Implementing new types of programming can be intimidating for groups, especially those that are interested in connecting with their communities through video games. The newness of the esports industry, the lack of educational resources, and the stigmas around gaming can create barriers and foster a divide between ‘the old way’ and ‘the new way.’
Mission Control wants to start a new conversation, one that helps to educate decision makers about esports programming and dispels the negativity attributed to video games. By starting a webinar series focused on learning, we can help bring connection and friendly competition to people of all ages.
Andrew Madison (A), Sales Manager, caught up with two experts in the esports industry, Rebecca Longawa (R) and John Davidson (J), to discuss the marketing and promotion of leagues. Rebecca and John talked to webinar attendees about the three keys to marketing and promotion in esports; who to market to, how to leverage participation, and how to generate revenue. Read the transcript below to learn more!
R: I think what's important is to understand the broader implications of getting involved in the esports and gaming industry. When I talked to a lot of non-endemic brands we have an entire process of helping managers sell the idea to the c-suite executives and it takes quite a bit of time to get the education across to them that creates the buy-in for them to open up the hands to dollars to invest in the space. We’re seeing great results in that and one of the one of the biggest things to understand about the industry is--and I came from traditional sports--when you think about everything that goes into a traditional sports team; managing, running, promoting, marketing a traditional sports team. A lot of people want their kids to go and they want them to go work in the NBA, they know their child might not be an NBA player, but the idea that your son or daughter can go and work for the Miami Heat or Orlando Magic or the Cleveland Cavaliers is such a cool idea. And everybody understands that concept. Esports is a very similar, very robust, industry. So when you have your children, your teens, and even young adults, I'm getting a lot of college graduates--maybe two years out of college--that went down a traditional corporate route or in traditional sports that are now reaching saying “you know I've always loved gaming--I want your job, I want to do what you get to do. There're so many phenomenal careers in regards to the industry level positions that are necessary in order to run pro-teams, tech companies, there's production companies, media companies, and even we’re seeing traditional service companies like a chiropractor that I know has an esports emphasis on his Chiropractic services and is working with gamers and streamers. So it's a very robust organization and industry that when you understand the complexity and the sophistication within the industry it does help buy-in on many levels of decision-making ability for these companies to say “okay we can be a part of building this next generation of thought leaders and innovators. It's not just about creating a space for kids to play video games and they're going to play video games for a living forever, it’s a lot deeper than that.”
J: Building opportunities for careers within that industry that go far and beyond actually playing video games on the stage. That's very well said.
R: Well you said it in like one sentence. It took me a lot.
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A: You’ve got to give them all perspectives. They've got that answered perfectly. So the next layer to this then is that we have a pretty good understanding of why we're doing this, why we should jump in and why we should market esports and stuff like that. The next question can be a little bit different for each of our communities, a parks department is different from a college, but there could be a one-word answer I think. But who should an organization be looking to market, especially recreational gaming, to?
J: I think that you want to match what your target audience is already with an audience within esports. So important to understand is that we talk about esports and sports in very different ways. Nobody says “hey are you marketing to the sports audience? It's 7 billion people globally!” You know, we don't say that because we understand there's different audiences within basketball, baseball, soccer, football, etc. It’s actually the same in esports where a lot of people don't realize that who are first coming into the space is that there's about 20 different video games that comprise the world of esports. In the same way that baseball and basketball have very different demographic fanbases, Call of Duty and League of Legends have very different demographic fan bases. What you want to do is you want to take a look behind the curtain, whether it's publishers, whether it’s Mission Control that has this data or partners that do, who can share “hey, if you're trying to target this specific demographic, you probably want to focus on Rocket League. Or let's focus on Smash. Or let's focus on fortnite.” You can also have a mix of these things so it's really cool that the sport industry, like we said earlier, you know everybody's playing games all the way up until about 35. This age group can get a lot older than people realize that it also skews very young as well and so you can go very broad with it or you can go very targeted. That's a big benefit but make sure that you're staying true to your brand and your audience and then the next step is to say “okay, let me find that audience within the esports space.”
R: And I think you can develop layers so you can say we're going to do a Rocket League tournaments and leagues and we're going to target this demographic, the age group, which can skew a little bit younger. Maybe it's middle school, maybe you do a Rocket League family league. Rocket League is extremely comprehensible, it’s easy to understand, it's watchable. It's fun to watch because you don't have a hard time understanding what's happening. It's a car pushing a soccer ball into a goal. That can be very family-oriented. Or you can say “we're going to do a 18+ league or a 21+ league, and we're going to really target Call of Duty players because Call of Duty's been around for a really long time. You’ve got Dad's who are still getting together with their friends playing Call of Duty one night a week. Find that audience and bring them in the fold and then your marketing tactics and your strategy to reach them which should be a very heavy digital strategy. You can use mirroring tactics from paid social to already tap into the existing communities in your home market area.
