One day at Digital Gaming Revolution – Esports in Antwerp

4Entertainment hosted an esports and big data in gaming business conference in Antwerp last week. As a media partner, we were there in attendance. Topics including esports’ grassroots, football club strategy, marketing plans, investment case studies, legal challenges and more.

There were two rooms and a total of 14 talks in a packed out day. From an esports industry perspective some of the more relevant were from Hector Rodriguez, CEO of OpTic Gaming, Sophia Metz, CEO of Meltdown Bars, Bart Van Essen of Ajax Esports, Chris Hana, CEO of The Esports Observer, Arnaut Kint, Partner at Cresta Law Firm and Heaven Media’s Mark Reed.

Metz discussed how brands would do well to utilise the huge opportunity that grassroots esports represents. We’ll have a piece coming out about this presentation and the plans Meltdown Bars has in-store on ESI tomorrow.

Rodriguez of OpTic Gaming talked about influentials for one of the day’s two final presentations. Speaking at the same time was Mark Reed, CEO of Heaven Media, who boasts over a decade of experience in the industry. Based in Cambridge but with an office opening in North America this year, Reed’s Heaven Media has grown 300% in the past year. It’s a marketing agency which has worked with brands such as Alienware, Discord, Logitech, AMD and more.

Reed spoke about how in esports it’s a case of doing it right, or not at all. His overall message was simple; if you’re not prepared to fully commit to an esports focused sponsorship, then don’t bother doing it.

On the topic of streaming he noted that Twitch is comparatively very expensive alongside other forms of marketing in esports right now. As such it’s risky, and it’s also potentially valueless if you go with the wrong streamer or channel. Brands need to pinpoint exactly what they’re trying to achieve and exactly which demographic they wish to promote to, and plan accordingly. The more relevant you can make your campaign’s content to the fans of a particular streamer of channel, the greater its potential.

Reed did say in regard to Youtube or Twitch personalities, that ‘if done right, they could be the most powerful asset’. This is since it’s not just the amount of eyeballs on a stream, it’s the loyalty aspect of these viewers. Reed also commented on team and tournament sponsorships with the key takeaway being that you must know exactly what you are looking to achieve before launching any campaign.

One company that knows how to create such creative and engaging campaigns is Level99. The firm has worked with the likes of ESL, OG, Immortals, EA and more recently, Red Bull, to name but a few.

Ramin Tahbaz, Account Manager at Level99, opened with a warning; question every statistic, prediction or fact that you hear in and about esports. He said that the ‘only guarantee’ right now is a hell of a lot of learning everyday.

Back in 2015, Level99 worked with a group called Monkey Business to build a new Dota 2 organisation. After a lot of hard graft, OG was born. This is undoubtedly one of Level99’s coolest success stories; the team has since gone on to win four majors and it has the fastest fan growth in the Dota scene. Tahbaz took listeners through the formation and various stages of this creation, and how they loved the fact that ‘what does OG stand for?’ was still being discussed over a year and a half later.

Tahbaz also discussed social media strategy heavily. Another campaign that they worked on with ESL for ESL One New York focused on appealing to a wider audience and giving people food for thought in regards to esports . You can see it below…

It was met with criticism by a well-known community figure Semmler who tweeted: “How fucking cringe is this ESL ad for NY . Who cares if sports gives a shit about esports- got to drop insecurity angle”. Rather than reeling, the Level99 team were delighted. It led to debate which led to higher viewership figures which led to more debate. In Tahbaz’s words; “Don’t be boring. It’s better to try and get it wrong. Simply put the only failure is in not trying whatsoever. You don’t need to please everyone but aim to create something people will want to talk about. Boring won’t make you successful.”

Elsewhere at Digital Gaming Revolution, Arnaut Kint, a Partner at Cresta Law Firm, discussed the plentiful legal challenges that have arisen with the growth of the esports industry. Cresta assisted on the first Belgian FIFA pro to sign with a professional club which saw Twikii sign for Standard Liege. Kint also elaborated on how the esports ecosystem differs greatly to that of traditional sports and this means differences legally too, and the significant issues created by the lack of regulatory and legal framework in esports as a whole.

Chris Hana of TEO was brave enough to make some predictions. He stated that there’ll be more investments, a consolidation of the market, a far greater local push and, most controversially, the elimination of multiple endemics. This final point he labelled as inevitable, and attributes it to the major players and universal brands waiting at the edges, including Under Armour, Nike and more.

He also echoed the point of Level99’s Ramin Tahbaz earlier in the day in urging everyone present to question every stat they read. Hana noted that the examples of investments by major companies in Europe, whilst impressive, are based on localised European marketing budgets: France in the case of Adidas, and Vodafone within Germany and Spain.

Another interesting presentation was that by Ajax Esports Marketing and Partnerships Manager Bart Van Essen. He detailed how the media value of the club’s first esports signing’ Koen Weijland, was greater than that of the football club’s biggest summer transfer in 2016.

As such this is some proof of the big opportunity it represents for brands, especially with social media engagement. Van Essen asserted: “We want to be the best club in Europe” which is testament to how dedicated the Dutch club is to esports. Ajax Esports currently has four full-time employees across marketing, social and content.

This is in addition to its now two strong team of players; Dani Hagebeuk joined some months after Koen. In terms of engagement, Dani went from 600 to 30,000 Instagram followers which says much for the potential of big football clubs’ involvement in the FIFA scene. The club’s ‘Ziggo eRoom’ purpose built facility enables Ajax Esports to do live streams, and naturally the club’s footballers, both academy and senior, get involved making for some great content.

Van Essen did agree that the challenge lies in the acceptance of Ajax Esports by the old guard of fans. He stated that FIFA is a natural fit and easier to accept. As for expansion into other titles he responded: “Maybe we’ll expand into other games but for now it’s too hard to explain to our older fans.”

Ajax Esports’ understandable reluctance to move into other titles for the time-being is reminiscent of a wider problem in esports; that of big brands toying with the space but either not committing quite yet or not committing extensively. As TEO’s Chris Hana predicted, this should change in the near future but the repercussions for current industry stakeholders remains to be seen.

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