Which brands have the playbook to sponsorships in gaming? Who is the champion of this league of legends? We’ve broken down some major trends in gaming content to give you insight into sponsorship trends and related brands that are modeling interesting and revenue-generating strategies.
Esports will undoubtedly be one of the biggest industries of the next generation. Two thirds of Gen Z males report that gaming is a core component of their daily activities, and professional gaming has gained traction with major global competitions such as League of Legends World Championship, which in 2016 achieved 43 million unique viewers and 14.7M peak concurrent viewership. Platforms like Twitch and Steam have provided users with a community to share, create, play, and watch gaming content, and they’ve quickly grown a collective audience of over 2B. Global esports revenues will grow by US$150M in 2020 to reach US$1.1B, according to market researcher Newzoo.
So where did this all start? Which brands have the playbook to sponsorships in gaming? Who is the champion of this league of legends? We’ve broken down some major trends in gaming content to give you insight into sponsorship trends and related brands that are modeling interesting and revenue-generating strategies. Let’s jump in and start at the beginning of how video games became such a prominent subject in the influencer content space.
Gaming has exploded onto YouTube through the style of video called a “Let’s Play” (LP). Let’s Plays evolved back in 2005, where many people attribute the invention of the term to the Something Awful forum thread discussing the Oregon Trail video game. Let’s Plays feature a user playing and talking about the game, either in a review context or as an instructional video. The Let’s Play phenomenon currently attracts more than 60M subscribers from around 950 active gamer channels on YouTube.
Amidst the massive following and popularity, there are a host of intellectual property law concerns with this style of video, ranging from licensing rights to copyright and trademark restrictions. All video games are comprised of independent components like audio, video, graphics and gameplay, and use of any component requires permission from that developer. Imagine YouTube gamers requesting permission from 4-5 entities before streaming their content on Twitch: this surely can’t be the way things operate, given the nearly 10,000+ results from 8,614+ YouTube channels talking about “let’s play” in the past year alone. So, where’s the disconnect?
The overwhelming majority of gaming developers and publishers have realized that these LPs are fantastic marketing channels for their products. Most gaming publishers either give express permission to videomakers, or they implicitly grant permission by allowing the videos to be posted without objection. As GamerLaw advises to gamers, “if the developer/publisher says yes, you’re ok. If they haven’t said no to many other videos, you might be ok (for as long as they let that continue).”
There are a few brands like Nintendo that will not allow LPs and have the videos taken down by YouTube. According to YouTube support, video game content may be monetized if the step-by-step commentary is strictly tied to the live action being shown and provides instructional or educational value. Videos simply showing a user playing a video game or the use of software for extended periods of time may not be accepted for monetization. It’s a tricky situation that drives developers, gamers, and marketers alike combat to drive traffic and results. Tons of forums exist to help gamers correctly request permission for their content, some even collaborating with game publishers to show which games a YouTuber can easily get permissions to post a LP.
Takedown notices are a continuing frustration for gamers, not just for intellectual property violations, either. YouTube is infamous for demonetizing keywords - and in some ways, entire industries, like cannabis for example. The American gambling industry has long been subject to strict regulations (just think of a brick-and-mortar casino and all the problems they’ve faced).
Nevertheless, sites offering gambling games abound:
Searches of “online casino games” over time result in this trend, showing a general increase in interest over the past 2 years:
While these games are not able to advertise in the majority of channels available to other industries, it’s still a persistent topic, with “online gambling” and “gambling” in general popping up across 388 YouTubers in the past year alone. Across the gaming community, we’ve seen 531 videos from 152 channels discussing gambling this year.
We will continue to track the prevalence of e-gambling and casino games as huge industry with a ton of revenue-generating potential should marketing restrictions evolve on various platforms like YouTube or blog, for example.
