Brad-Nierenberg-2-redpeg-experiential event companyOpinion: Why Marketers Need to Get into the Only Games Being Played 

It’s not just the fans who are suffering from the loss of live sporting events, it’s also the brands

In a matter of weeks, every sporting event and league around the world has been shut down and disbanded—an unprecedented turn of events and a new reality we’re all figuring out together.

During extraordinary moments of upheaval, creativity and innovation tend to kick into overdrive, providing brands with unique opportunities to fill critical gaps in people’s lives. And, in the case of COVID-19 and the organized-sports-shaped hole in the lives of millions, they’d better be quick. Because in a world where sporting events no longer exist, the world’s competitive vacuum is being filled through gaming, which is  quite literally the only game being played.

Just like traditional sports, gaming and esports provide players with adrenaline-pumping action and friendships that come from cheering on the same team (whether real life or virtual). Gone are the days where gamers, rather stereotypically, played alone and isolated. Today’s players are unequivocally social, with more than 70 percent playing with friends, either physically or almost exclusively today, online––all fighting, losing and winning together as a team.

One of the starkest differences between traditional sports and gaming, though, is the deep and personal level of engagement fans experience with the latter. Gaming is providing an incomparable two-way dialog for fans to engage with the best players around the globe, in games that they’re passionate about. This truly digital, personal one-to-one engagement is a powerful game-changer when compared to the level of connection fans feel with traditional sports leagues and their players. Gaming superstars don’t do it because they have a minimum number of “meet and greets” in their contract; it’s this unique culture of gaming that drives one of the most important key differentiators brands will come to understand and love.

For context, as a longtime Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper fan, there’s no chance that as I walk down the aisle to find my seat at a Nationals game, Bryce would look up from the field and shout “Brad, so glad you could make it!” But in the world of gaming and esports, this level of personal acknowledgement happens every day—and with the world’s biggest professional gamers and streamers.

As I subscribe to their streams, they regularly give shout outs like this, saying “Brad, thanks for joining!” Just think about that—this kind of recognition and engagement in front of their fans (which could easily be upwards of 300K strong, compared to a stadium of 50,000 people) is unmatched. Everybody in the gaming world is made to feel important and part of the group, creating unparalleled levels of engagement.

But it’s not just the fans who are suffering from the loss of live sporting events, it’s also the brands.

Spend your money where your audience is spending their time:

Last year, nearly 70 percent of digital marketing spend went directly into sports, while global sports sponsorship reached nearly $65 billion in 2019 alone. Organizations are pumping millions into organized sports—so where will they engage the fans hungering for competition? Personally, there are only so many ESPN reruns of the best games I’m going to sit through.

Some brands have already received the memo and are creating affinity, content and loyalty with this unplugged consumer in a comparatively lowly invested entertainment channel, resulting in smart, strategic collaborations. There is however, a huge subset that haven’t, possibly through lack of knowledge or potentially the right opportunity or timing. The gaming ecosystem is complex, but not impossible to engage in, to drive brand recognition and, beyond that, loyalty––and now is the perfect time to get involved.

While we’re all cooped up in our self-isolation bubbles, some people might be dabbling in the gaming world for the very first time, while others, also stuck at home, are picking up the controller more frequently than they used to. Regardless of your industry or your overall marketing goals, chances are the demographics you’re looking to reach are now, more than ever, spending their time gaming. And the proof is in the pudding, with gamers spending more than $150 billion on gaming in 2019 alone, from devices to in-gaming spend on fantasy goods.

As the rules of society continue to ebb and flow in tandem with the pandemic, the power of technology is once again giving us the ability to join together as a global community. For fans who are feeling the loss of their teams’ seasons being canceled, gaming is providing an outlet for a similar emotional high. And with games excelling in terms of captive audiences, bold brands that make the leap, shift their budgets and deepen their involvement are going to see the fruits of their labor, both now in the age of COVID-19 and in the future, as the gaming world continues to boom.