Chapter 9
Unbalanced: Opportunities in Game Viewing for Businesses

As was the case with opportunities in gaming, the leadup to discussing more general opportunities for integration in esports or streaming was prefaced with considerable background on the wider industry of viewing gaming content. The rationale for this approach is similar to that of gaming itself, although with some key differences. In the case of integrating with consumers who are either playing or viewing a game, a deeper understanding of a not well‐known ecosystem is of paramount importance for successful integrations—potentially more so in in the world of game viewing, which leans more towards “traditional” gaming sensibilities with a high valuation on authenticity. Both formats have additionally found it necessary to confront the complex relationship between the growth of the fandom and the economic realities of their businesses, with game viewing at a much earlier stage of maturation.

The case of esports diverges from gaming in that commercialization has always been a more open conversation within the industry since our cultural understanding of anything related to competitive entertainment has a wide palette of acceptability for featuring brand logos or other exogenous messaging. The “how” of this revenue acquisition has, however, become perhaps the most heated debate within the industry more generally, drawing battle lines between early esports proponents intent on keeping the grassroots and passion‐based feel of the industry intact versus waves of newcomers to the industry looking to monetize game‐viewing content more effectively. Similarly, game streaming has fundamentally relied on fan support even in the early days, with calls for donations and subscriber functionalities partially gamified into the content of the stream or the design of the streaming service.

The potential for integration opportunities for marketers or business decision makers within broader game viewing has the appearance of being “easier” than that of game playing, given the template set by other forms of competitive entertainment (in the case of esports) or broader influencer marketing (in the case of streaming). However, these parallels to other more well‐known forms of competitive entertainment (whether traditional sports or otherwise) or influencer marketing has always been a double‐edged blade. On the one hand it's a natural jumping‐off point for conversations given parallels in practices (including revenue generation). On the other, viewing gaming content has necessarily diverged from more traditional forms of video consumption, due to both the unique nature of this content and larger generational patterns in media consumption.

Specifically, game viewing in the form of esports and streaming is rising on the crest of younger audiences (the coveted 18–34 demographic) preferring streaming services relative to linear TV (cable or broadcast television). Esports came to relative prominence as a buzzy darling of the marketing world because it was an alternative to legacy video programming (including legacy sports), which is largely tethered to linear television, a format that has been on the decline for years (including highly anticipated sporting events such as the Olympics)1 and yet still commands the lion's share of advertising dollars. As we learned from the history of esports, some of the most visible early faults of the industry were related to fitting the content to the format of TV, thereby obviating much of what made these competitions compelling for its emerging fan base. This is not to say that TV is completely out of the question—gaming content is in some ways remerging on more traditional media channels as the fandom (and therefore, presumed eyeballs) continues to grow, such as the relaunch of gamer‐centric G4 TV.2 However, this relaunch comes with heavy presence on streaming channels—platforms that have become the de facto home of esports and gaming content more generally, in addition to bringing forth a new brand of viewing experiences and talent in the form of streamers.

In summary, engagement with game viewing in the form of streamers or esports is in large part due to the fact that they are digital‐native and digital‐friendly options for consumers who increasingly watch video content online. Moreover, these same digital‐native consumers are broadly eschewing traditional formats such as TV by exhibiting “cord cutting” or “cord nevering” behaviors—they are unlikely to watch broadcast television nor subscribe to traditional cable, in favor of over‐the‐top (OTT) video streaming services, relative to older consumers.3 The proliferation of cord‐cutting behaviors has created a significant barrier for “casual” TV sports viewing, a long‐standing mechanism for drawing in new fans to the traditional sports ecosystem (and one which has often been referenced as a barrier for esports more generally).4 Decreasing traditional TV viewership combined with diminished opportunities for participation and live viewing of traditional sports (including the considerable costs in doing so)5 has created fertile ground for esports to shine as a viable alternative. As an example, esports fans (who are overwhelmingly a young, valuable advertising demographic) report fandom levels towards gaming/esports organizations such as FaZe Clan or 100 Thieves as higher or on par with traditional sports teams, including similar levels of followership between sports and gaming influences, according to research by YouGov.6

