Esports are well and truly here, and they look set to stay. Last year, 16 year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf grabbed headlines after taking home a first prize of $3 million in the inaugural Fortnite World Cup tournament. Intel then announced it is hosting the first Olympics-sanctioned esports tournament in the run up to Tokyo 2020. At the end of 2019, the industry was valued at over $1 billion dollars, and its stars easily draw in seven figure sums.
Though esports have existed competitively for around a decade, activity and interest have ramped up in the last couple of years. “It’s one of those things that’s kind of growing exponentially, but no one seems to have heard about it, which is fascinating it itself,” says Paolo Nieddu, global head of strategy at football-focused media platform, Copa90. Yet this insular world is rearing its head and merging with the mainstream – or rather, the mainstream is moving in. Adidas global head of marketing, Robin McCammon, recently pivoted to esports brand Excel, an indication that “there’s going to be a flow in terms of expertise and how the business grows,” Nieddu says.
A handful of brands have sensed the opportunities in the air and plunged their flag into the esports terrain, paving the way for some interesting partnerships in terms of non-endemic brands moving into this space. Nieddu highlights Budweiser in particular as a leading force in this regard, having even applied for a trademark as “the official beer of esports” last year.
Nonetheless, there has been hesitation. The first ePremier League held in 2019 offered no prize money, and the organisers appear reluctant to commit to a second tournament. “I think the view is that it’s still a bit of a wild west out there,” which he largely pins down to the “complexity of the landscape”.