A: I think targeting by game type is interesting. Like you said, the Call of Duty, yes there are fourteen year olds playing Call of Duty, but there's probably a lot more playing Fortnite or Rocket League or something along those lines. For Call of Duty, that's what I grew up playing, that's what John or Rebecca you might have grown up playing. So those adult leagues may be more geared towards that versus Super Smash Bros (which also is a little nostalgic as well) honestly that can be even for the adult leagues. There's certainly crossovers there but I think focusing on the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ you should try to do these marketing tactics. When it comes to youth gamers, what are your suggestions? What would be your suggestion to a community if they're trying to market to a youth league. How should I go about doing so? What are some of the best ways for them to do that outside of choosing specific games?
J: You need to be extra careful, part of it is not just the game but is also targeting the platforms that they communicate on. Whether that’s TikTok, whether that's Snapchat, whether it’s Discord. We talked about targeting with video games, you also want to target with the social platform. If you're trying to reach young people, Facebook is probably not the best platform as [Facebook] typically skews older. It's also important to understand that in the same way we were talking about, you can't really pull these audiences to you, you need to go to them. Really understand which platforms they’re on. I really encourage a lot of people to look into Discord to understand how to utilize it properly because that's where the gaming community is--especially younger people. So if you're trying to pull them to yourself, make sure that you're not just using your typical communication strategies and platforms that you've used for other things. This doesn't mean it's not going to work, but definitely double-check that with the natural behavior of the esports and gaming communities. I think also when you compare stuff with some physical activities as well, we talked about all these parks and rec departments. I’m a big fan of pairing physical activities with gaming. I don't agree that you should have people sitting down all the time. Promoting esports and leagues to kids is not an argument for not having an active lifestyle, it's simply bringing them in so that you can form their lives in a positive way. In a way that's going to be the hook to bring them. You pair something like Rocket League with soccer, because those are very similar, or FIFA with soccer. These sports simulator games. There are a variety of ways that I see targeting and bringing the youth to you.
A: Something that we even suggest is that there's the marketing directly to the youth, but then there's the parents. I've never signed myself up for baseball league, I still haven't to this day I don't think, so going through the parents is another approach where maybe Facebook does work but you use it to say “hey parents, let's let's get your kids involved in something that they really enjoy. And actually build structure around it instead of them playing until 1 o’clock in the morning every night.”
J: I mean my mom still signs me up for baseball leagues as well. You want it to be cool for the kid and safe for the parent. Understanding the motivations. I have a 5 year old son, and if my son really wants to do something that he’s super hyped on I'm really going to look into that because I want my child to do something that he really enjoys. Then also pairing that with the desires and influence for the parent. If you can really communicate that this is going to be something healthy--if the kids are playing video games at home all the time anyway. If your communication is “hey where to bring them in to play games” [the parents] are like “I already got that problem!” But if you say “hey we're going to bring him in to play games and we're also going to foster these STEAM and STEM based opportunities, we’re going to open their eyes to opportunities beyond just being on the stage. We're going to foster team building and leadership and how to treat people the right way, winning and losing in appropriate ways. I think those are the types of communications that you want to share with parents. Great point that the parents are just as important as the child with communication.
A: Rebecca it looked like you were about to say something a minute ago.
R: I was just going to agree with John on a communication strategy that is really targeted based on the platforms that you're on. Similar to understanding what games people are playing on mobile vs. console vs. PC and what those demographics are and what games are most popular and what age range of people are playing those games. This is very likened to which platforms people engage, with what social, and at what ages are they engaging. How are they engaging and as a brand, how are you able to communicate to those audiences in an authentic way? Or market to them through a paid strategy? It can be complex, that's why our careers exist because we specialize in working directly with brands and businesses to figure out where they should be spending their dollars in order to reach that next generation of consumers. It’s holistic, it’s important for kids because it's been proven it's important to them. So if it's important to them then it's all of our responsibilities to make sure that it is important for them--and that's on us. That's on the adults in the room to ensure that platforms like this exist so there is a safe place for kids to game together. It's already important to them, they're already going to do it, so let's do it in a really catered way that all of the points John made about the ways you can layer in education and community and civic duty. So that's how you convince them because it's literally the elephant in the room, it's glaring, it's right there in front of us. Then the communication strategy is very complex, and I'm sure for everyone who's listening in on this that's the nut they're trying to crack. How exactly are they going to grow the program to, get the buy-in, and bring the right people to come in and to participate. The next layer on top of that is how do you get community brands involved to layer and sponsor and help monetize this platform that you have invested in.