The opportunity presented by game viewing is thus reasonably clear—an ecosystem of video content that is new and emerging yet feels alluringly familiar, while presenting one of the few ways to connect with the ever‐elusive younger cohorts of consumers. The similarities between delivery channels (streaming), relative content (gaming), and interested demographic (18–34) has caused much of the broader conflation between “esports” and “streaming.” Here again, at the risk of further muddying the waters, we'll consider points of integration in the broader category of “watching game play,” given similarities driven by streaming platforms, though with differential areas of focus pending the opportunity:

  • Streaming and Esports Advertising: Like games, esports and streamers have amassed an audience that is scaled and comprised of a valuable enough demographic to be of keen interest to advertisers, and traditional advertising across these experiences is similarly one of the most accessible methods of integration. Given the relative flexibility and ubiquity of advertising within either form of video content, we'll address opportunities across both esports and streaming.
  • Esports Sponsorships: The concept of sponsorship aligned with competitive entertainment can be traced back thousands of years,7 and may very well continue this legacy well into the digital era. Sponsorships are the foundational revenue source for the esports ecosystem, and in many ways they provide some of the most flexible opportunities for outside entities.
  • Streaming Influencer and Content Marketing: Savvy gaming organizations have shifted focus from not simply notching impressive wins, but formulating more holistic lifestyle brands for their fandoms. The result is that individual streams and larger gaming groups have become skilled at creating compelling content. The emphasis here will be on streamers as gaming influencers more generally, though important implications for esports will be addressed throughout.

As was the case with opportunities in gaming more generally, we'll address these opportunities roughly in order from least to most resource‐intensive points of integration. In another parallel to our discussion of gaming opportunities, our goal is not to outline every tactical consideration or point of entry. From a pragmatic view, this would be a tedious and low‐value endeavor—where examples and guides exist for these integrations, they are exhaustive (namely, for advertising in streaming services). Where they do not exist, as is the case of sponsorships or leveraging influencers, the execution of tactics is so customized that a step‐by‐step guide would be folly.

As such, our goal is once again to formulate a strategic framework to address the broader opportunities across game viewing, which can in turn be applied to any given tactical deployment, with appropriate grounding in the larger historical, psychological, and logistical considerations addressed in the preceding chapters. We can summarize some of these key considerations as:

  • Balancing the legitimization brought by alignment with mainstream brands or entities against the need to remain authentic to more “traditional” gaming audiences.
  • Growing an emerging audience while partially limiting distribution to specific channels (largely various streaming outlets).
  • Navigating a complex web of stakeholders with unequal power over the games serving as the basis of game viewing content.
  • Intense fragmentation across the landscape, wherein fandom can be split among any combination of games, teams, tournaments, or even individual talent.
  • A wider industry reckoning with declining audiences in traditional sports8 against a need to find younger audiences who were previously engaged with traditional sports programming.
  • Managing the tension of “play as work” and producing streaming content against the rising prominence of gaming influencers with younger consumers.

With these considerations in mind, it bears mentioning that the title of this chapter is deliberate—when something is “unbalanced” in a game, it means that there is an unfair advantage given to a side or aspect of a game environment. Such imbalances have the potential to create an unfair advantage built into the fundamental design of the game. Often multiple iterations of “patches” or other modifications by developers are released to account for imbalances, though “balancing” a game is something that is never truly finished, given that players (particularly from a more competitive vantage point) have become exceedingly talented at capitalizing on any potential advantage (intended by the developers or not) afforded by the game. One can view the broader game viewing ecosystem, and the opportunities for integration therein, in a similar light—it's a system with innumerable unequal advantages, competing sides, and stakes that are still in need of cycles of iteration to make a more balanced and equitable industry for those facilitating competitive gaming.

