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Leveling Up: Understanding eSports & Their Marketing Potential for Sports Bars

On paper, the concept may seem absurd. Who wants to watch somebody else play video games? Is there really a market of third siblings forced to spectate while their older siblings take turns with Mario and Luigi out there? To ask those questions in the first place is to fundamentally misunderstand the appeal of eSports.

Nobody questions why millions of people tune into the NFL every Sunday afternoon or shell out hundreds of dollars for baseball tickets. The concepts of professional eSports and major league athletics are not as different as you might think. Sure, the gladiator aesthetic and the barbarism is virtually non-existent — or is it existent, virtually? — but at the end of the day, in both events, you have spectators observing someone else playing a game. There are flamboyant personalities, tense drama-inducing moments, and fanbases cheering on their favorite teams and players.

eSports viewership numbers are absolutely staggering. The top 25 channels on popular game streaming site Twitch boast between 1.7 and 12.4 million subscribers. The Overwatch League, a 6-on-6 team first-person shooter, has proven to be a hit in the eSports community. Its broadcasts have reached over 10 million unique viewers. Even tie-ins with professional sports leagues have proven fruitful, as the NBA 2K League continues to grow.

How Can Sports Bars Win Over eSports Fans?

eSports fans

So, there is clearly a market of dedicated fans who consume eSports in their homes just like football fans gathering around the flat-screen, but how do you get eSports fans into your bar? Traditional marketing techniques are less successful with younger audiences. We use Netflix to avoid commercials. We install ad-blockers and spam filters to keep our screens free of junk.  Younger consumers trust each other far more than they trust advertising. Word of mouth and interpersonal connections are your key marketing tools for Millennials and Gen Z.

An authentic social media presence can be incredibly helpful in terms of getting your foot in the door. Put away the Facebook; it’s quickly becoming a graveyard for multi-level marketing and unironic Minion memes. You’re more likely to reach your targets via Twitch, Reddit, and Twitter.

Tailoring your guest experience for eSports, vis-a-vis athletics, will involve a little bit of leg work in both the back of the house and the front.

Evolving attitudes and opinions are hallmarks of Millennials, including those about food. With large percentages of younger individuals eating vegetarian and vegan diets, having multiple animal-free options available to your guests is necessary. Buffalo cauliflower, hummus and crudité platters, and cheese-less nachos are all easily translatable dishes that can satisfy your guests without adding extra strain to your food cost.

Create a Rewarding Experience for eSports Fans

eSports Event

Out front, creating a rewarding viewing experience is not as simple as it is with traditional sporting events. Though, occasionally, traditional cable networks will air eSports competitions, the bulk of eSports will be broadcast on streaming platforms like Twitch, MLG.com, and YouTube. To facilitate viewership in your venue, you can make use of Smart TV technology or streaming devices like Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire Sticks. If, like many other bars and restaurants, you are utilizing tabletop tablets, adding apps to the devices can allow your guests to choose their own in-table entertainment. Make sure they can get the audio they need, too, to fulfill the experience.

If you can successfully cultivate an environment friendly for gamers and fans, you may be able to see the benefits of hosting your own eSports events in-house.

The advantage you gain as an early adopter of any movement cannot be overstated. If you prove to your guests that you can sincerely cater to their needs, especially before your competitors jump on the bandwagon, they will reward you with loyalty.

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