Innovation & Design

Pro Gaming Attracting Big Corporate Sponsors


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.


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