By: Steve Meyers, Account Director, and David Wales, Senior Strategist for TMA Gaming
Gaming saw its share of jaw-dropping moments in 2019. The Fortnite World Cup happened. Ninja released a book. We finally found out what Death Stranding was about . . . sort of. And CD Projekt Red showed us that our love for Keanu Reeves could go even deeper.
But beyond the one-off headlines in gaming, the category continued its march forward with a story of growth, creativity, and controversy. Some of the creativity and growth was driven by new players in the gaming space. As marketers, one of the best things we saw was the continued desire of non-endemic brands to leverage gaming as a platform to reach consumers, especially Gen Z. But brands often find the gaming category difficult to comprehend and navigate. With the right strategy, some creativity, and the courage to face a rapidly evolving ecosystem, most brands can find success.
Last year, The Marketing Arm set our eyes on the trends we felt would take center stage in 2019. This year, we’re looking back to comment on a few of those predictions, and adding new ones to the mix, that we think will emerge in 2020.
Review of 2019 Predictions
Brands will get more involved
The last 3-5 years have seen a number of non-endemic brands jump into gaming and esports, and 2019 was no different. One notable entrant was Louis Vuitton in collaboration with Riot. The partnership covered an amazing activation at Worlds, as well as in-game skins, IRL clothing, and content. This definitely tops our list as a unique brand jumping into gaming to make a large splash.
Outside of the esports world, we loved seeing MAC Cosmetics at TwitchCon. They hosted meet-and-greets, educated consumers about make-up, and helped creators on the floor get stream-ready. Nissan and Lexus jumped into gaming this year, but Honda takes the car category for us. Early in the year, Honda announced a sponsorship of Team Liquid. Then they doubled down as the exclusive automotive partner of the League of Legends Championship Series.
We’re cheating on this next one; Adidas has sponsored Team Vitality since 2017. But it’s very hard to ignore Adidas’ first major endorsement of an influencer in the gaming space (and something of this scale) in Ninja. The deal has him shaking hands with David Beckham and (likely) working on custom apparel—we shall see.
While it’s difficult to pick just a few highlights for 2019, we know we’ll continue to see more and more brands shine in the gaming space. Brands that actually understand the gaming consumer, are brave, and want to be creative in the space will win. And in 2020, we’re hoping to see more deals that extend beyond simple logo slaps and sponsored content.
Conventional TV will try, but struggle to capture the full esports experience
Earlier this year, you could catch Season 2 of Overwatch League on Disney XD, ABC, and other stations. It was okay, and viewership was good. But this is obviously not the way forward for watching competitive gaming.
The deeper experience is (or will be) unlocked when you’re watching via Twitch or another streaming platform. Overwatch League’s All-Access Pass deployed during both seasons with mixed reviews. However, it’s easy to see how a fully interactive digital viewing experience will emerge as the go-to for future esports events.
What will really define the esports experience in 2020 is live events. With Overwatch League and Call of Duty League homestands, we’ll see competitive gaming come home to many markets. Lots of fans who haven’t been able to watch a live event will get to experience the rush of cheering for their favorite teams and players in person. It will be exciting to watch.
Esports at the college level will keep organizing
With the NCAA not touching the world of esports, the door was open for a governing body like the NACE to keep slowly growing and organizing collegiate esports through member acquisition. It’s likely that the NACE has over 200 member-schools by now, and the total number of colleges and universities with varsity and club programs is likely in the high triple digits.
Some schools are making larger splashes. It’s inspiring to see the University of Kentucky partnering with Gen.G for their program, and Full Sail University investing in The Fortress, the largest arena on a college campus in the US. A big challenge that will continue to emerge and potentially make headlines is the path to pro in gaming. The decision most budding esports stars currently face is: “Do I go to college? Or do I try to join a professional team?”
The ramifications of the decision are actually enormous. The best years for an esports athlete competing in the top echelon are the late teens and early 20’s. Until a large chunk of colleges and universities develop varsity programs and get scholarships off the ground, this decision will continue to be difficult for 17- and 18-year-old star players.
Looking ahead to 2020, we’re anxious to see where the gaming category goes. All signs point to sustained growth. And if we had to point to a few interesting areas to keep our eyes on, there are a few budding trends that we’ll be watching closely.
Twitch’s market dominance will decrease
Twitch will still maintain a dominant market share, but we predict 2020 will see viewership diversify more. Twitch has always been the go-to platform for streamers. But the cracks in the armor are beginning to show. YouTube, Microsoft, and Facebook are stepping up their games to steal share from the goliath. The most notable are Ninja, Shroud, and King Gothalion going to Mixer, and Courage going to YouTube.
We’ll see the streaming wars ramp up in 2020. Microsoft will want to go big in preparation for the Xbox Series X launch, and all signs are pointing to YouTube wanting to finally get bigger in the streaming space. The numbers are already showing it: Twitch Tracker’s monthly concurrent viewer numbers show the platform has seen a drop in average quarterly viewership in Q2 (-1.56%), Q3 (-0.18%), and Q4 (-3.47% through Dec. 17) of 2019.
More ‘gaming celebrities’ will become household names
Up until this point, the only gaming celebrity out there has been Ninja. But in 2020, we’ll see more of them emerge to become household names as gaming influencers will make the leap from their category into the pop culture spotlight.
Ninja has paved the way with his integration into NFL content, his New Year’s special, and his appearance on The Masked Singer. But other gaming talent is ready to make the leap.
We already know Pokimane, Jacksepticeye, and LazarBeam will appear alongside Ninja in Ryan Reynolds’ movie Free Guy this July. DrDisrespect has a scripted TV series coming out about his character as well. DrLupo has basically become the face of charity for gaming, and was in TIME’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet.
Esports overall will begin to adopt more formal approaches to player protection
Competitive gaming is filled with lawsuits over owed money and unfair player contracts. It’s unfortunate, but it’s happening because organizations are chasing profitability, while leagues—for the most part—aren’t imposing structure, and a lot of players just don’t know better.
As esports continues to mature, it’s good to see player compensation rise. But for every player treated fairly, there are a number of players signing $0 salary contracts requiring outrageous hours streaming time, non-compete clauses, and no revenue from sponsorship deals. Leagues like Overwatch and Call of Duty have taken great steps in imposing salary minimums, healthcare benefits, and retirement packages. Riot is wrapping up its second year of running a players’ association for the LCS.
But because of how fragmented esports is as a category, this represents only a fraction of the market. In 2020, we expect more flareups between organizations and players knowing there are viable solutions in place. Publishers, leagues, and esports organizations will need to begin putting players first and invest in stability and structure.
2020 will no doubt be another incredible year for gaming, and we’ll be staying on top of many trends ranging from diversity and wellness to rising valuations in esports and Riot’s ambitious plans with new IPs and publishing. Next year will bring next-gen consoles, and the 10th anniversary of Worlds back in Shanghai. There is a lot to look forward to. And a lot of opportunity for non-endemic brands to leverage gaming as a platform to reach a valuable Gen Z audience and other consumers.
About TMA Gaming
We help brands navigate the gaming and esports space with strategic recommendations and activations covering gaming community events, esports sponsorship negotiation, publisher partnerships, content production, influencer, and more. Our work can be seen in collaborations with State Farm, Nintendo, Wrigley, GameStop, and the U.S. Army.