I thought that a brief cross-comparison of influencer marketing in esports may be helpful, either for those looking in from the outside and wanting to learn more about the industry, or for those people already managing influencers in the esports space.

 

I recently read an article by Mark Ritson (https://www.marketingweek.com/2018/06/21/mark-ritson-influencers/) on the efficacy of influencers. He outlines two key issues facing influencer marketing in general: Fake followers and lack of credibility and trust.

 

The article questions the nature of influencer marketing as a viable and trusted tool in typical markets, saying, “The whole premise of influencer marketing is, if you think about it, dodgy. I certainly think it might have a place in the tactical toolkit for many brands – dodginess has never been a disqualifier for marketing investment after all.”

 

Running his own small trial to gauge the efficacy of micro-influencers, he made an image (of his pixelated arse) go viral, then measured the results. Mark concluded that the true influence of influencers was lacking. In particular, click-through rate of campaigns were poor. Why is that the case?

 

1. A large portion of the influencers’ audience was fake, and

2. The influencers didn’t have huge amounts of in the first place

 

“…45% of the sample [of Mark’s trial campaign] refused to participate in it aligns with the bigger and broader studies of influencer trust. The survey of 1,200 American consumers last year by Shareable concluded that, in total, 38% of followers trusted what influencers told them.”

 

So why engage in influencer marketing in the first place? The basic concept is that individuals who already command a sizeable audience of devout fans – fully engaged on platforms such as Twitch or Discord – are hired by companies to promote products. The preferred outcome is that influencers already enjoy the product, and would therefore be able to genuinely promote it.

 

The companies, via this marketing method, can immediately reach a desired audience for their new product, rather than having to round up that audience themselves through traditional methods. Influencers are also usually convincing, charismatic, and have a track record promoting other products. Companies like this too.

 

In esports, our influencers are the players, the streamers, and the commentators. These are the ways each group functions as influencers:

 

Players: are mostly signed to professional teams, and therefore (mostly) restricted to promoting the brands that sponsor their teams. This is the main draw for a sponsor to an esports team. Players will use the products either in live games (which are seen through livestream), or promote the products in a recorded setting outside of games. Teams usually arrange this, and upload the footage as VOD content for sponsors. This content is then distributed across social media.

 

Streamers: conduct the large part of their influencer work through Twitch.TV or similar platforms. Brands who sponsor these streamers benefit from non-AdBlock airtime. Promotions are either relayed directly through the stream, or placed in the description of the influencer’s channel. Social media is a secondary (supporting) function for the distribution of promotions. This varies depending on the nature of the streamer.

 

Commentators: must usually navigate the space with caution, given that they must promote the brands of companies sponsoring the broadcast for tournaments they work at. That said, most do have flexibility outside of their regular jobs. They can be viewed as highly trustworthy influencers since they are portrayed as professionals behind a commentary desk, and are well-spoken and charismatic.

 

We can assume that, for now, influencer marketing across the esports space is not perceived as dodgy. But can we assume that may not always be the case? Absolutely. The pool of influencers is growing as the industry expands and becomes more competitive. People are hungry for attention and work, and may also try to grow their audience with fake followers. Brands, not knowing the good from the bad, will either pay poor influencers too much, or good influencers will be swayed by huge sums of cash for dishonest promotions (this already happens).

 

One major difference for influencers in esports is the way in which they are integrated with the industry at large. They are “bound” by a larger industry in the first place as part of the ecosystem. In other words, authenticity is crucial to remaining relevant as an influencer currently in esports – and it will likely always be a key, defining factor in the way influencers are selected.

 

The esports audience is savvy. Influencers realise that they are really at the mercy of their fans – an audience that smells a false or dishonest promotion is highly vocal. More importantly, they’re able to create trouble for that influencer across the wider ecosystem if they want to. As such, the influencers are kept in check.

 

The promotion of products in esports is so sensitive now, especially via streamed or live content. Promotions are often greeted on stream by a chorus of “SELLOUT!” on Twitch chat. This leaves influencers with two choices: either make the promotion more genuine (work harder for the campaign’s success), or play it down and embrace the sellout image. Is the latter effective, though? An audience might find that funny. In a sense it’s a kind of honesty in itself, admitting that you’re being paid for a promotion. In my experience we’ve seen campaigns where this has an even greater affinity with the audience, and people will support those brands as a result.

 

On Mark’s final point about click-through rate as a success measurement, the picture is impressive and promising for esports influencer marketing. Across campaigns Catalyst has run for influencers and brands in esports, we tend to see a current conversion of between 20% – 35%. This means that (as we’re all used to preaching) the esports audience is highly engaged and highly affected by influencer marketing – usually at much cheaper rates, too.

 

But ultimately, influencers must become ambassadors if they want to succeed and profit moving forward. They must be true representatives of an idea, a product, a brand, or a company. Being genuine or working harder to be creative in selling a product would eventually make you a valued asset for those companies, and for agencies selling you to those companies.