FPS, or First Person Shooter games, are by far the biggest conversation starter in comparison with gambling, racing games, car games, fighting games, and pretty much any other type of game. In the ThoughtLeaders platform we are tracking over 10Ks of results discussing this type of game from more than 13,810 unique publications in the past year alone - that’s a lot of activity. Here’s how the other games stack up:
Fighting game = 1,667 results from 351 Thought Leaders
Racing game = 4,540 results from 587 Thought Leaders
Car game = 611 results from 197 Thought Leaders
Diving deeper into the most popular FPS games, we have longtime winners like Fortnite, HALO, Skyrim, and Assassin’s Creed, as well as Apex Legends, Raid: Shadow Legends and new releases of classic favorites like Elder Scrolls. Analyzing these game trends over time, we can draw a few solid conclusions.
Below we’ve highlighted a few case studies, but before we dive in, we’ve summarized some of the main games mentioned for any of you “n00bs” out there!
RAID: Shadow Legends is a freemium mobile and PC game developed and published by Israeli game developer Plarium Games. A fantasy-themed, turn-based role-playing gacha game, the story takes place in the fictional realm of Teleria, which has been subjugated by the Dark Lord Siroth. This game in particular is an interesting case of a game that’s just launched into the market in the past few years, where the only keyword traceable is: “install for free”:
Fortnite: While RAID Shadow Legends is relatively easy to track because of their consistency in their promotional offerings, Fortnite’s trends show us that they aren’t sponsoring YouTubers to drive downloads of their game. Fortnte is an online video game developed by Epic Games and released in 2017. It is available in three distinct game mode versions that otherwise share the same general gameplay and game engine. It is an always-free, always-evolving multiplayer game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC/Mac and iOS/Android.
Any similar links that Fortnite used to use for tracking (epicgames.com) haven’t shown up in the past year, indicating that their recent mentions are just organic content. This would explain Fortnite’s downward trend in the graph:
Nonetheless, we are seeing other brands taking advantage of content mentioning Fortnite more this year than ever before: our system identified that out of 3,995 total videos from 591 gaming channels discussing Fortnite that are also being sponsored by another brand, just under half of that activity has popped up in the past year, with 1,108 videos from 207 gaming influencers. That means that brands have caught onto the level of engagement the Fortnite community has with “let’s play” videos on YouTube and are sponsoring videos mentioning the game to drive results.
Elder Scrolls, a series of action role-playing video games primarily developed by Bethesda Game Studios, focuses on free-form gameplay in a detailed open world. Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim all won Game of the Year awards from multiple outlets. Like Fortnite, the Elder Scrolls trends are dominantly organic mentions, but we are showing spikes relating to the releases of the various installments to their game. It should be noted that their more recent mentions are relating to Skyrim product, with 207/235 videos that talk about Elder Scrolls focusing on Skyrim specifically in the past year.
Same thing with Assassin’s Creed - we are measuring spikes relating to the various installments of the franchise, which included a movie in 2016, explaining the spike in that year:
Assassin’s Creed is an action-adventure stealth video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It depicts a centuries-old struggle, now and then, between the Assassins, who fight for peace with free will, and the Templars, who desire peace through control. The series features historical fiction, science fiction and characters, intertwined with real-world historical events and figures.
Ubisoft has sponsored lightly to drive these results, mainly sponsoring gameplay review videos of Assassin’s Creed ahead if the game’s release to tantalize the gaming community. Ubisoft has sponsored Hat Films gaming channel on YouTube 9 times from 2014 to Nov 2019 timing the sponsorships around their game releases, showing it’s been a successful tactic, to be repeating it year over year.
With Apex Legends, we are also seeing a mix of organic mentions and sponsored content, but they didn’t schedule their sponsorships in advance of their release. Apex Legends is a free-to-play battle royale game developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts. It was released for Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on February 4, 2019, without any prior announcement or marketing. The game is in its fourth season. We’ve identified 32 gameplay and Let’s Play videos from 19 channels that are specifically “sponsored by Apex Legends” and offer a click-thru link to download the game.
