The marketer's guide to eSports

August 13, 2019 | 6 minute read
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The short history of video games has seen an expeditious evolution, from the arcade era to in-home consoles to now a globally connected market that is bigger than ever. With the ability for gamers to easily connect online through their devices, a new sphere of competition has developed, dubbed “eSports.” The eSports industry attracts an intense and committed community, yet one that is relatively untapped by marketers.

In this post, we share the full rundown on eSports, from who plays them to how marketers can get involved.


Esports 101: Everything you need to know


What are eSports?

This term refers to multiplayer video games played competitively among players, individually, or in teams. These games vary and cover multiple genres such as sports, real-time strategy, racing, fighting, and first-person shooting.


How do eSports generate revenue?

Similar to traditional sports, eSports make money from investments, branding, advertising, and media deals. In fact, eSports brought in $1.5 billion in revenue last year, according to USA Today, a number that is projected to grow to $2 billion by 2021.


Who is the audience?

Along with the obvious financial rewards, eSports provide the opportunity for businesses to reach younger audiences. More than half of the eSports audience is between the ages of 21 and 35, while 27% are between 10 and 20 years old. These gamers are connecting in various ways such as meetups, tournaments, online chat rooms, and through social media. It’s easy for new players to join and become eSports fans because all that’s needed is a console, like a Playstation or an Xbox, or a PC with a big monitor.


What are the most popular games?

According to The Esports Observer, the most popular games based on total prize pool in 2018 are:

  1. Dota 2: $41.26M

  2. Counter-Strike: $22.47M

  3. Fortnite: $19.96M ($3M was won in 2019 by a 16-year-old in the first-ever Fortnite World Cup)

  4. League of Legends: $14.12M

  5. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: $6.73M


When did eSports originate?

Video games have been around since as far back as 1947, though the technology needed to enhance the quality on home-video game consoles didn’t arrive until the 1960s. Home video game consoles instantly gained traction and became outlets for competitive gaming—especially with the launch of Pong.

If Pong was the catalyst for competitive gaming by pitting local gamers against each other, then the original arcade version of Donkey Kong took it to the next level. Donkey Kong was the first game to launch a nationwide competition by seeing who could set the highest score on their local machine. This was before the internet, so players had to share their scores in trade magazines and through word of mouth to get noticed.

Video game publisher Atari followed this with a Space Invaders tournament that drew more than 10,000 players.

Then in 1985, the North American release of the Nintendo Entertainment System took the gameplay and accessibility of video games to a new level. Nintendo created a movement in gaming when it ran its first Nintendo World Championship in 1990.

Video game competitions continued to gain popularity through the 1990s and into the early 2000s before they were finally broadcast on television.

The first televised competition was Major League Gaming’s Halo 2 Pro Series, which was broadcast in 2006 and 2007 by USA Network on Boost Mobile MLG Pro Circuit—a sponsored cable-TV network. Since then, eSports have steadily gained traction with audiences and broadcasters alike, further entering the mainstream with each passing year.

In 2011, video games began to leverage Twitch, an online streaming service, to connect directly with players and stream live, in-action games. This brought gaming and eSports to the masses. Twitch also offers an engagement function where players can leave comments and converse with each other. This has transformed games into social networking outlets for players—providing participants with the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the online gaming world.


A moneymaking market

According to Forbes, eSports market revenue has been experiencing rapid growth and is officially a billion-dollar industry. By 2020, the market is expected to generate more than $1.48 billion, which indicates an annual growth increase of 32%.


Game on for brands

With its high consumer growth, eSports advertising revenue is also steadily increasing, sparking brand interest. In 2018, $142.5 million was spent on digital advertising in the space. According to eMarketer, ad revenue will increase 25% this year and exceed $200 million by 2020.

There are a few brands that have a presence in the eSports industry today. Brisk and 7-11 teamed up to create the Universal Open Rocket League, a major annual eSports tournament. State Farm recently sponsored their first eSports athlete, a top Fortnite streamer called DrLupo. Procter & Gamble’s Gillette partnered with Twitch, the livestreaming video platform, to create the Gillette Gaming Alliance. Red Bull also has a presence in the industry with its new campaign featuring professional Gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, which includes numerous fan contests. However, there’s plenty of space for other brands to succeed.


How to reach gamers and eSports fans

Though eSports cross all ages and demographics, the primary audience is men, who make up the vast majority of the market. However, nearly 1 in 4 female fans still stream at least weekly, according to Nielsen.

As the eSports industry grows, marketers must get smarter about how they’re reaching the different types of gamers and eSports fans. It’s worth noting that while eSports fans are avid streamers, they do not watch as much traditional (linear) TV as the average consumer. In lieu of TV, fans spend double their time playing video games, averaging 8.2 hours per week.

To help reach and engage fans in a campaign, we’ve collected data from our Premier Data Provider AnalyticsIQ to reveal the nuances and key characteristics of this exciting new audience. In addition, for programmatic marketers, we’ve provided all the available gamer and eSports-style audiences available through chosen DSPs.




eSports context and audience segments for programmatic marketers

As marketers look to reach eSports gamers, it's important to be leveraging 1st and 3rd party audience data. When choosing 3rd party audiences, here are some options available today, collected from a variety of trusted data sources:

  • Branded Data > Audiences by Ziff Davis > IGN > Interests > Gaming & Video Games > Genres > Sports & eSports - Gamers searching, watching trailers, reading cheats/wikis and reviews, and/or checking prices of sports games.

  • Branded Data > Clickagy > In-Market > Entertainment > eSports

  • Branded Data > Gravy Analytics > Enthusiast > eSports Enthusiast - Mobile users that show an interest in video games and eSports competitions

Gaming audiences

Oracle AddThis > Premium > Gaming - A gamer is interested in all things video game related. They search new releases, teasers, cheats, and demos on blogs and news outlets. Included are these sub-audiences:

  • Fantasy sports

  • Game genres

  • Gaming enthusiasts

  • Gaming intenders

  • Platforms

  • Social

Gaming system audiences

  • Audiences by Oracle > Consumer Technology > Purchase-Based > Buyers > Gaming and Consoles > Gaming Consoles > Next Gen Gaming Systems

  • Audiences by Oracle > Consumer Technology > Deviceographics (Device Ownership) > Gaming Consoles

  • Audiences by Oracle > Consumer Technology > Interest (Affinity) > Gaming and Consoles > Gaming Consoles

Contextual segments

  • entertain_games

  • predicts_gamers

For contextual targeting, you can also make your own custom segments using relevant keywords, so maybe think of a few suggestions to add based on your research. For example:

  • predicts_eSports

  • predicts_eSportsgamer

  • predicts_eSportstournament


It’s not too late for your brand to get in the game! The eSports industry is steadily growing, with opportunities to engage a fanatical base. Use the audience segments listed above, then expand your campaign using context, and then watch the results roll in. It’ll be a game changer!


Da'Les Allen

Da’Les Allen is a Digital Content Specialist for Oracle Data Cloud. She creates content such as blog posts and videos for the organization and strategizes on ways to distribute the content. She enjoys creating content (obviously) and reading on the different marketing trends in the industry.

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