This is not meant to dissuade interested parties; it merely serves to underline the point that, at this time, opportunities in game viewing can largely be described as “emerging.” Though aspects of these opportunities such as esports (or even the simple pleasures of watching someone game) have histories as long as gaming itself, the modern world of consuming game content has only become more manifest in the past decade or so (roughly earmarked with the rise of platforms such as Twitch). With any newer form of emerging media there is a learning curve, and both the broader game viewing industries in addition to marketers and businesses executives seeking to tap this audience are still in early stages. As has been the case throughout this book, a little understanding and orientation towards the industry can go a long way towards success that entails more than a “first(ish) mover” advantage, but broader experience in not just orientating strategies towards emergent platforms such as streaming, but toward fandoms and competitions.

Play Breaks: Esports and Streaming Advertising

For all the newness underlying these forms of content creation, the fundamental currency of media remains attention, and that attention is monetized via ads. Like direct gaming opportunities, digital advertising directly within, or adjacent to, gaming content broadcasts are both the most turnkey and scalable formats for entry. Game streaming has become an attractive target for ad buys, given the relative difficulty of finding younger audiences across the increasingly fragmented digital media landscape. Streaming content has the advantage of being able to command attention for more than a few seconds (relative to, say, flicking through a feed‐based social media app) due in large part to the draw of the talent creating the content, coupled with the convenience/familiarity of purchasing inventory in digital mainstays such as YouTube.

As a result, purchasing advertisements directly through these streaming sites may be as simple as an adjustment in targeting across campaigns already planned for by a marketer or business with a desire to integrate into gaming content. The relative ubiquity of YouTube (and increasingly, platforms such as Twitch) means there is no shortage of exacting comparisons of placements (ranging from pre‐ to mid‐content via pre‐roll and mid‐roll video ads, respectively); for our purposes one distinction is semi‐unique to esports or generalized game streaming and therefore calls for due discussion: the differentiation between “native” and “stitched” placements.

“Native” placements are those that, intuitively enough, are native to streaming platforms and can be purchased directly from them. The ability to offer these placements is often the direct commercial upside from streaming platforms in securing exclusivity with gaming entities ranging from leagues to individual streamers. However, the younger skew of this audience is as much a liability as an asset in digital media buying: While estimates of utilization of digital ad blockers varies as wide as 25–50 percent of the digital population,9 there is near‐universal agreement that uptake of these technologies is much more common with younger audiences. In other words, the very audience that makes opportunities in gaming and esports viewing valuable, insofar that they may be disproportionately reached via ads with this content, is also disproportionately invested in avoiding ads at all costs. Services such as Twitch, where much of the content is gaming‐oriented, has had to grapple with this reality by efforts ranging from differential placements meant to defeat ad‐blocking software10 to direct appeals to reason.11

The most effective way to “defeat” an ad blocker is to make it really, really difficult to determine how or where an ad is being served. This is the basic premise of “stitched” placements, which are those that include a given advertisement placed directly within the streamed content by the content provider (as opposed to inserted by the streaming provider). Such placements, which in some cases are brokered as part of larger sponsorship deals, have the advantage of being “unblockable” but are much more narrow in scope. Whereas an ad placement directly with a streaming service can be conveniently (and nearly instantaneously) purchased via a dizzying array of advertising technologies and scaled across any number of different types of content on the platform, stitched ads must be inserted well in advance of the broadcast content (whether it's an esports match or more generalized stream) and offers significantly less flexibility because it is confined to the particular publisher or content creator through which the deal was brokered. However, as was the case in game advertising, working directly with a content producer allows for advertising “breaks” to be inserted more naturally in the content, whereas pre‐roll inventory might suffer from longer view‐times relative to other content on streaming platforms and mid‐roll inventory might create an obtrusive experience.

In summary, the convenience and flexibility of native placements come with a liability related to generalized obtrusiveness and blocking efforts, whereas stitched placements occupy a space somewhere between the more turnkey native placements and larger sponsorship activations. The “right” choice between the two is thus entirely dependent on the needs of the advertiser, though generally a more well‐fit placement will enjoy better acceptability from the sensibilities of the esports and gaming audience (as partially demonstrated by the high uptake of ad blockers among this audience), something that native placements afford better access to in addition to being a lighter‐weight articulation of broader sponsorship activations.

