ESPN and Smash Marketing

Recently, ESPN posted a March Madness-style bracket of the top pros across all of eSports. From it’s announcement, I was watching very closely, hoping that it would prove a theory for me. Now that the dust has cleared, and we’ve passed Civil War enough to talk about anything else, I want to discuss why this bracket matters. Particularly let’s talk about the success of Smash within it and what that means for our future as an eSport.

How We Won

Some quick highlights to recap first:
  • Every smasher made it into the top 32.
  • ANTi and Hungrybox made it to top 16.
  • Mang0 and Armada survived all the way to top 8.
  • Mang0 upset Bjergsen, the biggest star in League of Legends.
  • ANTi very nearly upset Daigo, the most widely known veteran in Street Fighter.
  • Armada took out NuckleDu, the current Street Fighter Capcom Cup champion and best American player.
  • Melee had more players in top 8 than League of Legends, the most-watched eSport in the world.

So, this is all super cool, but why is it relevant? Well, what it shows is the sheer passion of the Smash community compared to nearly every other eSports community out there.

We are nothing compared to the wider world of eSports. Games like DOTA and LoL have massive prize pools, every other title in the bracket has massive developer support for its eSports scene. Streamers of these other games have enormous followings compared to even Mang0 and Hbox. Bjergsen has far more followers and viewers that he could mobilize to easily defeat little old Mang0. And yet Smash came out ahead. Smash should have been one of the first games eliminated from this bracket, but we got every one of our players into the top 32 and far beyond.

We’re an Army

As a scene, Smash has struggled alone for over a decade. With no help from anyone, the Melee scene had to claw and fight for respect and recognition. They still pick up old CRTs off the side of the road to supply their tournaments. Being a fan of any other esport is easy, accessible, and often completely free. Being a smasher is hard, expensive, and a part of our very identity. It’s as core to who we are as our race, gender, and value system.

Therefore, when there is any opportunity to support Smash, we mobilize. We crowdfund like there’s no tomorrow. We drive to tournaments farther than anyone else would. We defend and evangelize our game to the ends of the earth. With no support from Nintendo, it is our passion alone that keeps Smash alive and growing.

This means that we come out in force even for something as small as a fantasy eSports bracket. Where Bjergsen may have only been able to motivate 10% of his massive audience, 80% of Mang0 Nation voted. We are a smaller army, but we are better organized and more fiercely loyal than any other force.

Leverage These Tools

Whenever I see something like this, my brain immediately goes to how it can help Smash grow. I’ve said over and over that we struggle with how to effectively market our events and appeal to sponsors. To me, this ESPN bracket is a critical tool that gives us some amazing selling points.

Think about it this way: You are a small energy drink company. You have approved a set amount of money for marketing within eSports. There are two options available to you for the same cost. Either you can sponsor a League of Legends streamer for a month, or you can fund a Smash Bros. tournament. In terms of stream numbers, you will theoretically touch more people by sponsoring a LoL streamer. But think about what you’d get from that Smash event.

First, at any S-tier event you’d have 600-1000 people you could physically engage. With a booth at the event you can give out merch and see Twitter explode with pictures of your logo and brand. Pros would be posting and talking about your brand because they would have direct access to it. Based on the poll, we know that pro Smash players have more direct influence on their fanbase than LoL players. The total number of followers may be smaller, but a higher percentage of them will be influenced by their favorite smasher endorsing your product.

Next, let’s talk about the trade off in good press. Millenials as a whole hate when someone directly markets at them. We destroy YouTubers who post sponsored content, and quickly turn on anyone who we perceive as becoming “too corporate”. However, Smash is completely different. Look back at Genesis Saga and how Cup Noodles were presented. The product placement was completely shameless. Instead of turning on 2GG and Cup Noodles for this gross monetization of our game, we were thrilled! We love Cup Noodles for supporting the scene. Instead of turning a beloved streamer into a corporate shill, you as an organization are supporting a grassroots scene.

Think about it another way. Go spend some time looking through ANTi’s twitter feed. The dude is completely shameless in shilling for brands. With only 38k followers, he has major brands like Bawls and Digiorno tweeting at him and sending him product. His feed is full of pictures with brands and plugs for his favorite products. I have yet to see even a little hate thrown his way for it. Smashers can get away with so much more when it comes to brand promotion. You can be blatant in your marketing, because you are supporting the scene rather than just trying to sell something.

From a PR perspective, that’s a massive win in favor of Smash.

ROI

Marketers are obsessed with finding ways to get more direct access to their key demographics. In the age of ad blockers and cord cutting, it is becoming so much harder to build a brand. Smash offers a unique marketing opportunity to shamelessly promote your product, and be loved for it! This is what we need to sell when approaching sponsors. Don’t just try to sell the numbers, sell the impact and return on investment.

Lastly, you can get a massive return for a comparatively tiny investment. Look at how much good will 2GG has earned from flying all those players to Civil War. Greninja Saga is a complete mess right now and there is virtually zero criticism coming at the organization. We just love them despite any flaws because they are so dedicated to supporting the community.

Imagine, as a small company, if you flew HIKARU to Nairo Saga. First, you would have a massive surge in activity on Twitter and Reddit. You would be guaranteed the front page of the Smash Reddit. Every TO and influencer in Smash would tweet your handle thanking you. You would get your brand as a part of his tag every time his matches were on stream. You could put him in a hat and shirt with your logo and still receive nothing but good press. For the cost of a plane ticket, you’ve effectively gotten your brand featured at the event.

I really hope we start to see TOs and event planners utilize these resources. There are so many simple, effective ways that brands can be integrated into the Smash scene and see massive returns for relatively small investment. All it takes is someone on the team knowing how to properly sell our scene on so much more than just view numbers.
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