Esports viewers are expected to grow to 577.2 million worldwide in the next few years, a large increase from the 397.8 million in 2019.
In this article, we’ll touch on esports audience demographics, why brands should advertise to these technophiles and how brands can do so successfully.
How Many Esports Fans Are There?
With more than 474 million fans globally, esports is a flourishing audience segment rivaling traditional sports and even renowned sporting events like the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl LI was watched by 111 million fans as the League of Legends Worlds (LoL) reached a record-breaking viewership of 360 million viewers.
As stated by a Twitch representative, “The appeal of esports and game live streaming is just like any other type of hobby, sport, or skill: people enjoy watching others who are good at what they do. That being said, for brands looking to advertise in the space, it’s important to understand who you’d be connecting with and why they’re worth paying attention to.”
You probably think esports fans are predominantly male and you wouldn’t be wrong; however, esports demographics are shifting and perhaps not how you would imagine.
From a growing population of US esports enthusiasts who reside near tech hubs or military bases to a growing base of fans between the ages of 35-44—audiences within the esports market continue to evolve with each historical moment.
To date, there are inferences we can make from early market indicators and US buyer statistics.
Learn more about the sports fan buyer persona.
Google Source Trends indicate that the United States ranks 38th out of 63 regions regarding the volume of keyword searches for esports topics. Majority of interest is in Asian and Scandinavian countries.
However, the topic of esports has been gaining popularity in the United States. Let’s take a look at one of the most popular championships: 2021 League of Legends World Championship.
We can see granular results from states and cities that are leading the trend in this search term.
In the past 12 months the majority of interest has come from:
Top 5 states:
- Washington State
Top 5 Metros:
- San Diego, CA
- Honolulu, HI
- Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, FL
- San Francisco - Oakland - San Jose, CA
- Seattle - Tacoma, WA
The LoL Championship was broadcast in 18 languages by 19 broadcasters across 34 different platforms. It’s no surprise that search query results for esports and LoL spiked during this time.
What’s most interesting is the geographic breakdown of viewership. All of the metro areas listed above have two things in common; they’re home to large military installations and situated near the fast-growing tech hubs.
Interesting fact: It’s estimated that 80% of the US Airforce is between the ages of 18-34 and identify themselves as a gamer (playing at least 4 hours a week). All military branches now have a formal esports program endorsed by the Department of Defense.
The average age of a US esports viewer is 29. In a 2021 survey of 2,200 respondents published by Statista, 17% of respondents aged 18-34 were avid fans of esports in the US. Followed by 15% of respondents aged 35 to 44.
Approximately 72% of esports fans identify as male, but the number of women flocking to the sport is steadily climbing year over year.
Data from Statistica shows that women accounted for 45% of gamers in the US in 2021, up from 41% of US gamers identifying as women during the previous year.
It would be foolish to discount women’s growing participation in the gaming industry.
Esports enthusiasts skew young but have substantial purchasing power. Interpret’s quarterly survey of 9,000 consumers found that, “30% of esports fans have an annual income greater than $100,000, and they are willing to spend on subscriptions they care about and regularly purchase electronics. Similarly, 25% of more casual esports viewers also reported incomes of more than $100,000.”
Why Brands should Advertise to Esports Fans
The esports market was valued at $1.2 billion in 2021 and growing, perhaps at an even greater rate than predicted pre-pandemic, as populations adjust to remote work options and shifting lifestyles.
Given the annual income and age of this audience, brands have a significant opportunity to snag recurring revenue from a highly-engaged audience. This cash-rich audience also boasts large social followings on a global stage.
If your organization is looking to get in front of educated and eager spenders, esports is a pipeline worth tapping into.
Much like traditional sports, your brand can be front and center in a stadium, on a jersey, and endorsed by professional players.
Entertainment, sports, and technology collide
Esports is thriving, the sports' ability to connect fans with professional esports players in real-time whenever and wherever appeals to enthusiasts both young and old(er).
With Twitch leading the charge in terms of go-to live-streaming platforms, other alternatives like YouTube Gaming are diving into the fray touting better support to players and a focus on developing their fan communities.
For brands, this is a golden opportunity to advertise on such platforms and reach audiences that are actively engaged for extended periods of time, often averaging 100 minutes for each streaming viewership session.
Predominantly young and male - for now
Esports viewers may be young, but the average age is 29 with a growing base of older adults and women year over year.
Geographically, the areas in the US with the most viewership span coastlines, from California to Florida.
Global esports viewership is highest in the US, China, South Korea, Sweden and Denmark. Esports fans expand continents and as viewership increases, the fan base is projected to become more diverse.
Esports fans have money, good jobs and a willingness to spend
With esports fans having such a healthy income, many brands are wondering how they can get into the esports advertising game. And for good reason.
IAB found that approximately “43% of esports enthusiasts have an annual household income of $75,000 with just under one-third (31%) reporting an income of $90,000 or higher.”
Esports fans continue to break attendance numbers at live events and the amount of money spent on special passes and unique merchandise is nothing to spit at—in many cases selling out in a matter of minutes.
Fans continue to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ frequently donating to their favorite streamers through Twitch.
This monetary act says something, considering esports entertainment can be accessed for free. When the stream is over, players can pocket a few bengies or several thousand dollars from donations and tips alone.
Booming industry with massive potential
- Many American male millennials find esports just as popular as compared to more traditional sports like baseball or hockey.
