Joshua Van Horsen Number29 314-714-5431 email@example.com
Number29 Drops Into The Esports Agency Arena
Mobile esports veteran Number29 is geared up for the future of entertainment.
St. Louis, MO — May 16, 2018: Branding and marketing agency, Number29 relaunches today with a renewed focus on esports and the gaming community. This repositioning by Number29 places them squarely in the center of the burgeoning esports industry, as one of the few grassroots agencies built by gamers for gamers. With over 20 years brand & marketing experience with clients such as Super Evil Mega Corp, Disney, and National Geographic, plus a lifetime of gaming, Number29 aims to be the premier esports brand and marketing agency.
“We’re very excited about shifting our focus too exclusively esports related projects and partnerships,” said Joshua Van Horsen, Chief Creative Officer of Number29. “ We are leveraging decades of brand and marketing expertise, and real-world experience within the esports community, to elevate organizations to create the best esports content in the most artistic and passionate industry; gaming.
Our mission at Number29 is to empower online content creators, esports teams and organizations, game developers and publishers with world-class event design, marketing, branding, and content strategy services. Our love for the gaming/esports community is not a strategic business decision, but an extension of our core values. Being such, we are committed to providing educational tools, streamer assets, and content, and insights into our own processes to help strengthen the businesses of our fellow gamers.
About Number29: We are a global esports branding and marketing agency built on a mission to support gaming communities, help streamers and esports organizations brand themselves and to encourage growth within the communities of the games we love. We do this through excellent design, focused strategy and a commitment to the next generation of gamers.
Sometimes being late to the party can offer you surprising opportunities and that’s exactly how Number29 found its focus.
In 2015, after years of pushing an Art Director career into upper management, Joshua Van Horsen fell in love with twitch.tv culture, and competitive mobile gaming. With a background of playing competitively at LANs in the late 90’s/ early 00’s, Josh had been a long time fan of esports. The prospect of mobile gaming creating that same social experience for a new generation of gamers inspired Josh to leave his cushy day job and actively become involved in the fledgling mobile esports community with his company Number29, and a Vainglory focused website, Vainshame.com. Three years later, and more than 20 live esports events around the world, Number29 has helped pioneer mobile esports and the future of gaming.
Today, Number29’s focus remains the same: to support gaming communities, help streamers and esports organizations brand themselves and to encourage growth within the communities of the games we love. We do this through excellent design, focused strategy and a commitment to the next generation of gamers.
This article is the third in a series ( Part 1 | Part 2 ) focused on esports marketing and go-to-market strategies. Throughout the month I will be looking at each of the pillars discussed in Part 1 and breaking those down into smaller discussions to help you identify what approach is right for your organization.
The second strategy pillar we will discuss in an esports team GTM strategy is focused on Communication.
The decisions you made regarding your Team Strategy in part 2 should be informing the choices you will be making in terms of which marketing channels you should be leveraging for your Communication Strategy.
What is a Marketing Channel?
Marketing channels are the platforms you will utilize to get your word out to your fans. Social media is your most important marketing channel, which can be divided into each platform you will utilize to reach your target demographics. Other channels to consider are podcasts, video, ads, live-streaming, events, influencers etc.
* How are you going to gain market visibility and steal mindshare from your competitors?
* What promotions can you offer fans to make your team worth investing in both emotionally and financially?
For the sake of your Communication strategy, I want to dig into the target audience and make sure we have a clear understanding of why knowing who these fans are is important.
Your target audience is going to be a very important consideration when looking at what marketing channels you will be leveraging for your communication strategy.
* Is there a particular region you want to target?
* Is your target market on PC, Console, or Mobile or all three?
* Is your audience predominantly male, or should you be targeting females as well?
* What’s the target age of your demographic? Typically you would be looking at 14–35 years old, however, mobile games can bring in gamers upwards of 56 years of age. Is that important to your communications?
The answers to these questions should be considered to determine which channels are going to provide the best bang for your buck to start with. While I would typically recommend leveraging as many channels as possible, knowing which channels will allow you to reach the demographic you are targeting will allow you to refine your communications.
Location can be incredibly critical in terms of how you reach your fans if you plan to represent a region, or will be creating geolocated ads. If you are targeting prospective fans outside of the US, be sure to understand what platforms are available to those users. In China, you will want to leverage WeChat and Weibo.cn as much as possible for your community building efforts. For Southeast Asia, look at Facebook as the default platform of choice.
