A growing trend in the sports industry has been seeing more teams from the traditional “Big Four” leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) looking to develop an esports tie-in to include in their marketing and promotional campaigns.
While certainly a noble effort, most of these have been low-key, one-off affairs, like the New York Mets and Oakland A’s having popular gamers come to throw out ceremonial first pitches, or offering fans some sort of popular game-based promotional giveaway like a “Fortnite” calendar or “League of Legends” magnet.
That’s where VY Esports is looking to make a difference.
The company is positioned to empower teams to take that connection to the next level and develop much more substantial partnerships and marketing campaigns centered on the esports space. At its core, VY Esports specializes in experiences and creative content for the esports generation. The company strives to help teams, leagues, and potential brand partners build meaningful relationships and create activations that have a much higher ROI than typical affairs.
Robb Hittner, chief revenue officer at the company, explained that “VY is really set up because the esports ecosystem is incredibly fractured and misunderstood, which makes it difficult for teams and brands to navigate and engage.”
Hittner detailed the different avenues leading to the current muddle and confusion, stating that “currently, (the teams and brands) will come at it through one of many different doors, and that’s all they get. They’ll enter through the ‘event’ door, or ‘player’ door, maybe the ‘league door’ or ‘game door,’ not taking advantage of the comprehensive picture esports tie-ins can offer.”
Since it’s largely unfamiliar terrain, teams and brands are not leveraging the popularity of esports as effectively as they should. Yet, the space is growing rapidly, as Hittner mentioned he and others have seen this sort of “interesting awakening happening, fueling esports and everybody’s interest in it.”
“If you think about it, ours is the first generation to actively encourage our kids to play video games,” Hittner stated.
With that level of support and enthusiasm, the esports games have become part of the younger generation, creating a supply of fans and players that are part of an audience that may otherwise be difficult to reach. Traditional sports, television, and advertising all continue to drastically change as millennials and the Gen-Z crowd continue to turn away.
At VY Esports, “we think about ‘how do we leverage the vehicles already out there?’” the CRO stated, as the company aims to use that knowledge to contribute both to the growth and wider acceptance of the newer esports, as well as the future sustainability of the old standbys.
“We’re merging the traditional stick-and-ball fan experience and infrastructure with esports to get it to a point where teams and brands are able to celebrate fun activations and marketing initiatives in an environment they can all understand.”
The company draws on the shared experience of what it’s like to be a fan and that connective tissue of competition and socialization that both esports and stick-and-ball games provide. Recently, VY Esports partnered with the Los Angeles Dodgers to create a first-of-its-kind entirely esports-themed fan night at Dodger Stadium. The event celebrated the largely L.A.-based Overwatch League and its inaugural All-Star Weekend by having top players in the league as special guests of the Dodgers at the game.
Building out the experience, one of the Overwatch All-Stars threw out the first pitch at the game, and fans had a chance to participate in a meet-and-greet at the stadium. Tickets to this special Overwatch League Night at Dodger Stadium also included an exclusive Dodgers Overwatch League shirt, rounding out the promotion.
Activations like these between the Dodgers and Overwatch League are powerful because, as Hittner and his company have found, “that younger generation of esports fans are incredibly receptive and open to brands that come into it (esports) in smart, meaningful ways that aren’t just all about ‘sell, sell, sell.'”
The game has changed — both on and off the field. Brands can’t just have passive marketing strategies anymore; it’s crucial for teams to stay engaged and integrate themselves into initiatives that the next generation of consumers are passionate about, like esports. That’s also why a company like VY Esports is aiming to play a role in shaping the sports business and marketing industry of the future.