The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the relevance of gaming as a social paradigm. Experts agree online games have checked many of the boxes in terms of social needs during the crisis, especially among children and young adults. As consumers have adjusted to stay-at-home orders, this social transformation has reinforced the importance of games as a means for young minds to connect.
In these new environments, broadcasters and brands have an opportunity to engage consumers in ways those audiences not only enjoy, but seek out. That means engaging them in moments that matter to them, with contextual relevance, and through experiences that deliver both value to players and better results for brands.
As adoption and connectivity increase, video game genres are becoming more culturally accessible for non-traditional audiences. In April 2020, amidst widespread U.S. sporting event cancelations, the NFL announced its Madden NFL 20 Celebrity Tournament, an online video game tournament played between real NFL players. Fans were invited to watch on network television, making it one of the most notable mainstream broadcasts of an eSport spectating event in U.S. media. In a sports-history first, the eSport tournament highlights were shared on ESPN’s cable television channel where both gaming and non-gaming fans viewed them alongside traditional sports programming.
Similarly, in the UK, the early 2020 Quarantine Cup event grew from a small tournament to feature over 100 professional clubs and thousands of spectators from across the globe. While the Cup was launched by Leyton Orient F.C. — a very small club in the global football community — it would come to feature 128 official team accounts from some of the biggest clubs in the world. In a departure from real-world tournaments, fans voted via Twitter on the Cup rules, among other forms of participation that added a new layer of interactivity to a traditionally spectate-only sport.
The ways in which media, marketing, and advertising groups create new brand experiences in these environments will be equally transformative. “Sponsorship income and media rights income will become a major driver of growth in China’s eSports market,” PwC predicts. China boasts one of the largest eSports markets in the world, and has already served as a harbinger for developments in eSports markets worldwide.
Connected gaming environments are creating new opportunities for artists to reach enormous audiences as well, in exciting and interactive ways. In Epic Games’ Fortnite, 27.7 million gamers tuned in during Travis Scott’s “Astronomical,” a series of in-game virtual concerts where players’ avatars became guests during the interactive events. On May 1, 2020, shortly after Astronomical, Fortnite unveiled its new, no-combat “Party Royale” environment, where DJ Diplo’s Major Lazer concert allowed players to engage in a similar experience with additional interactive features.
The success of these events teaches us they have a future in mainstream culture. Beyond traditional advertising, marketers can create participatory experiences that integrate brand communications into gaming experiences that reach the right audiences — in exciting and desirable ways. There is no limit to the creative solutions these teams can develop.
Epic Games, developer of Fortnite, had already spearheaded this movement with the introduction of movie characters into the online game. In 2019, countless players elected to play Fortnite with avatars of their favorite Star Wars characters, participate in Star Wars-themed battles, and even equip their characters with lightsabers in anticipation of the release of Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. These participatory branded experiences will become increasingly common in connected gaming, and especially in high-performance, 5G-enabled environments.
Mobile devices already serve as a gateway for casual gamers entering the connected-gaming world; 5G networks will deliver the fast, high-bandwidth mobile gaming capabilities consumers of all types increasingly demand. This is especially true among younger generations coming of age: our study found that 18-to-24-year-olds are twice as likely as other age groups to be excited about real-time gaming experiences with multiplayer capabilities that 5G supports.
Now is the time to begin imagining what experiences are possible for the variety of consumers who want sophisticated, social, immersive, or culturally significant experiences these environments can provide. At Verizon Media, we help brands and marketers reach consumers across the range of new gaming environments 5G will support. More importantly, we offer resources that boost your efforts to create novel, value-added experiences for a new generation of connected gamers.
Our new London-based 5G Lab & Studio allows our partners to produce premium quality 3D content of this kind, including virtual and augmented reality experiences, with state-of-the art facilities offering volumetric capture, motion capture, AR broadcast, and more.
This new, 5G-enabled environment is a cutting-edge incubator for innovative and creative companies ready to test and learn how they can shape the future of brand content in connected gaming.