Using social media influencers to reach targeted audiences is now standard practice for marketers. The campaigns and types of influencers used can vary, but the idea – efficient reach coupled with authenticity a brand couldn’t achieve on its own – is very popular. In fact, a survey of marketers conducted by the Association of National Advertisers found that 75 percent of those polled use influencer marketing and almost half of them planned to increase their spending on the practice over the next year.
But alongside the growth of social media influencer marketing, new problems have arisen. Social media influencers as a marketing tactic is not groundbreaking anymore. Some influencers have grown more expensive. Other low-level influencers, hoping for money or freebies, are bombarding brands with solicitous messages. Some industry voices have even raised concerns over fake followers used by social media influencers to swell numbers – Points North Group said it has found that midlevel influencers – those with between 50,000 and 100,000 followers – often have about 20 percent fake followers.
To successfully invest in influencer marketing, it’s crucial to see through the hype and use influencers as a tool to build authentic, long-term relationships with an audience (our 2018 trend on avoiding “Insta-fakers” is a great resource for this). As influencer marketing grows and hits market saturation, the industry will continue to evolve – but what is the next evolution of the influencer? How can brands build authentic relationships with new audiences without using the same well-trodden methods?
I believe a new breed of social influencer has emerged – commanding huge audiences and massive amounts of time spent – while still being unrecognized or misunderstood by many marketers. These influencers are skilled entertainers, athletes, comedians, and hosts. They are esports and video game streamers.
Esports is an industry experiencing explosive growth. You’ve heard about it by now, and for good reason – reports from Newzoo put the global esports audience at 380 million in 2018, while the number of people who are aware of esports worldwide will reach 1.6 billion in 2018. To put this in perspective, Goldman Sachs estimates esports will be consumed by 167 million viewers each month – more monthly viewers than Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. By 2022, they expect esports monthly viewership will rival that of the National Football League.
Esports is an undeniable worldwide phenomenon – but it’s still not well understood by most marketers. The basic concept (people watching other people play video games) is accepted, but the nuances are still not well-known outside of those involved with the industry and some forward-thinking marketers. For the purposes of the streaming influencer discussion, it’s important to distinguish between esports and what I call “recreational” streaming.
“Esports” is an umbrella term used to describe live or broadcast video game play, but it can also be specifically applied to competitive, team-based play. Think arenas, teams with rows of computers, and tournament formats.
Recreational streaming, however, is an unrecognized video-game-streaming format drawing huge audiences and time spent. The structure is much looser – a streamer can use a platform such as Twitch to stream whatever game they want, in whatever style they want, for as long as they want. Audiences can easily tune in and watch the gameplay (they see what the streamer sees in the game) as well as an included video feed of the streamer’s face for reaction and added personality.
Examples of recreational streaming include Dallas’ own PrestonPlayz building fortresses on Minecraft, Pokimane jumping into battle royale games like Fortnite, or technical wizard Disguised Toast showing the ins and outs of digital card game Hearthstone. While more formal, competitive esports competitions are streamed on Twitch (such as Blizzard’s The Overwatch League), the vast majority of content streamed is the free-form recreational style. In fact, Newzoo found that only 11 percent of content streamed on Twitch and YouTube Gaming in Q1 2018 fell under the “esports” designation.
To better understand the streaming audience and how they’re spending their time with live gaming content, let’s take a closer look at their platforms of choice, demographics, and motivations.
To better understand the people who watch video games, we should answer a few key questions about their consumption. First of all – where are they streaming this content? We’ve already mentioned Twitch, which has become the home of live video content online. The structure of Twitch is simple on its surface and may draw comparisons to YouTube – each content creator has their own channel, which creates videos and notifies subscribers of new content and live videos. Beneath the surface, however, are features specifically designed for the age of live video: Live chat allows users to comment to the creator and each other while streaming video, and the ability to subscribe or send “Cheers” (digital currency) directly supports the streamer financially. Importantly, this strengthens the streamer-viewer relationship, makes it more intimate, and increases the appeal of Twitch for streamers – the more they can draw subscribers and the more they achieve in-game, the more they’re supported financially.