Play of the Game: Esports Sponsorships

The historical value of sponsorships in competitive entertainment, put simply, has been to have the affinity a fan has for a given sport, team, or star reflected upon the sponsoring entity. This remains true in the world of esports, within additional and unique value generated by the fact that it is an emerging ecosystem: lending legitimacy. Fans of esports and generalized gaming content are invested in the viability and future of a landscape to which (not unlike gaming more generally) they feel immense connection to the point of ownership. Marks from an entity in dominant culture dwelling in this ecosystem draw connections between a competitive scene on the outskirts of popular culture toward the center. This desire for legitimization, passion among the fandom, and relatively uncluttered space for outside branding to be present (the average number of sponsors in an esports broadcast is far less than, say, NASCAR or the NFL) yields a sponsorship experience that can potentially capture attention above and beyond more general streaming content or even traditional sports, as demonstrated by comparative studies.12

Sponsorships are a unique focus for esports insofar as they represent the majority of revenue in the ecosystem. Recent reports have estimated that 60 percent of the revenue in global esports is generated from sponsorships, and only 20 percent from media rights with platforms like Twitch or YouTube.13 Locking up esports content to specific platforms, while favorable from a revenue perspective, does insert hurdles for growth when the content isn't quite as ubiquitous as it could be online,14 and isn't nearly as lucrative as traditional sports where an entity like the NHL earned $625 million per year despite having about the same viewership as a single esports league.15 The relatively heftier focus on sponsorships within esports is thus partially a reflection of disproportionate valuations placed on linear viewership and the uncomfortable fit of broadcast exclusivity in a digital world, though multiyear agreements have subsidized part of the operating costs of hosting leagues and tournaments similar to traditional sports while securing significant sources of content for the streaming platforms.16

As much as sponsorships hold greater importance in the world of esports relative to other forms of competitive entertainment, the “where” and “how” of sponsorship in esports is complicated by the unique array stakeholders present in the esports ecosystem. The biggest differentiation from more traditional sports is the simple fact that no one “owns” the game of (say) baseball or basketball, but someone very much owns the games of League of Legends or Counter‐Strike. Moreover, the very rules of these games can be changed at a whim according to these publishers, or shut down entirely. This stokes a fundamental tension between game publishers and esports organizations, including an inherent need for diversification among these organizations across several games or tournaments both as a means to maximize audiences and to de‐risk reliance on any given game or game publisher.

Similar to the diversification of audiences in esports, so too are the entities through which sponsorships are possible, given differential areas of dominion in esports. Each of these stakeholders has varying levels of influence over the broader ecosystem, and often affords unique opportunities for integration pending their vantage point within the industry.

Publishers and Games (Examples: Epic, Valve, Activision Blizzard)

At risk of stating the glaringly obvious, there are no esports without the electronic games. Game publishers have had occasionally waning interest and influence in the development of esports. Early proponents later became somewhat hostile to the idea (Nintendo), some have specifically designed games with the understanding that they would be viable competitive platforms (Activision Blizzard and Starcraft 2, Riot and Valorant, etc.), whereas some of the biggest games in esports owe more to community modifications than the developers of the core games themselves (e.g., League of Legends and Dota, both as antecedents to Activision Blizzard's Warcraft 3).

Game developers and publishers arguably have the greatest influence over the texture of the esports industry, and their ongoing approach to wielding it is as diverse as the historical precedents. Some choose to be somewhat hands off with the competitive scene (such as Valve, publisher of Counter‐Strike and Dota) and/or largely use it as a marketing mechanism for in‐app purchases or the core game,17 whereas others control the full funnel from the game itself to associated leagues and team structures (such as Riot with League of Legends Esports or Activision Blizzard with the Overwatch and Call of Duty leagues), often with distinct corporate entities.