Overall, it’s clear that games and the studio/publisher that made them don’t sponsor content often. They rely off of the massive streaming community to drive organic media for them, and truthfully, it’s worked well so far. Even the games that did show a smattering of sponsored content were only using paid media as a method of either gaining traction leading up to the release date, or driving notoriety upon a surprise release of a new version or season.
The bigger thing to pay attention to is which brands have figured out these trends and are leveraging both Let’s Play video formats and specific game titles to sell their products to the gamer demographic.
Move OVER, YouTube - Twitch has arrived. Historically, YouTube was the only platform gamers had to share and watch instructional content (other than the pre-YouTube days of blogs). Twitch is a platform that allows gamers to livestream their gameplay, and is devouring YouTube as the main platform for gamers these days. More often, we are finding YouTube gamers linking their Twitch pages to YouTube videos that show a replay of the live Twitch stream. Basically, YouTube is acting as the Facebook to the Gen Z’s instagram, if you’re familiar with the analogy. Gen Zers usually post to instagram first and share indirectly to their Facebooks if they even still use a Facebook. YouTube acts as a similar “traditional” method for gamers compared to the “modern” approach of Twitch.
YouTube however remains the far superior platform for advertising and so leveraging the popular Twitch content when it appears on YouTube can be a great baseline for building a gaming strategy.
Twitch is such a massive gaming platform and community that they don’t sponsor content, as we have seen with some of the major game titles above. However, computer brands are tracking Twitch mentions and are sponsoring heavily on YouTube gamer channels that also share Twitch links, perhaps to scrape additional click-thrus from Twitch users switching back to YouTube to re-watch streams.
Corsair is aligning its sponsored content with streamers on Twitch. Corsair's sponsorship model on YouTube and is seeing great results. Just look at the similarities in their trend graphs:
Check out Corsair's page here to see their top YouTube sponsorships — of the 989 YouTube channels that Twitch is being mentioned on over the past year, Corsair is also being talked about — quite a bit, with 4063 mentions by 77 of these YT influencers. In fact, 2212 of these videos mention BOTH Twitch and Corsair, showing the incredible amount of overlap.
Here's a sample of the content we're seeing from Corsair that has earned them 1Billion in audience reach, and 118M unique impressions:
Razer, Corsair, Alienware and SteelSeries are all starting to explore newsletters and blogs. We've seen that in the past month, 60% of their sponsorships are on blogs. If you click on their brand page links above to see those publications, you see that they're targeting tech blogs and newsletters.
In fact, all 4 of these major brands have been sponsoring the same 5 blogs for at least the last 4 months, showing that these 5 tech and innovation publications are driving results, and that these brands may be hitting on a new space to sponsor content successfully.
We are seeing the emergence of an early trend — tech blogs are a great way to target a specific demographic, achieve ideal product placement, and capitalize on related themes in the content of the blog to promote specific products.
Gaming chairs are currently one of the favorite topics of gamers on YouTube, with 1087 mentions of “gaming chair” from 49 unique gaming channels from the past year alone. Looking at the top brands that feature in the gaming category, we get some really interesting data:
The clear leaders are:
Twitch, with 918 videos talking about gaming chairs from 36 YouTube influencers
Fortnite, with 996 videos mentioning gaming chairs from 59 YouTubers
Better yet, by choosing the top YouTube channels that mention Twitch and Fortnite and sorting by those talking about gaming chairs, we can find the “sweet spot”, that overlap between audience, product, and content:
In this case, we get 29 YouTube gamer channels in this case, gaining an audience of 54M viewers, a fantastic niche for major gaming chair brands. We are actively tracking these brands to catch any other niches they’ve hit on:
8) Cougar Armor
Another brand, GFUEL, is leveraging game titles, rather than Twitch trends, to sell product. GFUEL is a brand of caffeinated drink mix sold by Gamma Labs, a NY-based company. They have branded themselves “The Official Energy Drink of Esports” and differentiate themselves from other energy drinks as a healthy alternative to the traditional sugary, chemically processed drinks on the market. They promote that their product doesn’t produce any crash effects and offer starter kits, powders, on-the-go options, and other merch like t-shirts and shaker bottles.
