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THE RISE OF GAMING INFLUENCERS AND BRAND PARTNERSHIPS

 

October 2022

With more games and more gamers than ever, this industry has become a new channel of engagement that has yet to be fully monetized. 

The number of gaming content creators has increased over the last decade and so has their influence in the space.

Brands across a wide spectrum of categories have taken notice of influential creators and have had success in partnering with these individuals on impactful marketing campaigns.

The success of these partnerships hinges on many variables: partnership type and scope, audience, and shared tone of voice, to name a few.

Content creators are brands who risk as much, if not more, than other brands they partner with.

THE GAMING AUDIENCE

As of 2022, there are over 215 million active video game players in the US (about two-thirds of the US population) and some of the most popular games draw in massive audiences daily.

Take Fortnite, which has nearly 3 million active players and averages 2.5-4 million concurrent daily players. It’s no secret that the gaming audience has grown quickly in the last few years, and yet, according to AdAge, the gaming ad market represents less than 6% of total digital ad revenue. Just like how advertisers were slow to monetize via mobile until it was too large to ignore, so too have some brands been slow to monetize gaming as a marketing channel, despite its massive and engaged audience.

However, for early-adopter brands that have started to maximize the gaming market, influencer and content creator partnerships have been invaluable, and have provided a blueprint that others can follow.

THE RISE OF INFLUENCERS IN GAMING

As the number of content creators across the board has increased over the last decade, so too has their influence in gaming. The first major gaming influencers popped up in 2010 when YouTube as a video platform started to increase in popularity. This includes creators like Mike Craddock, who from 2010-2015 played Call of Duty and made videos about his journey to being an esports star. By the end of his career, his YouTube channel amassed over half a million subscribers and 55 million views of the nearly 3000 videos he had posted. The success of YouTube gaming influencers like Craddock led to the creation of YouTube Gaming, a YouTube platform specifically catered to help gamers find more relevant content, which was eventually merged into the main site of YouTube in 2018 and as of 2021 still has an average of nearly 700K concurrent viewers.

At the same time as YouTube Gaming was growing in popularity, so too were other livestreaming platforms, most notably Twitch, which in many ways grew to what it is today through the popularity of streaming video games. Today Twitch has an average of 2.5M viewers daily, and nine out of the top ten streaming categories on the site are gaming categories. The top streamer on the platform, xQc, has by himself gathered over 171M hours watched cumulatively by viewers this year alone. It’s safe to say that influencers in gaming have had a huge hand in the popularity of gaming in the mainstream.

A video gamer cheers in front of a computer.

CASE STUDIES OF SUCCESSFUL BRAND-INFLUENCER PARTNERSHIPS

While it’s easy to see just how the popularity of gaming has gone together with the popularity of watching influencers play video games, it can be difficult to imagine how your brand could effectively utilize influencer marketing partnerships in gaming if you haven’t already gotten your feet wet in the space. Here are some examples across different industries of successful brand-influencer partnerships in gaming that you may not have known about.

Alcoholic Beverage

Absolut Vodka wanted to showcase that it was more than just a beverage brand. Knowing that vodka is the spirit Europeans most associate with esports and gaming, Absolut partnered with Twitch to run gaming-themed ads featuring professional gamer Ricki Ortiz, while also sponsoring competitions between Italian Twitch streamers JustGabbo and Kurolily. The campaign generated 4 million total impressions and 1.1 million unique user visits. The livestream ads were also successful, with a 74.5% video completion rate. Additionally, the streamers themselves also benefitted from the partnership, receiving a total of 121K unique views.

Entertainment

Sony Pictures Entertainment knows just how large of a committed audience many gaming influencers have and took full advantage of that audience to hype up the release of Dead Rising 4: Endgame. They partnered with CoryxKenshin, one of the leading YouTube gaming creators at the time, to create a series of videos showcasing the gameplay and his review of the game. Sony Pictures Entertainment saw firsthand how powerful the gaming audience on YouTube is with the content reaching more than 1.5M views, 62K likes, and 16K comments.

Apparel

Hollister Co., looking to draw in more of a Gen Z audience, recently announced its new “chief gaming scout” Bugha, an 18-year-old Fortnite world champion with nearly 5 million followers on Twitch. As part of this partnership, Bugha has collaborated with Hollister to design a new line of gamer clothing, with multiple Easter eggs throughout the design dedicated to his core fanbase. As an addition to the clothing line, Bugha will lead the selection process for Team Hollister, the brand’s gamer training program that signals a renewed commitment to the space via a Twitch partnership, including livestreamed training sessions, monthly mentorship, and a $10,000 sponsorship for each gamer.

Automotive

Lexus recently announced that they were the new official luxury car automotive partner of 100 Thieves, an LA-based esports organization and lifestyle brand. A major piece of the partnership includes the renaming and redesigning of the former Content House (now the Lexus Content House), which is the residence where most of the 100 Thieves content creators live and work. Included in this redesign is a build-out of a Lexus Lounge in the space. On top of this partnership, 100 Thieves creators Valkyrae and Fuslie, each with over a million followers on livestreaming platforms, have been named Lexus ambassadors and will be collaborating with Lexus on a range of new content.

An influencer speaks in front of a camera

CRAFTING YOUR OWN GAMING INFLUENCER PARTNERSHIPS

Collaborations between brands and gaming influencers come in all shapes and sizes. So how can your brand successfully partner with gaming influencers and engage directly with their audiences?

The first step is to know the audience you’re looking to engage, and then find the right influencers in the right game to partner with. While this may sound obvious as a first step in brand partnerships, gamers as an audience are not a monolith, and the audience from game to game and influencer to influencer can vary widely. For example, while Hollister successfully managed to target Gen Z gamers, the average age of gamers in the US is 31. While the gender divide in gamers is nearly non-existent anymore (45% of gamers identify as women), the games they engage with can vary widely, with many women more interested in simulation/strategy games like Sims, as opposed to first-person shooter games, like Call of Duty, which has a much more male-skewed audience.

The success of a gaming influencer partnership hinges on whether your brand can effectively engage with the influencer’s audience. Make sure you know who they are and why you want to engage with them.

Next, your brand needs to identify what kind of partnership would be most engaging for the audience. As seen in the examples above, this can range from partnering with an esports team and making collaborative content to creating in-stream or in-video ads that are more personally relatable to the influencer and the audience. The type and scope of the partnership is up to your brand, but the key is to make sure the collaboration is “on-brand” for your tone and the influencer’s, otherwise you risk losing your audiences’ trust and misallocating your investment.

Lastly, it is important to note that many of these gaming influencers are rising or current social media stars with large followings across various mainstream social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. All the successful case studies above include some way of cross-promoting your campaign through the influencer’s socials such that brands can reach their audiences even if they may not tune in to that particular video or livestream. Audience engagement is the name of the game here and maximizing that engagement across platforms will lead to meaningful brand partnerships.

INFLUENCERS AS THEIR OWN BRANDS

While partnerships with gaming content creators may not be right for every brand, the partnerships that are most likely to succeed come from having an authentic connection between your brand and the creator’s audience. Content creators are brands in themselves, with unique audiences that trust and regularly engage with them. Like with any other brand-to-brand partnership, the goal is to partner in an authentic way such that their audience’s trust, awareness and engagement is replicated with your brand.

Influencers are not people who are looking to get paid to post, they’re brands with painstakingly crafted audiences who risk losing their platforms without that carefully curated audience trust and engagement. They risk as much, if not more than other brands they partner with, and in turn, provide immense value to just about every aspect of marketing. So, the question is when will you start utilizing them?

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