Unpacking esports around the globe

Eddy Sidani
  • November 24, 2020
  • Eddy Sidani
With the recent release of next generation gaming consoles, we uncover which esports properties perform greatest across 18 of the world's largest markets.
With the recent release of next generation gaming consoles, and being in the middle of video game awards season, we decided to investigate which esports properties perform greatest across 18 of the world's largest markets.

Two weeks ago, the world was introduced to the next generation of video gaming as Sony and Microsoft released the long-awaited PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S respectively. Last week, nominations were announced for the 2020 edition of The Game Awards - taking place on December 10th – which will recognize excellence in video game development and esports performance. Tonight, the Golden Joystick Awards will be distributed to developers and video game creators who will forever lay claim to 'game of the year' status. To honor the video game and esports world, we decided to examine various esports properties through a sponsorship opportunity lens to see which leagues, teams, and events perform the best across the globe.

League of Legends Reigns at the top of the ladder

League of Legends (LoL/League) – developed by Riot Games – is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game which is often cited as the world’s largest esport. For example, the League of Legends World Championship is one of the most watched esports events in the world, drawing over 100 million viewers each year. Understanding the significance that LoL plays in the esports landscape, we decided to dive into the data and highlight the consumer insight that makes this property so valuable to potential sponsors.

This past October, we partnered with SportsPro Media to release a list of the 50 Most Marketable Sport Properties (SP50MM) in the world. Generated by the SponsorPulse™ Opportunity Score (our universal, insight-driven currency) we ranked the sport properties that present the greatest sponsorship opportunities globally. Within that list, the highest ranked esports property was League of Legends, which placed 12th among all other major sport leagues, teams, and events. In fact, the only other esports property to crack the SP50MM list was the Call of Duty League (CDL), which ranked 41st.

When measuring the properties for the SP50MM, League of Legends achieved a global Opportunity Score of 28, like other major sport properties such as the Premier League, Liverpool F.C., FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Formula One. To get a better understanding of where the property performs best, we measured and compared LoL’s performance across 18 of the largest global markets. We found that it ranks highest in China, generating a SponsorPulse™ Opportunity Score of 42. According to SponsorPulse™ data, 56% of Chinese consumers engage with League, and 1-in-4 of these people would consider purchasing from a brand that sponsors the competition in a way that they like. These are some of the factors (among others) that make LoL such a powerful sponsorship opportunity in China. The top esports property also performs well in Germany and many Latin American countries (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, & Columbia), proving that it truly does have international appeal. The demographic data also shows that regardless of market, Millennials and Generation Z have much higher levels of engagement and affinity towards League of Legends than other generations.

The growth and popularity of esports

Though dating back as far as the 70’s, esports have seen rapid, global growth since the mid 2000’s. Initially perceived as exclusively amateur, gamers and video game enthusiasts have demonstrated the value of their once-niche activity by showing up in great numbers to numerous competitions and events. Make no mistake about it, esports are no longer considered niche or amateur in nature. Rather, they have 1) massive followings of dedicated fans, 2) professional gamers who receive lucrative endorsement deals, 3) international appeal that positions them as major sponsorship opportunities, and 4) significant levels of momentum that make a case for inclusion in multi-sport events. Completely redefining the boundaries of professional sport, esports (and those that produce them) have created an entirely new area of interest for businesses to invest in. Because of the influential status that many of these pro-gamers carry, brands view these athletes as major sponsorship opportunities to achieve their business goals. For example, international gaming phenom Tyler “Ninja” Belvins led the Forbes inaugural list of top-earning gamers in 2019, having brought in $17 million (USD). The interesting factor is that Ninja only won $100,000 from competitions – the rest of his income resulting from endorsements, fees, and sponsorships. Continuing with this theme, Green Man Gaming reported that esports revenues reached over $1 billion in 2019 ($173 million in prize money) and that over 443 million viewers tuned in throughout the year, demonstrating the popularity and potential in this genre of sport.

Using SponsorPulse™ data, we can measure the popularity of esports and esports competitions across the globe. One interesting metric is Momentum, defined as the percentage of people who engage with esports that expect their interest to increase over the next 12 months. This is a great indicator of growth for sponsors as it demonstrates where there is potential for future engagement and passion for the property. When we explore Momentum scores, we see that the greatest esports momentum are Columbia (29%), Mexico (28%), and Brazil (28%). These Latin American countries present intriguing opportunities for brands who are looking to invest in promising markets that have a growing interest in esports. Furthermore, esports properties looking to apply additional buff to their sponsorship portfolios should strongly consider partnering with a fantasy gaming website or a cryptocurrency company, as these represent some of the stronger category purchasing behaviors of people who engage with esports.


Top esports properties in the world

As mentioned earlier, SponsorPulse™ partnered with SportsPro Media to produce a list of the 50 Most Marketable Sport Properties in the world. Although only two esports properties cracked the list, we ranked other leagues, competitions, and teams to take the conversation beyond just the top 50. Once again, the top two esports properties that made the SP50MM are League of Legends and Call of Duty League with SponsorPulse™ Opportunity Scores of 28 and 17, respectively. The next 15 esports properties received Opportunity Scores from 9-14, demonstrating the relative equality of sponsorship opportunity between these remaining leagues, teams, and events.

Following LoL and CDL, the next 5 most marketable esports properties in the world are: Overwatch League, Major League Gaming, Fortnite World Cup, Evolution Championship Series, and ESL (formerly Electronic Sports League). These properties each received SponsorPulse™ Opportunity Scores ranging from 12-14. The title for most marketable esports team in the world goes to G2 Esports, also with an Opportunity Score of 12. However, other teams such as Cloud9, Fnatic, Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses, Team SoloMid, FaZe Clan and OpTic Gaming finished just shy and received Opportunity Scores of 10 or 11, proving just how competitive these teams are both in-game and off the field of play.


Using data to tell a compelling story

If you told marketing managers in the 1990s that the video game industry was going to present a greater sponsorship opportunity than most traditional sport forums by the end of 2020, they would likely disregard you and never return any of your emails or PalmPilot messages again. Thankfully by now, most of the marketing industry acknowledges the potential of esports and the reality that sponsorship marketing has evolved a great deal over the past 30 years. We have reached a point where these strategic partnerships provide value to both parties and are pitched as business solutions rather than charitable donations. We regularly witness extraordinary activations and unique strategies that often make this industry feel like an artform itself. Continuing this evolutionary track, we find ourselves starting to rely more on consumer insights to ensure we are spending our precious marketing dollars optimally. At SponsorPulse™, we encourage our clients to use data and analytics to assess different sponsorship opportunities, and ensure they make the best decisions for their businesses.

If you would like to learn more about esports data and how to use consumer insights to strengthen your sponsorship portfolio, or if you wish to read more sponsorship content, visit www.sponsorpulse.com!