As one might suspect, the “full funnel” publishers have the widest array of opportunities to offer, ranging from more standard sponsorship activations to the potential for in‐game integrations (à la those prevalent in gaming more generally). This does not, however, imply a completely open creative canvas for esports supported by these publishers—the operative word in the description above is that the esports and partnerships organizations within game publishers are often independent. In other words, not entirely unlike more baseline game integrations, the partnership's organizations must work with the developers, where a healthy tension always exists between the creative endeavor of game development and commercialization via outside integrations. In more extreme cases, the occasionally fledgling nature of the competitive scene around a game can be viewed as a distraction rather than an asset by developers, creating a tug‐of‐war between development and broader business interests.

Leagues and Tournaments

Many opportunities around specific titles or game franchises are thus wholly consolidated by the game publishers; however, independent leagues and tournament structures not directly under control of the game publishers have existed for basically as long as esports. As an example, the Electronic Sports League (ESL) has been operational since 2000 and hosts a variety of international tournaments in partnership with publishers that run their own leagues directly aligned with their game franchises (such as Blizzard and Riot) in addition to games that don't have a publisher‐controlled tournament structure, including blockbuster titles such as Halo or fighting game pioneer Mortal Kombat.

What these league and tournament structures outside of publisher control lack in the potential depth of the opportunities of full‐funnel developers noted above, they make up for in breadth—a larger array of competitive games serves as a partial solve to an already fragmented fan base.

Streaming and Media Platforms

Platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming have become the de facto destinations for all things esports, and occasionally they host tournaments or other esports features aligned with game publishers or larger tournament series (typically as extensions of broader media rights conversations with a given publisher, league, or other competitive industry).

The resulting canvas for integrations is quite broad, including many of the same relative ideas or placements (branded screen wipes, “picture in picture,” screen wrappers, etc.) that one might see during a traditional sports match within esports. This is partially due to the influx of commercial talent from traditional sports to esports, ranging from broadcast teams implementing the placements, marketers designing them, and ultimately production crews that have ported over viewership elements that lend to branding opportunities (“play of the game” highlights, match breaks, etc.). For example, food delivery service Grubhub recently closed a three‐year partnership with the League Championship Series (LCS, a competitive series for League of Legends), which thematically banks on both the delivery and consumption of food, including a sponsored segment called “Delivering the Win” and hosing “Feeding Frenzy” festivities at the LCS championship (including a planned buffalo wings eating contest).18

Ultimately, what is possible or permissible within a given league, tournament, or otherwise is largely a negotiation between the organizing entity and potential partners, and valuation of any given portion of the sponsorship often is determined through inexact or antiquated means (including impression counting etc.). This too owes much to the influence of traditional sports in esports—despite the digital legacy of esports and the higher bar for analytics this entails, measurement and effectiveness research has not been a focus area of traditional sports sponsorships. As such, the terms of these negotiations often concentrate on more basic measures such as presumed “reach” of any given broadcast, which gives no credit to the potential branding power or “depth” of affinity that may be reached in any given sponsorship spot. For a final parallel with traditional sports, any given sponsorship is typically positioned as “exclusive” for a given category, meaning that that potential “fits” for integrations must be mutually agreed upon by both the partner and the hosting entity.

Determining the best area of entry for esports sponsorships is therefore a rough heuristic that includes availability and relevance of partner fit (inclusive of brand safety—some outside partners might not wish to be aligned with FPS competitions, as a typical example), scale of the tournament in question (many esports are inherently global, which may or may not be relevant to the partner), and fitting the attributes of the partner brand or marks with the competition in a way that reflects mutual balance and fit. The depth and scope of these partnerships is likely to vary considerably between “full funnel” esports developers (likely very deep but somewhat narrow in scope) vs. independent tournaments/leagues and streaming platforms (less deep due to lack of IP ownership, but potentially much broader).

Streaming Influencer and Content Marketing

The array of leagues, games, tournaments, or broader organizations that afford sponsorship opportunities are numerous, yet the unifying trait across these choices is that gaming serves as not just the competitive space, but also the broader cultural backdrop for a deeply invested fandom. More simply, the association that is being sold is for an outside entity to be integrated into the more “traditional” aspects of the gaming lifestyle in an authentic way—a strategic means of ingress that is perhaps best epitomized by influencer and content marketing by individual streamers or gaming organizations.