As an example, let’s consider the Overwatch team, Shanghai Dragons. As the only Overwatch franchised team in China, their communications strategy must incorporate WeChat, Weibo, and Tencent QQ because those are the digital platforms where their regional fans are living. Just a quick check reveals:
Approximately sixty thousand Chinese fans on Weibo. I was unable to pull the stats for WeChat, but I’d venture to guess that’s even higher due to WeChat’s full penetration of China’s economic & social infrastructure. So, if you’re like me, you may be wondering how Shanghai Dragons Twitter can still have approx. fifty-four thousand followers, if what I am saying is true?
My initial hunch was that these are mainly fans of the US and Europe that are just following every Overwatch League teams. I referred to Zoomph.com to check the regional breakdown for the Shanghai Dragon’s twitter account:
As you can see here, the majority of fans on twitter are definitely based in the US, with small percentages spread through the rest of the world, with China representing the 12–18 percentile of followers.
Target devices — PC, Console, or Mobile? Knowing where the majority of your fans are coming from not only allows you to understand how they are playing, but can also dictate how and where you want to be promoting, how that content is going to be consumed, and what sort of sponsors and promotions will appeal to your market.
PC gamers are at home with multitasking and have desktop browsers at their fingertips, whereas mobile gamers are using their devices to watch streams and consume content. Console gamers are most likely utilizing a combination of mobile devices and PC due to few consoles offering a pleasant browser experience, other than watching twitch when they are not playing.
Female gamers are becoming increasingly more prevalent and engaged in esports culture. I would recommend being very considerate in how you are communicating and understand that the female gamer is not only out there, but is a growing audience. While I haven’t seen many female audiences exceed 15% for most teams and competitive games, that is still a sizable chunk of your fan base.
As a point of comparison, we can look at @ClashofClans, which actually is an outlier with a female fanbase of 19%. With a total twitter following of 4.3 million, that is still a female audience of ~817k fans. That is a huge female audience! Don’t neglect these fans.
Target age is sort of a tricky factor.Knowing your audience is one thing, but knowing who you want as your audience is something else altogether.
I actually thought this was something that the H1Z1 Pro League did pretty well this last weekend. Their pregame content (and to some extent the casting as well), was targeted to potential viewers that were not your typical gamer. Being broadcast on Facebook, they knew that they had potential to bring both an older audience and a larger than usual female viewership. They did a great job not only explaining the game and the battle royale genre, but also bringing in mainstream celebrities to speak to the strengths of gaming and esports. This communication strategy is aimed at bringing a wider demographic into the viewership, and not just catering to core gamers.
Now that we have a better understanding of our target market, our decisions on platforms and communications can be more easily defined.
Twitter: Strong in North America and Europe. Great for news and direct one on one engagement with fans.
Facebook: Top Social Network in Southeast Asia. Large female demographic, with ages ranging from 18–56 years.
Youtube: Team video content is a must. Building fans through storytelling, and engaging content. Tell human stories, not just gameplay vids.
Twitch: a great channel for player based fan building from 14–36 years old. I do believe there is a lot of opportunities for teams to build brand specific channels, and leverage the Premier and Replay features to create more intimate viewing parties for brand engagement. Take your fans behind the scenes of your videos and have players sharing their experiences real-time with viewers. Engage one-on-one with your fans in real-time and give them something few teams are doing today.
Or consider doing “behind-the-scenes” streams from your team house, while your players are practicing. Fans want this content!
Mitigating Sub-channel Overlap & Fan Confusion
One aspect of your communication strategy that I think is really worth considering for organizations with three or more teams, is sub-channel segmentation.
What I mean by this is breaking up your team communications into individual channels based on the game. For instance, having separate Twitter accounts for your Organization, your Overwatch team, your Super Smash team, and your Clash Royale team.
I don’t think this is the right approach for all channels, but Twitter, in particular, can benefit from a more segmented approach to communication. One of my own biggest pain-points as a fan is following an Org because I like their Vainglory team, but then having to wade through all their other communications, trying to pick out which ones are relevant to me. Is this a CSGO post, or LoL, Clash Royale, Rocket League, etc?
Organizations want to show large numbers of followers, to help provide value to potential sponsors and developers when being considered for partnerships. I get that. However, I’d argue that being able to show 100k followers, divided amongst 4 twitter profiles, segmented by genre is almost more valuable to a potential sponsor/affiliate.
These are now highly targeted accounts that have a very clear demographic. Your Clash Royale team twitter of 35k followers is a mobile audience. They are younger, more interested in products that make their brand of gaming easier, and typically more social and are not constrained to gaming at home. You can now approach Anker about a potential sponsorship. You can show that you have 100k total followers, but 35% of those followers are targeted mobile gamers. You can send communications directly to that market segment without paying for ads. These means that you can almost guarantee increased engagement, with a higher sales conversion, with the right communications.
