Gaming Is a Major Player in Stay-at-Home Culture

Earlier this year, a Netflix shareholder letter made a statement that has since proven eerily telepathic: “Our focus is not on Disney+, Amazon or others,” the letter read. “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO.”

Think about that. Netflix—which as of last week is worth more than Disney—sees gaming as its biggest competition.

At the current phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Netflix isn’t wrong to be concerned. We’re experiencing an explosion of growth in livestreaming gaming, sports and entertainment content. Last week, Travis Scott’s in-game concert on Fortnite broke the record for in-game concert viewership, recording 12.3 million viewers, and the recent NFL Draft, which was run entirely via online video, was the most-watched in history with a record 55 million viewers.

Like Netflix, gaming and esports can be enjoyed from the comfort of home in a socially distancing world—but unlike TV shows and movies, gaming represents a limitless well of new content. An episode of your favorite show is the same every time you watch it, but your favorite game is different every time you play—and every time you watch another player play, and every time that player plays in a different context, and so on.

Gaming and esports are also rushing in to fill the void created by the absence of live sports. Gamers, pro athletes, celebrities and viewers are flocking to streaming platforms to connect, play video games and watch together. The result is explosive growth: Nielsen just released its most recent gaming survey and reported that video gaming was up 45% during the quarantine. Twitch, the leading livestreaming video service and community for multiplayer entertainment, has seen a 30% increase in viewership since the beginning of March.

With its infinite variety, gaming provides a massive opportunity for brands to adapt their marketing and communications programs to reach engaged audiences and double down on existing programs, pivot campaigns or get started fresh with a new approach. There are three primary ways that this can be approached.

Traditional Sports and Esports

Pro sports leagues are working with their athletes to create content and organize play of sports video games from home. Leagues such as the NBA and NHL are simulating their seasons utilizing video games, and NASCAR is hosting virtual competitions online and on television drawing viewership that has exceeded the expectations. Meanwhile, esports leagues such as the Overwatch League, Call of Duty League, League of Legends, and NBA 2K League are continuing their seasons with online competition, with teams competing from home instead of in front of live audiences.

Gaming

The world is turning to gaming as a release from the stresses of our current environment. Call of Duty’s Warzone battle royale game is as popular as ever, with celebrities and pro athletes playing daily and participating in charity tournaments. Real world simulation games, such as Animal Crossing, are also white-hot right now, as these games replicate real life situations that people are seeking during this time of isolation. Riot Games launched the beta for Valorant, and is one of the most anticipated games for 2020, setting records on Twitch.

Charity

Last month Twitch hosted Stream Aid, a massive charity livestreaming event where pro gamers, musicians, celebrities and athletes converged on the platform and raised nearly three million dollars for the World Health Organization and Covid-19 relief.

With these categories in mind, now is a great time for brands who have been active in the space to double down, and for brands looking to pivot from IRL programs to experiment, test and learn. Here are some points for brands to keep in mind:

  • Streaming, gaming and esports present an opportunity for brands that are or have been active in this space to double down, and for brands looking to pivot their programs from IRL programs to this area. Audiences are going to continue to seek out competitive live content—and perhaps even more so as these audiences tire of streaming episodic shows and movies.
  • Working with gamers, streamers and entertainers directly—and utilizing their livestream platforms such as industry leader Twitch, YouTube, Instagram and other massive platforms for live and social content—is the most efficient way to deliver brand marketing and communications messages during this period of disruption.
  • Esports leagues are all playing online and are some of the only live competition options in the sports and entertainment marketplace currently. In the absence of live traditional sports, these leagues offer dynamic star players—the best in the world at their game—city-based rivalries and rooting interests, in-season weekly competition, playoffs and eventual championships.

We have extensive experience in the space with esports leagues, programs with Twitch and a wealth of brands activating currently. If you’d like to dive deeper into the available opportunities, just let us know.

This post was written with the help of JP Joseph and Jonathan Stone, key members of Ketchum’s gaming team.

Based in our Washington, D.C., office, Patrick Wixted is a VP overseeing Ketchum’s growing gaming/esports capabilities.