- 76% of esports enthusiasts are choosing to reduce time spent watching traditional sporting events and opting for esports instead.
- There is a pocket of about six million US esports fans that do not watch baseball, hockey, basketball or football.
Esports fans want to be thoughtfully engaged by brands
According to the Esports Playbook, “58% of esports fans in the US have positive attitudes towards brand involvement in esports.”
This presents an opportunity for brands to get in front of an enthusiastic audience, made up of people from different backgrounds, ages, genders, and geographic locations. Esports fans are passionate about the sport and are willing to spend on brands that can build an authentic connection with them.
What Motivates Esports Fans?
It’s important for brands looking to invest in the esports market to identify their esports audience (there are several) and understand the dedicated online communities for each game and their motivations.
Common motivations for esports fans:
- Relationship building
- Game upskilling
- Entertainment/live spectatorship
It’s equally important to understand fan gaming tastes which typically fall into these categories:
- Player vs. Player (PvP)
- First-Person Shooter (FPS)
- Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
- Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG)
Esports fans also use different social media platforms for varying purposes. For current esports news fans turn to Twitter. If they’re looking for an esports meme, Instagram. Post-match analysis, Reddit.
Esports Advertising Opportunities
There are many opportunities for brands to advertise to esports fans.
- Partner with esports players and influencers for cross-channel promotion
- Launch an esports team
- Prize pools
- Host online and live team events
- Co-sponsor an event
- Branded merchandise and collectibles
- Event signage (tickets, rosters, billboards)
Anyone trying to get their product or brand name in front of esports fans should consider sponsoring a prize pool.
Often this comes with the brand’s name in the competition title, “ABC Overwatch Tournament.”
Esports prize pools are one of the main incentives for competition. Professional esports teams have the opportunity to win a sizable amount of money via the prize pool, which is based on performance and top placement in live competitions.
Over-the-top (OTT) Advertising
Over-the-top advertising is a great method of content delivery, especially for getting in front of entire households and niche audiences, such as a specific type of esports fan.
OTT advertising allows brands to be very intentional and targeted in their audience selection—dialing in on a very granular level like zip codes and household income.
These particular tactics ensure ads will only appear to a high-intent audience most likely to engage with your brand, products or services. Because of this, OTT ads also minimize ad spend waste.
Direct Brand Sponsorship
Big brands are organizing direct brand sponsorships with popular teams across the globe—and you can too.
Add your logo to just about anything—tournament signage, team rosters, and other digital promotional materials.
Marketing an Athlete's Brand
Marketing an esports athlete's brand involves several steps, not dissimilar to those taken for traditional sports stars. However, the digital nature of esports provides some unique opportunities.
1. Establishing a Unique Identity: The first step in marketing an athlete's brand is to establish a unique identity. This could be based on the athlete's style of play, personality, or even particular skills. This identity should be consistent across all platforms and communications.
2. Engaging with Fans: One of the most significant advantages of esports is the ability to engage with fans directly. Athletes can interact with their audience through live streams, social media posts, and fan meetups. Engagement can also be deepened by sharing behind-the-scenes content, participating in Q&A sessions, or hosting fan tournaments.
3. Collaborations and Partnerships: Collaborating with other athletes, influencers, or brands can help expand an athlete's audience and reach. This could include streaming together, creating content, or endorsing products.
4. Merchandising: Merchandising is a common revenue source and marketing tool. This could include clothing, gaming equipment, or digital items like in-game skins or emotes. Items should be high-quality and reflect the athlete's brand and identity.
5. Personal Branding Across Platforms: Athletes should have a consistent presence across multiple platforms. This includes streaming platforms like Twitch or YouTube, social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram, and esports platforms like Steam or Discord. Consistency across platforms helps increase recognition and recall.
6. Building a Community: One of the most effective ways to market an athlete's brand is to build a community around them. This could be a dedicated fan club, a Discord server, or a subreddit. A strong community can provide support, spread word-of-mouth, and even help create content for the athlete.
Earned media opportunities remain a great way to build brand trust. And esports enthusiasts are not only eager to purchase but want to purchase from brands they feel good about.
Online features in niche gaming publications and traditional media pickup provide trustworthy third-party coverage.
While you’re not directly paying for this type of brand exposure, earned media is a worthwhile investment of time and shouldn’t be overlooked when developing a holistic esports marketing strategy.
Tickets and Merchandise
Brands are seeing increased brand awareness by adding their logo to team jerseys, event merchandise, and even tickets to these large tournaments with staggering prize pools.
Based on a 2019 report released by Statistica, “Revenue from ticket sales, concessions, and merchandise in the esports market is expected to increase from 4.42 million US dollars in 2017 to over 63 million US dollars in 2023.”
The key to sustainable success is a multi-pronged marketing strategy, sell merch where you stream.
Twitch and YouTube remain the most popular social streaming platforms for esports fans and both battle for market share.
According to SVP, Global Sports Gaming Consultant, Matt Hill, “A content creator can, and should, use both platforms, as either one is a good choice when trying to grow your brand and audience. YouTube now may be able to attract a wider, avid and casual, gaming consumer.”
Esports Demographics Quick Facts
Brands that are planning to enter or expand their reach in the global market should consider investing time and resources into esports advertising. The key is to identify the right esports audience that aligns with your brand. Below is a snippet of main characteristics.
- Young: 18-34-year-olds
- Annual income: $100,000+
- Willingness to pay
- Diverse global audience
- Large motivated audience that keeps growing