I would still recommend a brand account as well. This still allows for cross-genre communications. Now your team twitter accounts can provide more of the play-by-play type tweets, with scores and matchups, and your organization twitter can provide more of the high-level promotional tweets. Save the dates, games times, sponsor messages, promotions, etc.
So, is a mixed channel approach right for your organization?
Marketing is hard. It’s easy for me to say, hey, break up your organizational comms into five Twitter accounts, and keep them all up to date, in addition to your Facebook account and your Youtube channel.
The reality of that situation for most esports organizations is that they don’t have the resources or people to keep up with that pace of content. Team owners don’t really have the time to keep all that straight. Using volunteers has its own challenges. Not to mention creating graphics, animated gifs, and videos for all of these channels, with their different aspect ratios and limitations. And by the way, Twitch is requiring your players to stream 20 hours a week in order for you to get paid.
It can be very overwhelming.
If you are a new organization, sometimes it feels like you have to start with a minimum of a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Twitch, Discord, Linkedin, and Telegram accounts. Not to mention building a website. But why? If you don’t have the resources to properly leverage those platforms to engage your fan base, then don’t.
You’ve worked on your Team Strategy, and you are confident that a Twitter account is the right place to start for your target audience. Start building your fan base, and formulating your communications. Engage your fans with tweets and promotions. Find ways to leverage your limited resources to execute your communication strategy.
You have a team video you want to tweet out? Now create a youtube channel, and post it there. You don’t have to have a clear youtube strategy in place yet, just use it to house your content. Over time your fans will come, and when you are ready you can create consistent content for that channel.
As your fan base widens, and your management team grows, continue to add channels to your strategy. Revised your communication strategy, and expand your organizational footprint.
What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
This article is the second in a series (Part 1 ) focused on esports marketing and go-to-market strategies. Throughout the month I will be looking at each of the pillars discussed in Part 1 and breaking those down into smaller discussions to help you identify what approach is right for your organization.
The first strategy pillar we will discuss in an Esports team GTM strategy is focused on Team.
The Team Strategy should be developed as a tool to position your org expansion for future success by introducing them in the best possible light, raising your players on a pedestal and providing incentives for fans to learn more about the team and follow them.
Your team is your product.
Imagine if you were to package up your team and sell them to esports fans in a store.
Who is your target audience?
How would you package them to be immediately recognizable to fans?
What is the team storyline? What do you want fans, media, and broadcasters talking about?
What makes your team better than other teams on the market? Is it a player, a coach, a unique synergy?
What makes this team unique vs other teams? Backstory?
Who are your main competitors? C9? TSM? FNATIC?
How are you going to gain market visibility and steal mindshare from your competitors?
What promotions can you offer fans to make your team worth investing in both emotionally and financially? Limited edition Team Jerseys? Twitter giveaway?
Having clear answers to the questions above can provide you a solid foundation for your go-to-market strategy. By understanding who you are(or want to be), allows you to easily begin developing the remaining three pillars of your strategy.
I feel that most of the time, the team is represented as secondary to the org in the current esports model. I understand this. Most esports organizations are vying for the audience’s attention, and are working diligently to build recognizable (and lasting) brands. However, in some regards, this is a broken approach when it comes to esports.
Often I am involved in conversations drawing parallels between esports teams and traditional sports teams. The problem with this comparison is that traditional sports have been established around unique brands, built on a foundation of geographical fandom. This narrow focus allows the professional teams to have very clear identities of who and what they are.
Esports, however, has approached this problem from the standpoint of one org to rule them all. They don’t care if you aren’t interested in the H1Z1 Pro League, you’re going to have to hear all about it because you happen to like their CSGO team. This fractured communication results in a dilution of team branding and core messaging. We will discuss this problem more in depth in part 3-Communication Strategy.
Answering the questions above to understanding who you are (or want to be), and who your fans are, will provide you the necessary information to build compelling narratives for promoting your team.
I think it is easy for an org to start a new team, and just assume, well, we’re Cloud9 so that’s all that matters. And, let’s be honest, for Cloud9, yeah, they have established one of the leading brands in esports.
They have a great identity that’s instantly recognizable, a pedigree of success that provides them mindshare, and the resources to build engaging content and marketing when they enter a new game.
This credibility gets them invited to participate in new leagues such as the Clash Royale League and the H1Z1 Pro league because of that brand, and potential viewership they can bring. However, unless they actually position their H1Z1 or Hearthstone teams to be worth caring about, they won’t bring as much viewership as the publishers hope.