In the past year, we have 6,664 total pieces of content from 91 influencers. That’s about half of their total sponsored content, given that we’re measuring around 10,000 total pieces of content from 214 content producers since 2006.
They are capitalizing on the format of YouTube gamer videos called “Let’s Plays”, a SUPER popular video format where the gamer records themself playing and explaining features of the game. We have around 5,405 videos from 102 YouTube gamers mentioning GFUEL since 2006. In the past year, they’ve been mentioned on 1,822 videos from 55 gamer channels on YouTube. Their first appearance in content was on YouTube - no surprise there - sponsoring a “food” category video from ClintusTV in August 2006.
Even from their first appearance, they seem to already have some sort of strategy in place. Every channel they sponsored didn’t just make a few sponsored videos - every single video on their channel drives attention to GFUEL as the official sponsor of that YouTuber.
They appear to be going one step further than just sponsoring a channel by making the influencer their brand ambassador. Every piece of content that channel ever produced is flagged with GFUEL click-thru links and landing pages. Looking at just their relationship with ClintusTV, GFUEL started sponsoring in 2006 and since then, the channel has made 3,242 videos, producing videos every 3 days or so right thru May 2 2020. Every single video links to GFUEL and includes a discount code of some kind linking to ClintusTV.
GFUEL has modeled a really successful way to leverage the entire catalog of content of their partnerships. Because YouTube is considered evergreen material (the date of creation/publication doesn’t necessarily have an influence on the viewership), GFUEL has created an agreement with their sponsored channels wherein every single video from the entire catalog from that content producer features a link and discount code to GFUEL in the caption.
As GFUEL has demonstrated, this strategy deepens engagement: they’ve gained 74Million impressions from 49K mentions, generated from just 214 total partnerships since 2006.
Let’s look at ASUS as a prime example of how sponsoring gaming content can turn your organic media into a revenue-driving machine with very little invested media spend.
ASUS is a Taiwan-based multinational computer phone hardware and electronics company that makes notebooks, netbooks, motherboards, graphics cards, and other hardware that appeals to gamers in particular.
YouTube: 1397 Thought Leaders, 54,194 mentions
Podcast: 45 Thought Leaders, 346 mentions
Newsletter: 32 Thought Leaders, 92 mentions
Blog: 26 Thought Leaders, 429 mentions
In the past year, we have 8554 total unique pieces of content from 783 influencers. About 95% of this content is organic, mostly gamers mentioning their preferred gaming hardware and recommending ASUS organically to their followers.
The #1 type of video where ASUS is being organically mentioned is the Let’s Play, a SUPER popular video format where the gamer records themself playing and explaining features of the game. We have around 5,900 videos from 66 YouTubers mentioning ASUS since 2007. In the past year, they’ve been mentioned on 525 Let’s Play videos from 28 gamers.
They first appeared in digital content on YouTube in 2006 on the channel Stuff - they take a look at ASUS early version of a smart phone… talk about traveling back in time!
Fortunately their brand image AND technology have evolved since 2006. In 2008 we really see ASUS starting to re-brand to appeal to the gaming community, as they began making gaming-specific products like controllers and graphics cards built to support new video games.
Naturally, ASUS is featured in review videos highlighting the functionality of the hardware and OS. We are seeing 5,615 videos from 516 tech and gamer YouTubers going back to 2009:
Interestingly, ASUS is mentioned on multiple international channels across German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish speaking YouTubers. They are mentioned 34882 times on gaming channels and 14243 times in technology-oriented content.
As mentioned before, ASUS is not really promoting itself within this content. While this much volume in organic mentions indicates a successful brand, it indicates how ASUS may be missing out on revenue by not structuring more formally sponsored content for consumers to access. For example, most videos are linking ASUS parts and peripherals to Amazon or other e-comm sites. There are currently 1,448 videos from 194 YouTubers that are linking directly to Amazon to purchase the ASUS product. While we know that ASUS is certainly sharing revenue with Amazon on these sales (great!), they’re not maximizing profitability on these organic mentions. With a sponsored link in the caption, they could be driving 100% of all impressions directly to their site, where there is less likelihood for their product to appear next to competitor brands and consumers are not able to purchase 2nd-hand or lightly used items from a 3rd party as is permitted on the Amazon platform.
