Esports is arguably the fastest growing sport in history. In the last couple years, the growth of e-sport has skyrocketed. Forbes estimates that esports revenues will reach $906 million by the end of 2018. Goldman Sachs’ estimates the current monthly audience of esports is 167 million people. (In comparison, the NFL’s monthly audience is 270 million, the NBA sits at 239 million, MLB is just 114 million and the NHL is just 65 million.)
Esports boasts a younger audience than traditional sports (79% of esports fans are under the age of 35) and is on a completely digital platform, so you can more accurately measure the impact and ROI of sponsorships. Plus, those sponsorships are still available at a relatively low cost.
Huge Growth Potential for Esports
People are paying attention. A handful of artists like Jennifer Lopez, Imagine Dragons, Steve Aoki and now Drake are invested in esports. Athletes like Steph Curry, Marshawn Lynch, and Rick Fox and NFL owner Jerry Jones have invested as well.
We’ve seen the NFL partner with Fortnite to offer NFL uniforms for character avatars. NBA owners have invested in the Overwatch League. McDonald’s Germany dropped their sponsorship of the German Football Association (DFB) for a partnership with popular esports brand ESL. Walmart has partnered with Esports Arena to offer gamers the opportunity to come in and play in select stores. UNLV has created an esports lab in their School of Hospitality.
The Philanthropic Impact of Esports
NBA star Jeremy Lin wrote an article about esports for Quartz where he talked about the huge potential for esports, partly because of the low barrier to entry to get involved. People can play whenever they want as long as they have their smartphone and a wi-fi connection. The games are usually free and don’t depend on being able to get outside or get into a gym.
With the massive growth and popularity of esports, it is great to see several gaming companies already making an impact in their communities. GlobalGiving shared several examples: Humble Bundle has promoted cause-related game bundles, like the Hurricane Relief Bundle, and donated the millions they received in proceeds to disaster relief charities. 343 Industries’ Halo created in-game upgrade packs and donated the proceeds to GlobalGiving’s disaster relief fund.
Big Huge Games raised $16,835 for GlobalGiving’s Puerto Rico & Caribbean Relief Fund. Riot Games matched millions of player donations and was able to give millions to an organization supporting mental health needs as voted on by players. Overwatch raised nearly $12.7 million through a custom in-game skin and branded t-shirts for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the foundation’s largest gift ever from a corporate partner.
Gaming tournaments have also added in charitable components, like the one Destiny2 fans held leading up to GuardianCon that raised over $1.2 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Non-profit fundraisers have started to feature live streams of well-known esports gamers competing to raise money for their cause.
Organizations like Games for Change are working to promote the idea that esports should be used to create real philanthropic impact from inception. Games for Change “empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games and technology that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place.” They inspire youth to be civic minded and learn STEM skills through their Student Challenge, which has students create games about real-world issues and win prizes.
Esports is a huge opportunity for nonprofits and brands to create an even bigger impact in the community. Think about it: the world of esports reaches more people per month than the NHL and MLB. Their players are younger, more civic minded and more diverse than most professional sports fan bases. Per Lin’s article in Quartz, nearly half of US gamers are now women, and more youth of color play video games than their white classmates.
Whether brands work with gaming companies to create custom skins or packages for in-game avatars, host charity tournaments, or help spread awareness campaigns, the social impact that creative community partnerships with esports can create is impressive. The opportunity for engagement in sports philanthropy and sport for development through the broader audience of esports is massive- and it’s only getting bigger.