That’s because gamers care about the games they play unless you give them a reason to care about something else. Seems obvious? I’d think so, yet why are professional esports orgs not positioning their teams at the forefront of their communications? They are leaning so heavily on brand equity, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to competitors stealing their fans attention because they are not establishing their teams as worth caring about.
Don’t believe me?
I pay attention to the LCS because it’s esports and I want to know what is happening throughout the industry. I don’t really follow any of the teams or really care because I don’t play League of Legends enough to be passionate about it.
That is until 100 Thieves interrupt my weekend, grabbed my attention and made me care about who they were, where they came from, and where they were going. I am sure I am not the only one that took notice this weekend. Nadeshot places the team at the front of their communications, provides a narrative around who they are, and breaks out of the mold of esports branding. The Heist series is a great example of including fans in the narrative, showing the process of building the team, the ups and downs that go along with it, and creating an emotional connection. It also doesn’t hurt that 100T faced Team Liquid in the finals, to really help cement this underdog story through to the end.
Take a look at Team Liquids twitter this weekend, vs 100 Thieves:
This article is the first in a series focused on esports marketing and go-to-market (GTM) strategies. Throughout the series, we will be looking at each of the pillars discussed below and breaking those down into smaller discussions to help you identify what approach is right for your esports organization.
Right now, esports is experiencing a veritable gold-rush. The market is gaining traction at an increasing rate while organizations, fans, sponsors, and investors are all trying to understand:
What are the market opportunities?
How will the esports space look in 5 years?
Which platforms/developers will play a key role in that growth?
How do we best position ourselves for success?
Being such, this turning point in the history of esports is allowing professional esports organizations to grow quickly, garnering increased fan support, securing both endemic and (the highly coveted) non-endemic sponsorships and leveraging resources brought in through investors.
One key component of this growth is an organizations expansion into other games and genres by either securing a team through a buyout or constructing a team with recruited players. Since it is difficult to earn enough money to create a profitable organization in esports right off the bat, this sort of team expansion is common, (and almost required) in order to increase your fan base, create additional revenue streams, increase exposure to prize pools and seek sponsorship opportunities. However, the downside to this sort of growth is the dilution of your brand segment messaging and player/fan identity within the organization.
What do I mean by that?
Suddenly, that content strategy you had been executing for your cornerstone game and a pre-existing team is being adapted and regurgitated for your new team, through existing channels. This recycling of content strategy allows an org to quickly hit the ground running using (hopefully) tried and true content strategies to engage a new audience. However, what it also does is dilutes the brands’ core messaging, confuses the fans because they now have to consider what is relevant to them and may decrease value to existing sponsors through fractured communications.
I believeone area of massive opportunity for esports organizations is creating a go-to-market (GTM) strategy whenever they are planning to expand into a new game. By creating a go-to-market strategy, an organization can consider the messaging and positioning necessary to appeal to and ultimately grow a new subset community.
If your organization currently only has a CSGO team, then adding a mobile esport team like Clash Royale or Vainglory is going to be drawing a completely different audience to your brand then if you were adding a Call of Duty team. These differences are not only in terms of the game/genre its self, but also the language, aesthetics, demographics, and potential sponsors that is relevant to your fan base. Being deliberate in how you are communicating to these subsets of your brand with distinctly different audiences can be an important step in reinforcing your brand rather than fracturing it.
In order to create a go-to-market plan for your esports organization, you need to define the four pillars of your strategy:
Team strategy — How you position a new team within a new game/community. Who are they, what is the team storyline? What merchandise can you offer to excite and activate this new audience? Do you have a promotion strategy to help amplify your message?
Communication strategy — Which channels will be the most effective for this new team based on audience? How do you mitigate channel overlap and fan confusion? Is a mixed channel approach to marketing the right choice for you, or should you focus on single channel engagement due to regional interest, fan demographic or genre of game?
Market strategy — What makes your team the best in this game and why should fans care about what you are building vs other teams (eg. value proposition)? What are your fan demographics, location, interests, and potential sponsors?
Fan Experience — How do you engage and excite the fans of your new team to create action and loyalty? Is there a shared visual language, aesthetic, worldview that you can leverage? Are there promotions or sponsors that can speak to their particular game interest?
Each of these pillars makes up the infrastructure of your team’s go-to-market strategy, while at the same time strengthening your overarching brand and community. By taking time to consider each pillar and have a deliberate plan for execution you can identify potential communication issues before they happen. You may even walk through this process and determine that what you are currently doing is going to be fine for the size of your organization and your present resources. This is fine too. However; what is most important is being considerate in how you are expanding your brand and taking sufficient steps to ensure its future success.