Pro gaming groups, such as the World Cyber Games, the Global Gaming League, and the Cyberathlete Professional League, are starting to garner attention from big-name sponsors from outside the video game industry, such as Johnson & Johnson. The fact that these big-time companies are willing to advertise during these gaming events shows that pro gaming is quickly going mainstream.
While those deeply entrenched in the video game industry have been proclaiming the growing importance and relevance of professional gaming in the United States for years, it has sometimes seemed difficult to take those internal proclamations seriously. Only when outside advertisers are willing to prove (with a portion of their marketing budget) that pro gaming is a legitimate and viable way to reach America's youth is it safe to proclaim that professional gaming has "landed" on American soil.
PC hardware companies have been sponsoring Counter-Strike teams and individual pro gamers for over seven years, but more general youth-oriented brands and corporations have been slow to catch on to the phenomenon. In fact, last week's announcement that Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals (makers of Tylenol) was sponsoring pro CS team Ouch is believed to be the first of its kind.
With J&J pioneering this "experimental" sponsorship, it seems extremely likely that more corporate sponsors outside of the video game and technology industries will soon follow. No more internal industry proclamations are necessary—pro gaming is going mainstream.
Finding Lost Youth
Corporations will follow their target market anywhere they can, whether it's into school, on TV, or online. As an increasing number of youth (especially males) spend more and more time with video games, these marketing departments saw them largely as a place they couldn't follow. In-game advertising was one solution, but initially its effectiveness was impossible to quantify, and it's only acceptable in a percentage of games released, where it doesn't take the player out of the experience.
The PC industry recognized first that pro gaming sponsorship was the most effective way to reach gamers who had left TV and other mediums.
"Intel's sponsorship of the Cyberathlete Professional League goes back nearly 6 years, when the notion of professional gaming was still pretty novel. In fact, many thought it was down right crazy, so a concerted move into professional gaming sponsorships, and with any one property, wasn't without its risks. At the same time, we recognized that gaming, and gamers specifically, are about community—and like any community, built on the foundation of trust and relationships over time. It's what 'grass roots' is all about," an Intel spokesperson told GameDAILY BIZ last year.
Over the past six years pro gaming has matured and grown significantly, but corporate America still hadn't figured out what the PC industry has known from the beginning: pro gaming is the key to finding those lost youth.
"Corporations are dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on a TV ad, and kids don't even watch TV. They're missing this demographic," Atlanta lawyer Jason Lake told the AP. Lake sponsors two teams of professional gamers.
"Kids in the early 1900s were playing baseball in dirt fields. Kids today are playing computer games," he continued.
The U.S. Plays Catch-Up
The U.S. might be a world leader in many sectors involving technology and business, but other countries have proven for years that pro gaming can have value to companies outside of directly related industries.
World Cyber Games home South Korea has three 24-hour cable channels focused exclusively on broadcasting competitive gaming, while the U.S. is still coming to terms with the sport's entertainment value, let alone considering the feasibility of a network devoted to it.
American gamers have also lagged behind that of their European and Asian counterparts in acceptance of pro gaming's legitimacy, which might explain some of the reluctance shown by American corporations to sponsor gaming events. 1 million gamers attempted to qualify for the WSG final, only 40,000 of which were American.