In fact, gamers are the most followed influencers on YouTube, where three of the top five YouTubers are gamers.
While marketers, parents and everyone else were heads-down trying to figure out what to post on Instagram or how to use Snapchat, gamers were amassing huge followings. From this phenomenon, a new industry emerged: esports.
Esports, which originated in social media, has broken out beyond YouTube and into live events at major venues. Two of the largest events to date were the 2016 League of Legends World Championship Semifinals, held at Madison Square Garden, and its finals, held at Staples Center in Los Angeles, which attracted more than 20,000 in-person attendees and another 43 million viewers online. Similarly, the 2016 International Dota 2 Championship, held at Key Arena in Seattle, drew more than 10,000 attendees and 20 million online viewers.
Why care? Esports is an example of a developing platform where savvy marketers can reach their most-coveted audience: millennials and Gen Z. Successful marketers need to be aware of contemporary trends and unafraid of creating content relevant for it.
Sweet, sharp successes
One brand early to esports was Snickers, which last year teamed up with three top Twitch Gamers, an online gaming community owned by Amazon.com. Hosted by more than 1.5 million broadcasters, this community attracts some 100 million visitors per month. Here, gamers livestream their screens as they compete with one another -- while viewers interact in real time.
Snickers used the social platform to unconventionally reach their audience by translating its "You're Not You When You're Hungry" campaign into a live broadcast prank. Partnering with the three gamers with major followings of well over 1 million between them, Snicker's brief was "start to play terribly because you're hungry." The hungrier the players got, the worse they played. Finally, each walked out and returned as a different person; only after eating a Snickers did they revert to themselves. Viewer interaction went wild with live-commenting throughout the prank.
Similarly, Gillette, positioned around performance and precision, partnered this winter with esports behemoth Electronic Sports League to sponsor the League of Legends Intel Extreme Masters Wolf Championship in Poland, where the brand gave ESL fans the opportunity to customize their own razor handles using 3D printing technology at its RZR MKR Design Studio, as well as providing grooming for all League of Legend competitors.
"It's been exciting and eye-opening as we've immersed ourselves in the gaming community and discovered that both professional and amateur gamers have a lot in common with other premier athletes and sports fanatics," said John Mang, VP at Global Gillette, when the company announced the partnership last February. "Gamers at all levels recognize the importance of precision -- split seconds and minute movements make big differences."
Technology and manufacturing giant Intel also sponsors Twitch.tv. Intel's involvement in esports pushes its technology as the most reliable brand to play, share, stream and encode at high resolutions, with no lag. Importantly, sponsorships build brand awareness among younger consumers who are unaware their gaming is powered by Intel's technology.
To be successful, marketers need to be ready for nontraditional ways and nontraditional platforms to meet their consumers where they are. To be successful and relevant, never forget there's no such thing as a captive audience in today's media. Staying agile and open-minded are the keys to future success. As marketers, we need to engage our audiences on the platforms they're on, whether these resonate with us individually or not.
I'm not sure if esports success will ever lead to a Division 1 scholarship for my son, but I do know that marketers who know how to look outside of their day to day world for new opportunities will survive and grow. Successful brands will take risks to evolve and reach their consumers through new platforms, regardless of what they are or where they came from.