The digital‐native nature of esports and streaming has, not entirely like the broader contours of the industry, created a special kind of celebrity for content creators in gaming, in part by allowing for unparalleled access not just to gaming content, but also to the players and personalities behind the content. Whether it be by skill within a given game, an entertaining way of presenting the game, or some combination of both, streamers and gaming organizations have mastered the art of making compelling viewing experiences out of game play or exploring broader aspects of the gaming fandom. The business of game viewing, whether competitive/skill‐based or more personality driven, is now foundationally based upon influencer marketing and content creation, in a departure from traditional revenue sources such as ticket sales or consumer products (though still present) or early‐days reliance on prize purses.

Gaming influencers are quickly becoming one of the largest categories in the broader influencer marketing landscape, particularly among men 18–24, where it is the most followed group of influencers globally.19 As a result, individual streamers can command audiences in the millions—leaked data from Twitch demonstrated that some streamers receive payouts in the millions of dollars between advertising and subscriber revenue drawn from their expansive fan bases.

However, the number of streamers who reach this level of exposure is vanishingly small—25 percent of the top 10,000 earning streamers make less than minimum wage, and still represent the upper echelon of the some 9 million streamers on Twitch.20 And while streaming influencers are significantly more diverse in terms of racial, ethnic, or gender identity than what can be found in competitive esports, it is only marginally so—only about 5 percent of young women follow gaming influencers, and the top earning streams on Twitch were overwhelmingly white and male.21 Working with larger gaming organizations as opposed to individual streamers partially offers a greater range in diversity, as demonstrated by collaborations between Gucci and gaming group 100 Thieves,22 where popular female streamer Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter (the “Queen of YouTube” and most viewed female streamer on the platform23) is a co‐owner and is featured prominently in the promotional materials. Similarly, a partnership between McDonald's and the gaming organization FaZe Clan called “Spotlight” was specifically designed to elevate diverse voices in gaming, including Black members of FaZe Clan speaking to their experiences as Black gamers.24

As such, while the broader enterprise of game viewing continues to struggle with representation, streaming provides potential routes for more inclusive strategies. Utilization of gaming influencers for generalized influencer marketing or content creation thus requires due consideration of the audience to be reached as much as the context through which they will be reached. This is partially a consequence of demographic skews in both representation and audience, but also the platform through which the influencer(s) work—as much as media rights are a reality for esports, exclusive contracts for top streamers on platforms like YouTube, Twitch, or Facebook Gaming are becoming commonplace, arguably kicked off in late 2019 when Tyler “Ninja” Blevins signed a multimillion‐dollar deal with now‐defunct streaming platform Mixer.25

The drum beat of multimillion‐dollar deals has led some groups to eye lofty valuations amounting to the billions for some gaming groups.26 Whether it is one of these gaming organizations or an individual with an expansive fan base, the business of game influencers seeks the same general value: leveraging the authentic voice and talent of those deeply immersed in the larger culture of gaming to present a message in a cogent manner. The most successful streamers and gaming organizations are those that have threaded the needle towards not just making content that is compelling for gaming audiences, but content that can be broadly profitable for partnerships, inclusive of leveraging their fan base across the broader media ecosystem. Top gaming influencers such as Olajide Olayinka Williams “JJ” Olatunji, who goes by the handle KSI, can have millions of followers on platforms such as Instagram valuing any given post on such sites at upwards of $200,000 based on the value of the impressions generated.27

To build audiences of this scale, influencers and content creators have developed a well‐trained sense for what will, or will not, resonate with their audiences. As a result, not entirely unlike esports sponsorships, leveraging these talents as a means for integration with the broader gaming ecosystem is not so much a choice given to the partner as much as a mutually agreeable arrangement between the partner and influencer. While identifying a given influencer that speaks to a specific viewer motivation that is aligned with the goals of a given strategy (e.g., education, inspirational, more generalized entertainment) can be a productive first step, a given message or brand that will not resonate with the influencer's audience is unlikely to be worthwhile to the influencer at the cost of authenticity. Similarly, due diligence on the behalf of the partner on the common behaviors and practices of the individual or organization can avoid the misalignments in messaging (as noted in the preceding chapter on streaming, even the most popular streamers may have foibles in the past that should be considered).