A: You're just hitting our next to topics, you’re teasing them! To your point of “it's important to them so let's make it important for them,” I already can see Maia on our team quoting you and putting that everywhere. That’s a great quote. I love that one. You are hitting on the second topic already in a lot of your answers so I’m going to let you kind of keep on running with this. This is one that you mentioned that you wanted to make sure that we just talked about today. It is communication, it's how you properly communicate to your community for the best results to achieve that long-term buy-in, that long-term participation. Rebecca, I want to toss it back over you to finish what you were already kind of putting in some work on there.
R: I see that John put a little note here on the benefits of gaming as a community versus individuals. We know that young people are gaming and historically over the past 30 years that's what we've been doing. That’s what I did as a young person as well, fake sick so I could stay home and eat cinnamon toast and play Mario Brothers and Tetris all day. That’s what kids love to do, they love to game. So the fear is and the misconception has been that kids are playing alone, but the reality is most of them--while you see them with their headset on, maybe on their PC or on a console--may be perceived that they're alone, but they're not. They're usually playing in a lobby with a lot of other people. The issue is you don't know who those people are a lot of times, as a parent I don't know who my son is gaming with all the time. I know on certain nights of the week exactly who he’s gaming with because he's in a little isolated club with kids from school. But a lot of times there's toxicity and there's a lot of other issues going [on] there so a community like Mission Control is a solve for community rec leagues and community building opportunities within the cities and districts. I have been having conversations with the U.S. Council of Mayors about platforms like this and ways that we can create gaming as really large municipality programs. There's definitely a need for the community and everyone has a need for community, we’re feeling that right now with Covid. They're going to create their own community anyways and that’s where John’s talking a lot about Discord. That’s where a lot of these conversations are happening and where kids keep meeting each other and they're gaming together because they’re meeting on these different Discord servers. So it's really just creating the space and then getting them to adopt this as where they're going to come and they’re going to game. I think that by tapping into different existing programs where we know youth are already together--whether it's it's cross-promoting with church youth groups or cross-promoting with existing schools, cross-promoting with other clubs and really kind of coming together--I think one really interesting thing could be the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club each have Mission Control, market it, and then do they do they play against each other? Or play together certain times? Or create events together? There's a lot of ways that we can really align existing pockets of community and bring this kind of to the forefront.
J: The only thing I’d add to that, it was really well said, is consistency can have a long-term perspective on it. Don't get discouraged if you're having very little or very slow growth at the very beginning. This is a very skeptical community and I think more so for brands than parks and recs and youth organizations, but still they want to make sure that you're in it for them. This is a group of people who are marketed to all the time by organizations that are in it for themselves or just trying to get eyeballs and dollars, and so it's a skeptical community but consistency and being in it for the long term is so important. This group of people isn't so much concerned that you're coming into their space as they're concerned that you're going to get what they want from them and then leave. So showing that you do--there is a variety of ways to show this--that you are there long-term for them, that's going to go a long way.
R: I also think that pulling some stats, John’s asking about research, so there are a lot of benefits to gaming. You can do a simple search and pull reports and pull some of those bullets through and use them in your marketing tactics. In gaming there's cognitive benefits, improved coordination, problem solving skills, it enhances your memory, it improves attention concentration, I mean our US military literally has taken really complex (I don't even know what they would call them) controllers, the control systems, that they used to use to use drones and fly planes. They have modified those to be just like Xbox controllers. There's literally a power to the way that the brain works and how you can amplify gaming in order to bring into the business world, to bring into the tech world, it is a great source of learning and it enhances your ability to multitask and it greatly improves social skills. A lot people would think that it's the opposite of that, but the data shows that it greatly improves someone's ability to have better social skills. What we've learned, in terms of doing a lot of data and pulling some things from New Zoo, is that gamers are more likely to be civically engaged, they are more likely to be charitable, they are more likely to to be creative. There's so many benefits within this space that once you start pulling some of these reports and digging into the data, that you can layer them into some of your internal communication strategy and have it bleed into an external communication strategy.
A: Awesome. Great stuff. You also hit on this one a few minutes ago as well, you touched on monetization there for a second but I want to take 5 minutes or so to actually talk about it a little more in-depth. There's two parts to it but let's just start off with that John, just the idea of how can traditional recreation leverage Mission Control? Leverage esports for revenue?
