Whether you’re an esports professional or just an interested fan, there’s always more we can learn from how the gaming community is generating content, building community and creating effective brands.
Charades might not be the first game that comes to mind when you think of esports, but for French streamer and multimedia artist Gael Level, the guessing game has a special place in his heart.
“My favourite moment on stream was actually when I first played Act It Out XL. It’s a game of charades so it was awesome feeling like a game show host, while my chat would guess answers and get really competitive. It was so much fun”
Gael is one of the millions of content creators who now earn a living streaming games and publishing related content online, and if you thought that was a career open only to a select few, think again. The shift from bedroom hobby to major league has happened rapidly, with many professional esports teams now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Experts believe it’s a matter of if, not when, we see them hit the billion dollar valuation.
There are now dedicated esports arenas popping up all over the world, with major competitions like the Overwatch League running ‘homestands’ for popular teams in major cities, drawing thousands of passionate fans. And in the surest sign yet that things are serious, major advertisers are getting involved as the major esports leagues move to start providing TV-like ratings for their events. It's a timely evolution too: while most professional sporting leagues are shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, esports is taking centre stage.
“Freedom is what I think is the best part about being a game streamer”, says Level. “From the scheduling to the content strategy, and being able to set my own work conditions is my favourite part for sure. I make educational content too, so in my case, getting showered by positive messages every day really encourages me to keep going.”
It’s clearly never been a better - or easier - time to live out your dreams as a streamer or vlogger but with the barrier to entry so low, the challenge remains: how do you stand out from the crowd?
Caleb Leigh is in a better place than most to reflect on how streamers are branding themselves in 2020 in a bid to capture attention and gain larger audiences. As the CEO & Founder for Visuals by Impulse, a design agency catering specifically to gamers, he’s got the intel on what makes streamers stand out. “In the esports industry, you live and die by your brand. In today’s market there’s more competition than ever: esports organizations are competing for fans; live streamers are competing for viewers. If you want to grow an audience - and more importantly, keep that audience - you need to connect with your fans in ways that others can’t.”
Caleb is keen to point out that it’s not enough to just be good at playing games. “Let’s be clear, content is no longer the only consideration for success. Anybody can put up massive kill streaks and K/D ratios. Any team can cobble together a handful of pro players. It’s when content is paired with branding that success is found.”
“When done right, your audience will form a deeper, emotional connection with your brand. This is the key to winning over fans and building a loyal following.”
It’s a sentiment Dr Brent Coker, a Management and Marketing expert at the University of Melbourne, agrees with. “When you create a brand you’re creating an association or personality. You want people to admire you, so you need to be mindful of what qualities you want to have and present, and these qualities usually get signaled through your actions.”
“It all comes down to this idea of remaining relevant”, says Dr Coker. “Consumer tastes change, everyone likes the shiny new thing. But brands can get stale fairly quickly if they stay in one spot. Whenever we do branding, we think about who are the customers and in esports, the customers are not parents, the customers are a much younger demographic, so whatever we do needs to resonate with them.”
“There’s been an awakening on the pro esports scene, as organizations and brands move to capture larger audiences; in particular, the casual gamer community,” notes Caleb, “and this is having a notable impact on both esports design and products. The traditional esports mascots and gaudy fonts of yesterday are being replaced by simple, recognizable logo marks. Esports merch is no longer confined to boring graphics on nylon jerseys; we’re seeing apparel lines inspired by popular streetwear brands such as Supreme, often selling out within hours.”
Placeit is another online service that’s proving popular, with its browser-based animated logo creator helping up and coming esports pros and streamers make their mark on the world. “For creators in the esports world, having a brand that helps them stand out from the crowd is key, and as the medium is so dynamic, we decided to develop animated logos that streamers can incorporate into their channel seamlessly,” says Gabbie Castaneda, Placeit’s Content Marketing Manager, who notes that shooter style and evil characters are among the most popular choices, so too those with a glow or a fluorescent frame.
“We want to enable creators to personalize the experience they offer their viewers. The trend we keep seeing is that streamers want to constantly improve their stream, which gives way to wanting graphics and animations like the ones pros use.”
For professional teams, the increased success and global attention - not to mention the associated expectations of quality and professionalism - comes with its own challenges. “Not only has esports grown, but so has our team,” notes Ian Sansavera, the Director of 1UP Studios at Team Liquid, an Envato customer. “We started winning a lot the last few years, which has made a lot of opportunities come across my desk. I think the growth of the industry is really healthy, but having to stay on top of current events and standings makes this industry super demanding, especially from a content perspective.”
“If we’re covering an event for a week, we only have a week or less to edit everything together before it becomes irrelevant in the scope of esports, so we’ve had to be very quick and efficient.”
This need to be responsive, fast and organic when creating content, while capturing what Team Liquid stands for, is key to creating an authentic and supportable brand, especially in the realm of video. “I think esports teams have certainly been getting better at creating video content over the years. Small teams are getting larger, fan bases are getting bigger and the higher-ups at these organizations need to look at the team as a brand, and video content is a part of that. Teams like 100 Thieves and Faze do a good job at constantly pumping out video content, which in turn helps those brands tremendously, but the way Faze handles video won’t necessarily work for Team Liquid and vice versa.”
It’s a similar story for another Envato customer, G2 Esports. “We have brand attributes that we live by. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we know esports is here to entertain people, and we always try to make people smile,” says Art Production Manager Thomas Navarro. “Even if our team just took a big loss, we always need to find a way to make fun of ourselves. Having this in the back of your mind when creating a graphic or a video, pushes you to always think about what could be better or funnier in certain situations. We are never dull or boring!”
“Production value within the esports industry is increasing,” continues Navarro, “and it’s also nice to see more and more teams invest in quality content. We’re getting closer to the entertainment and movie industry than ever before. It’s great to have more resources allocated to us to help reach new heights with our creations.”
Back in France, and Gael Level is putting the finishing touches on another one of his tutorial videos for aspiring streamers. “I really bet it all on myself, I make sure that people who watch me do it because their attachment is to me and not the game or subject I stream about. I'm pretty obsessed with originality which makes me, I believe, quite unique. I like to think that the experience that I provide can't be replicated.”