialized.
Many advertisers will try to cater their ads to the gamer audience, using references to the streaming game alongside videos of roast beef sandwiches, or players wearing a specific pair of headphones. During many Twitch streams where an advertisement appears, viewers in the simultaneous Twitch chat will type “SELLOUT” and other accusations.
“A lot of these companies that aren’t really gamer-related products will try to curate their marketing tools in a way that appeals solely to gamers,” Whinston said.
With Immortals’ new mainstream sponsor, MeUndies, the ad videos they’re creating featuring Immortals players are for a more general audience, Whinston said. He compared them to “Got Milk?” commercials, when Michael Jordan looks at the camera with a milk mustache. Those weren’t just for basketball fans.
“It’s really helpful in exposing esports and Immortals players to a wider audience, getting a little more attention on them and getting a little more mainstream knowledge and mainstream comfort with esports athletes appearing in promotional material,” he said.