The prospects of the partnership can be quite broad—but ultimately some degree of creative control will inevitably be in the hands of the influencer or content creator. Being specific on the value proposition to their audience (including incentives, if applicable), and desired outcomes can aid initial alignment,28 but finding the right partnership may inevitably be a labor‐intensive process involving vetting talent and aligning on the right personality fit. In partial reaction to this friction, an emerging trend in the broader ecosystem to create more common ground between interested partners and content creators is the founding of specialized agencies or talent groups, such as RTS (notably founded by one of the few aforementioned female mega‐star streamers, Imane “Pokimane” Anys).29 As viewership around gaming content becomes more normalized and ubiquitous, so too will the similar supporting structures. Whether leveraging such an agency or otherwise, understanding the unique pressures of game streaming, in addition to the craft and dedication required to produce compelling content that resonates with a discerning audience will create a platform for earnest conversations.

Thanks for Stopping By: Conclusions and Implications

The growing influence of gaming is nowhere more apparent than in the diversity of entertainment content structured around it, be it competitive or otherwise. Internet streaming services have provided a platform where formerly niche or localized activities, such as watching game play, have been scaled to the masses. In doing so, flexible means of monetization for developing industries such as esports in addition to natural points of integration for interested partners have been brought forth. The opportunity to legitimize a fan's favored competitive sport, or support their favorite gaming personality, offers a uniquely digital‐native means to reach some of the most elusive audiences in the broader media landscape.

Though nearly all opportunities for integrating with game viewing behaviors are manifest through streaming services, the strategies for doing so have a number of potential tradeoffs and advantages. Not unlike opportunities in gaming, we can summarize these across a number of (slightly different) axes ranging from monetary/time investment to the relative level of authenticity offered by the opportunity (see Table 9.1).

Similar to integrations with gaming, the easiest and broadest places to start are via advertisements, where any number of potential agencies or organizations can offer immense experience in serving media on platforms like YouTube or Twitch. Messaging that will potentially resonate in game environments requires more nuance, and is another area where working directly with a game developer that has a partnerships arm that covers esports can provide a fast track. However, independent agencies that work with a variety of league structures or content creators, or traditional agencies that are building dedicated gaming expertise, will increasingly be able to provide direction on what tactics to connect towards a broader strategy.

Regardless of the point of ingress, the parallels to more traditional forms of entertainment must be contextualized against the unique need state, circumstances, and technologies that have become common for viewing behaviors around gaming content. Game viewing represents not just the influence of gaming on the media consumption of younger consumers, but also fundamental shifts in expectations and trends around media more generally. While industries such as esports and complementary content like game streaming are newer entrants to the broader media ecosystem, the opportunities provided go beyond a mere complement to a larger gaming strategy, so much as one that taps into the future of media consumption.

Table 9.1 A Summary of Opportunities in Esports

Streaming AdvertisementsEsports SponsorshipsStreaming Influencer and Content Marketing
Monetary investmentLowModerate to highModerate to high
Time investmentLowModerate to highHigh, particular in relation to finding and formalizing an agreement
AuthenticityLow to moderate, with “stitched” advertisements more likely to naturally fit within the streaming contentModerate to high, pending fit and how the activation is brought to life adjacent to the competitionHigh, assuming that the upfront diligence has been done between potential interest from the creator's fan base and the message at stake
ResonanceLow to moderate, here too, pending how well the ad can be integrated in the stream (and related, the extent to which it may be blocked)Moderate to high, here too pending how well the message can be integrated within the broadcastHigh, influencers and content creators trade on the authenticity, and their recommendation tends to carry immense weight with their audiences