J: It's a great question, currently in the esports ecosystem, sponsorship revenue is the number one source of revenue. That can be a little bit volatile, from a sports standpoint, if we look at traditional sports it's media rights. They have these multi-year, 10 billion dollar deals plus, that are very long-term and are very stable. When you look at esports, part of the reason why sponsorship revenue is the number one source of revenue is all these brands and their agencies are saying “where is the youth?” The viewership of traditional TV is declining, the viewership of traditional sports is declining, what are they doing? It’s video games! So like I said earlier, esports is a smaller piece of the broader video game market but the broader video game market is very difficult to integrate into consistently over time. Esports has familiar sponsor-able assets, you have teams, leagues, venues, jerseys, all sorts of things that you can put your logo on. Now, your strategy needs to be much more than just a logo, you need to actually enhance the experience of the community to be accepted. That’s probably another webinar to get all into that, but what I would say is you talked about revenue, sponsorship, what drives sponsorship dollars? Dealership, attendance, eyeballs, because we know that most of these young people are playing video games, if can create a program that is really doing exactly what Rebecca said-- fostering their biggest passion, enabling them to enjoy more of what they love--you're going to have that attendance. Then you're going to naturally have brands that are seeking to engage this audience so something like Mission Control does a great job about integrating these things. So you have sponsorship revenue there. The other ones that are from a broader esports industry standpoint or lower but you obviously want to have multiple revenue streams. Merchandise is something that you can do and so if you have something that makes people feel like “this is mine, this is my league, this is my team,” that can be a secondary way. You have some traditional revenue opportunities, as traditional Sports as far as events go, so you can picture all the different ways you have to make money. When you have a live event those are going to be consistent with esports as well, of course, once events come back. Covid obviously has limited the revenue potential for everything and esports is truly one of those two that because you can do it on a string, you don't have to be in person, you can still have sponsorship dollars come in without a live event (although that's something obviously we're all very much looking forward to).
A: Like softball or indoor soccer you’ve got, around the back, on the fence there's the little banners of the local deli, the bar, whatever back there. That’s what we did with those in-person type things, even still, there’s opportunities for those in different ways. Digital ways, whether it's through our platform or Discord or email, or different things like that to incorporate those types of brands. Rebecca, is there anything else that you want to input here on the use of brands specifically for our community here today? The idea of local brands getting tied into the community and how that can support monetization?
R: I think it just comes down to tactics. Having an understanding of what are those tangible assets that can be integrated into your Mission Control platform and then looking in your home market area for brands that are interested in reaching that younger demographic. And what are they trying to solve, who are they trying to reach and why? An interesting type of concept would be reaching out to maybe a fast food chain and instead of, and a franchised one would be best because they have local owners, so try to find a franchised local food chain and this is one of the tactics we’re utilizing here with our local Call of Duty team. Having conversations around the biggest gap they have, it isn't selling fast-food, people want to come in all the time. It's finding kids who are looking for jobs. They have a need for employees. So, can you create an ‘apply for this job’ type of a call to action within your platform for a local organization? You have to speak with them about what is in it for the brand that you're talking to, and the audience that you have meeting those needs. So really coming up with those types of creative executable ideas, have a dedicated retail partner that’s maybe a local Ace Hardware, that you can promote some of things within there. And one of the things that I did want to highlight is that I've been working with some nonprofits on how they can start raising money. I think a misstep that's been happening since Covid is they’re used to doing golfing events or galas, and they’ve been doing these digital Galas and they're really not fun to watch. They're just not engaging. People complain to me all the time about how they feel obligated to go and do this thing. So what we do know is people have a lot of fun engaging in esports competitions, whether they're paying for a charitable tournament, so they may be paid $20 to participate in the bracketed tournament. That’s their donation so that's a write-off, or you bring those brand partners--and a lot of times you can find a larger brand partner to sponsor a tournament that you’re hosting or sponsor your league that is specifically for that charity. Then you can still solicit what those silent auction items are that you would normally be able to go around and pick up from local companies and you bleed those in as the contest items and the giveaways. You can even layer in some of these third-party systems like a Gleam and you go to a team like Gleam you go to Vast and you put a program together that if they sign up for your Mission Control, then they go into a contest to win maybe a Scuf Gaming controller or maybe a really cool Jersey. Really just thinking about those tangible tactics to do that outreach that then further ties into the monetization.
J: Yeah charity is fantastic within esports it's extremely effective so absolutely I go with Rebecca from the charity component.
A: Thank you for finishing that question and now we have 12 minutes left and I know there was a good bit of chatter going on.
R: Well I’m loving to read that everyone is literally collaborating in this chat about the resources they've developed and being willing to share with one another, that is just like giving me tingles as I'm reading through these.
A: That’s what we hope for, not only are you guys providing good information but now people are in the chat providing what’s working and not working for them over there. That is exactly what I intended with today so that's fantastic.
With that, the Mission Control learning series webinars have officially started! Navigate to the Mission Control Learn page to register for our next webinar.