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In The Competition Between Esports And Traditional Sports, The Winner Is Clear

Zachary Heinemann, Head of Quantitative Research

January 14, 2021

5 minute read

World-class competition, top tier tournaments, edge-of-your-seat excitement and passionate fans. What were once the hallmarks of traditional sports leagues are now as readily associated with another form of competitive entertainment - esports. The comparison between esports leagues, such as Call of Duty League and Overwatch League, and their real-world counterparts, such as the NFL and NBA, has been happening since esports first made its mark in the gaming world and has only increased as the buzz around esports has grown. 

2020 proved to be a watershed year for esports, with a heightened need for online entertainment fuelling its growth. While many traditional sports competitions were placed on hold or canceled, esports leagues continued to deliver elite-level competition on a global stage thanks to the virtual world in which it inhabits. This ability to operate in an online environment is one of esports key differentiators to traditional sports and helped it further establish its place in mainstream entertainment culture. 

Esports is a platform unlike any other. It provides an intersection for sport and entertainment with the power of a young, diverse, highly-engaged, and affluent audience. In an increasingly virtual world, esports provides social connectivity and shared experience in a way that extends beyond a single match or league. When people are unable to interact face-to-face, they turn to video games and esports as a way to connect, interact, and escape. Esports unites players, fans, and viewers, and gives us a glimpse into the future of digital entertainment and fan engagement. 

For brands looking to be part of this future, the appeal of esports advertising is clear - access to this highly engaged and passionate fan base. But it’s not just esports’ ability to thrive in a virtual world that gives it a competitive advantage when compared to traditional sports leagues. Esports advertising is more effective at maintaining audiences’ attention, making it a valuable space for marketers. 

A new immersive biometric study by Activision Blizzard Media took a closer look at the impact of advertising and sponsorships on hundreds of esports and traditional sports viewers. Esports was shown to be better at keeping viewer attention during sponsorship ads, resulting in higher performance on lower-funnel brand metrics, such as recommendation intent, when compared to traditional sports. During sponsorship ads, the immersion (measured as the attention and emotional response of the viewer) was sustained for esports viewers in comparison to traditional sports audiences, where there was a decrease. For marketers looking to capture and sustain the attention of viewers for better message transfer, this increase in immersion throughout the viewing experience is significant and underscores the intrinsic value of esports advertising.

Esports viewers are also more accepting of advertisements than traditional sports fans. Passionate about the game and their favorite teams, esports fans recognize the role of advertising in growing the industry and the leagues, and view brands that support their favorite pastime positively. This brand favorability as well as brand perception are both significantly higher for esports advertising than traditional sports.

“It's really impressive to see [brands]... starting to pick up these esports teams...When I was younger, I couldn’t even name a sponsor...I think [ads/sponsorships] will improve the quality of the production and improve the quality of the stream, the athletes, and their experience and I think that’s really important.” - Charles, 22 yrs

There is plenty of buzz and excitement around esports and the opportunities it presents for advertisers but as this research shows, it is not a case of style over substance. Esports’ outperformance on key immersion metrics when compared to traditional sports demonstrate its merit in delivering measurable impact for brands. Esports has emerged not simply as an alternative to sports sponsorships, but as a legitimate advertising media channel in its own right - one that can reach the most exclusive audiences in advertising and provide impact above and beyond traditional sports sponsorships. The comparisons between esports and traditional sports may be easy to make, but when it comes to ad effectiveness, esports advertising stands on its own.

Research methodology: This study was conducted in partnership with global research firm Alter Agents. It utilized three methodologies involving people responding to various pieces of content (from esports to traditional sports) during and after viewing: immersion and neurological data collected during viewing (N = 145), surveying on brand perceptions after viewing (N = 3,687), and in-depth interviews after viewing (N = 8).

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