To get an idea of the size and structure of Twitch, there are 140 million people that view live video gameplay, while a group of around 2.5 million streamers broadcast to that audience. Of those streamers, there is an elite group of around 12,000 who command the largest audiences and drive most of the influence on the platform.
Aside from Twitch, there’s YouTube, which is undeniably the Internet’s primary place to watch videos. However, while gaming content is one of YouTube’s most-consumed topics, YouTube is much more focused on precreated, edited videos, while Twitch is dominated by live streaming video. For perspective, Newzoo found that in Q1 2018, Twitch accounted for 82 percent of viewership hours for the top 20 streaming game titles, while YouTube Gaming (YouTube’s streaming game platform) only accounted for 18 percent.
So who are the actual people watching all this live gaming content? While it’s easy to imagine antisocial preteens living in their parents’ basement, this description of “gamers” is becoming less true as video game streaming becomes more mainstream. In fact, a recent study of esports fans by Nielsen showed that the average age was 25 and the average household income was almost $60,000. Additionally, streaming is often a social activity, with dozens or hundreds of viewers chatting to each other (and the streamer themselves) during broadcast.
Twitch’s internal audience data shows 55 percent is in the 18-34 range and almost half has a household income of over $100,000. For marketers, this means video game streaming is capturing the attention of a younger (but not too young), hard-to-reach audience – one with plenty of spending potential. Typically, an audience like this has been the sweet spot for more traditional influencer marketing, and video game streaming is opening up brand-new avenues to reach them.
While audience size and demographics should be encouraging to marketers, the most important aspect of the streaming audience is the amount of time they are spending watching live gaming content. Twitch reports an amazing 106 minutes per user spent daily on Twitch. That’s an average of almost two hours spent per day consuming live video game content. In terms of monthly minutes watched per viewer, that puts Twitch ahead of Hulu, YouTube, and Facebook, second only to Netflix.
Right now, you might be asking: “Why would someone spend so much time watching someone ELSE play video games?” To be honest, I think that’s a completely fair question. Video game streaming is a new phenomenon with which most of us aren’t familiar, but I believe the concepts that make it so engaging are timeless. First of all, gamers are undeniably passionate about the games they play and want to improve their gameplay. But it goes deeper than that. The popular streamers aren’t only extremely talented at playing video games, they’re talented and versatile entertainers. A streaming session might include the streamer excelling at the highest level of gameplay, chatting with viewers in the chat stream, unboxing new products, bringing guests on to their stream, and more. Consumers don’t just come for the gameplay – they come to be entertained. The New York Times said it well: “…the live, freewheeling sessions on Twitch have the appeal of a major sporting event crossed with a talk show.” Just like any television show character or popular morning radio host, viewers grow to love the personalities of the streamers over time. Toss in the fact that almost anything can happen during a stream, and you’ve got an addicting form of entertainment that keeps audiences coming back day after day.
The marketer age gap. Many key marketing decision-makers grew up in a time either when video games didn’t exist or were far from a spectator sport. You can’t understand a video game streamer if you don’t see video games as a social event.
The (perceived) audience. Marketers may imagine an antisocial video game streaming audience too young to see a PG-13 movie, with no disposable income whatsoever. Research shows, however, that the esports audience is growing older (average age 25) with a household income of close to $60,000. Note the audience changes based on game type, and there’s no denying the streaming audience is still young and majority male. Still, this audience is beginning to mature and diversify.
The streamer names. Many streamers live under an Internet age moniker (previously mentioned streamers Pokimane, Disguised Toast, and Dr DisRespect are examples). Some of the hesitation around working with streamers may come from the fact that streamer names are often inscrutable or downright weird.
These streamers don’t have the potential to be the new influencers – they already are the new influencers. They command large audiences: The top 50 Twitch channels all have over 1 million followers and have average concurrent viewership of 30,000 to 100,000. That means 30,000 to 100,000 people watching at once – for hours at a time. Their audiences spend incredible amounts of time with them and support them financially, which builds strong, authentic relationships over time. For brands, this is the next frontier for influencer marketing. And like any great opportunity, chances to be an early adopter in this space are running out. So how can brands play along?
