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
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
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
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.