  1. 1. “The Olympics Is a Ratings Flop: Advertisers Don't Care,” The Economist, August 14, 2021.
  2. 2. Adario Strange, “Back from the Dead, G4TV Looks to Cash In on the Gaming Craze It Helped Create,” Quartz, October 19, 2021,
  3. 3. Fred Backus, “More Americans Say They are ‘Cutting the Cord,’” CBS News, April 23, 2021,
  4. 4. Christopher Zara, “Cord-Cutting Is Killing the Casual TV Sports Fan,” Fast Company, September 20, 2021,
  5. 5. Joe Drape, “Step Aside, LeBron and Dak, and Make Room for Banjo and Kazooie,” New York Times, December 19, 2021,
  6. 6. YouGov, “The Most-Followed Sports Team among American Teen Males Is Actually an Esports Team,” November 19, 2021,
  7. 7. Sarah Bond, “Yes, Ancient Olympic Athletes Had Sponsorship Deals, Too,” Forbes, August 10, 2016,
  8. 8. Joost van Dreunen, One Up: Creativity, Competition, and the Global Business of Video Games (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020), 200.
  9. 9. TJ McCue, “47 Percent of Consumers Are Blocking Ads,” Forbes, March 19, 2019,
  10. 10. Sarah Perez, “Twitch's New Video Ads Can't Be Blocked,” Tech Crunch, November 2, 2016,
  11. 11. Bijan Stephen, “Twitch Is Running a PSA for People Using Ad-Blockers on the Site, and Nobody's Happy,” The Verge, November 3, 2020,
  12. 12. Billy Studholme, “Activision Blizzard Conducts Research, Finds Esports Fans More Receptive to Advertising,” Esports Insider, February 16, 2021, Disclaimer: The author was involved in conducting this research.
  13. 13. “NewZoo's Global Esports Live Streaming Market Report,” Newzoo, March 9, 2021,
  14. 14. Tobias Seck, “Resolving Conflicts of Interest Holds Key to More Revenue,” Sports Business Journal, August 16, 2021,
  15. 15. Marty Strenczewilk, “It's Time for Esports to Stop Idolizing Traditional Sports,” Future, September 8, 2021,
  16. 16. For example, the three-year deal between Twitch, ESL, and DreamHack,
  17. 17. Roland Li, Good Luck Have Fun: The Rise of eSports (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016), 157–160.
  18. 18. “Grubhub Levels Up in Esports as the Official Food Delivery Partner of the League Championship Series,” Grubhub, January 14, 2021,; and H. B. Duran, “LCS Names Grubhub as Presenting Partner,” Esports Insider, January 14, 2021,
  19. 19. YouGov, “YouGov Game-Changers: The Power of Gaming Influencers,” YouGov, 2021,
  20. 20. Nathan Grayson, “The Twitch Hack Revealed Much More than Streamer Salaries: Here Are 4 New Takeaways,” Washington Post, October 8, 2021,
  21. 21. Ed Nightingale, “Twitch Leak Reveals Streamer Earnings and Lack of Diversity,” Eurogamer, updated October 12, 2021,
  22. 22. Danny Appleford, “100 Thieves Announce Their Collaboration with Gucci,” Upcomer, July 12, 2021,
  23. 23. Alex Hawgood, “Valkyrae Gets a Big Chair in the Gaming World,” New York Times, April 7, 2021,
  24. 24. Jeff Beer, “Faze Clan and McDonald's Drop New Campaign to Encourage Diversity in Gaming,” Fast Company, November 30, 2021,
  25. 25. Bijan Stephen, “Ninja, Shroud, and Other Top Mixer Streamers Are Now Free to Stream on Twitch Again,” The Verge, June 22, 2021,
  26. 26. Kori Hale, “Esports Heavyweight FaZe Clan Shoots Its $1 Billion IPO Shot Via SPAC Merger,” Forbes, November 3, 2021,
  27. 27. Sam Weber, “Top Esports Athletes on Social | How Much Can They Make with Social?” Opendorse, May 1, 2020,
  28. 28. Lucy Michaeloudis, “Gaming Influencers: A Step-by-Step Campaign Guide,” The Drum, May 19, 2021,
  29. 29. Dani Gibson, “Pokimane Launches Agency to Fix ‘Broken’ Relationship Between Gamers and Brands,” The Drum, October 27, 2021,
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