Over the next year, you’ll hear lots of discussion around esports, Twitch, and video game streaming. Here are three takeaways to help you stay ahead of the conversation.
Recognize the Value
It’s important to see beyond the novelty of the esports and streaming space to see its value as a potential marketing platform. The time audiences are spending with their favorite streamers and the depth of their passion are virtually unprecedented. At The Richards Group, we understand these opportunities because we’ve seen them firsthand through extensive work in the esports space. This includes Dr Pepper’s sponsorship of major esports franchise Team SoloMid, and direct branding and strategy work with esports franchise Team Envy and their Overwatch League team, the Dallas Fuel. We helped connect the Dallas Fuel with Jack in the Box as the first brand sponsor in the Overwatch League, with plenty of digital, social, and event activations to support that relationship.
Beyond sponsorships, there are opportunities of all shapes and sizes for brands savvy enough to act on them. A great example is our client Firehouse Subs, who through research noticed a significant portion of its fan base was popular streamers or liked to watch video game streaming. At low cost, it sent branded care packages to selected streamers (who had previously mentioned the brand on social media). The streamers were thrilled to get the packages, mentioning Firehouse Subs several times while streaming (one streamer wore his Firehouse Subs hat during his stream to his 50,000 followers). This shows the untapped potential of the gaming space and proves brands don’t need to be endemic (gaming software and peripherals, energy drinks) to find success with streamers.
Make It Authentic
It’s one of the most important rules in influencer marketing – a brand’s involvement must feel true to the influencer. It must add value. This is especially true in the esports and gaming space. This audience has grown up online, with all of the Reddit use, inside jokes, and brand wariness that implies. You don’t want to be the brand mindlessly sponsoring a video-game-related stream for no reason – fans should understand the connection. There still aren’t many brands making formal entries into the “recreational” streaming space, but a good example is Gillette and well-known streamer Dr DisRespect. Dr DisRespect is known for his prominent mustache and proclivity to open his streaming sessions by singing Gillette’s “Best a Man Can Get” slogan. Gillette recognized the opportunity and became one of Dr DisRespect’s official sponsors, creating video content with Dr DisRespect welcoming it to the “Champion’s Club” and singing its slogan – a move that felt like a natural extension for his fan base.
One way to get a better understanding of the Twitch environment is to spend some time there. Spend a few minutes watching a handful of the most popular streamers. Don’t expect to understand the game content – pay attention to the way they engage the audience. The way they thank subscribers. The way their stream is set up to show off their personality. Those context clues might go a long way toward understanding the space a bit better. You may not start spending two hours a day watching content, but you’ll at least know what it looks and sounds like, and how your brand might fit in.
Expect Sustained Growth
You will continue to hear about esports and the exponential growth of the gaming market. Newzoo predicts that the current amount of esports enthusiasts and occasional viewers will grow from 380 million in 2018 to 557 million by 2021, an increase of 47 percent. Recreational streaming is a huge, unrecognized portion of audience time spent on Twitch, and the ways brands get involved are as varied as the streamers themselves (the cost of activation can range from essentially free to full sponsorships).
Some of this growth comes from the fact that video game streaming is a subsection of a greater overall trend – the mass adoption of live streaming video as a source of information and entertainment. All the major social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) are attempting to stay ahead of this trend by offering more and more streaming video options. Right now, Twitch is the platform arguably doing live streaming the best – and its audience growth will make it a major figure in the media space in the coming years as more and more people become used to the idea of consuming content as it happens. In fact, games aren’t the only thing being streamed on Twitch – 20 percent of Twitch’s content is nongaming (think cooking and art). Expect this to grow and open up even more opportunities for nongaming brands over the next few years.
As influencer marketing, streaming entertainment, and gaming as a spectator sport change and evolve in 2019, it’s crucial for marketers to see streamers as the new influencers – and learn to play their game.