ASUS has in a few cases provided their hardware to a content creator on YouTube free of charge for them to review. However, the click-thru link is still driving revenue to a different company, in this example the sponsor of the video N2XT Store:
In fact, ASUS products are being discussed next to other brands almost 1500 times on YouTube. Searches of “sponsored by” and ASUS reveal that ASUS is discussed in the content but not the actual sponsor. That’s nearly 219 Million impressions generated from content mentioning ASUS that are being driven to brands or sites other than ASUS.
SteelSeries is also exploding on YouTube, as we are seeing with gaming trends in general. Of 126 total content producers they’ve been sponsoring this year, 106 of them are YouTubers. Interestingly, SteelSeries isn’t appearing as frequently across “Let’s Play” videos as we are seeing with ASUS, with only 31 YouTubers making Lets Plays that mention SteelSeries.
However, SteelSeries is capitalizing on all the content they’re appearing in - they’re sponsoring tons of newsletter and YouTube content with direct links to their site, even offering 12% off if you enter your referral’s discount code in the checkout.
From this activity, SteelSeries has gained 42Million impressions from just 13K mentions on 382 YouTube gamer channels. SteelSeries has some pretty heavy overlap with ASUS, being mentioned in the same content 7,775 times on 211 of the same YouTube channels. From SteelSeries top 100 YouTube channels, we get nearly 2000 mentions of ASUS, showing how both brands appeal strongly to the same audience. Both brands are leveraging this attention in different ways, however, and ASUS is missing out by not sponsoring in this space. SteelSeries is scooping 100% of the impressions available on these overlapped channels right now.
Here’s a look at how SteelSeries may be scaling up their activity over time:
We are seeing that they’ve tested the most on channels where they only sponsored 1-3 times. However, they have 7 channels showing at least 10+ mentions, showing that they’ve hit on some good relationships. They continue to test more heavily towards the beginning of their fiscal year from what we are tracking.
We’ve broken down a brief history of gaming content and the variety of video formats, game styles, and platforms that we are seeing this content covering. We’ve also identified some areas for growth, such as with the massive potential profit that could be gained from marketing and sponsorships around e-gambling, if regulations ever let up. We’ve reviewed various games themselves and how some key tech and computer brands are making bank off of sponsoring specific games at specific times. We’ve noticed that a massive amount of mentions in gaming content is organic, which doesn’t always help brands understand who, when, and how to sponsor. But if brands can identify places where organic traffic is overlapped with repetitive sponsorships, that’s a guaranteed win.
Generally, ASUS products have succeeded in the tech and gaming communities and as a result have driven organic traffic through the roof. Organic mentions are the ultimate goal of any brand - you’re expanding audience reach and brand awareness without spending a single dollar of your media budget. However, as we can clearly see with ASUS, organic media doesn’t always translate to a positive ROI. Oftentimes spending some of that media budget on sponsoring content in spaces where your brand is ALREADY being mentioned organically will increase conversion rates and click-thru and drive overall revenue growth from those channels. You’re maximizing the amount of attention your brand already has and ensuring that every available impression is being driven to your site, where your chances of making a sale goes up dramatically and you get to control the consumer environment.
We’ve estimated that ASUS has 219M available impressions they could capture if they invested in sponsoring their top YouTube channels, those that are mentioning ASUS 800+ times over the course of at least 2 years, and still being mentioned within the past 5 years. That’s a crazy opportunity to collect on sales without having to necessarily establish new relationships with content producers or grow brand awareness. We will continue to track ASUS to see if they begin to explore this strategy and what results they get - stay tuned...
Want your brand analyzed like we did with ASUS? Looking to target gaming content but don’t know where to start? Chat with us!