This was a sponsored post by Lagardère Sports under the Master Report series.
A pro player turned esports commercial guru, Jasper Mah is one of Asia’s most renowned domain experts in esports business strategy and development. He provides high-level consultation for government and corporate investments into esports, and is currently the Director of Esports Business Development at Lagardère Sports. Previously, he was the Senior Director of Business Development at ESL, the world’s biggest esports company specialising in gaming technology, event management, advertising and TV production.
Growing up, did your mum ever say that you were wasting time on gaming, and have you proven her wrong now?
Mah: On the contrary, my family bought our first Nintendo Entertainment System when I was young because my parents have always believed that having a gaming console in the house would be a good way for the family to bond by playing video games with one another. Uncustomary in Asia, my parents believed that having a gaming console at home would keep me away from bad company. My mom has always been very supportive of gaming, although she was unsure whether she could give me career advice for an industry that was undiscovered back then. It was largely my passion for gaming that helped sustained my interests long enough to turn it into a career today.
How did you get into the esports industry?
Mah: I originally attempted to play Counterstrike 1.6 professionally for one of the top teams and won a decent amount of prize money before realising that not all players can rely on gaming to provide a sufficient or sustainable income. Thereafter, I looked into event organising opportunities and worked on a freelance basis for multiple game publishers. In 2010, I joined ESL and took on marketing and business development roles, before joining Lagardere Sports as the Head of Esports for Asia.
What are some parallelisms and differences traditional sport sponsors should take note of when intending to cross over to esports?
Mah: I believe the main similarity is that esports is going through a current phase of becoming more commercialised, transforming from a convention hall space into a stadium setup. With tournaments evolving into professional leagues, we’re seeing esports events becoming more relatable to traditional sports through the use of scheduled calendar events, organised tournament formats and clear regulations. In traditional sports, you primarily deal with multiple age groups as your target audience, but in esports, the audience is relatively young. Hence, most sponsorships and partnerships exist in a very tolerable and acceptable level for brands making their first dip into esports.
The other key difference is that traditional sports has gone from being broadcast on traditional channels to now being broadcast on digital platforms to access a larger audience base. However, in esports, the “sport” itself is consumed digitally on digital platforms first, before it is showcased on TV due to the nature of the games and content, sometimes delving into the realms of sensitive content. At the moment, esports is still gaining mainstream acceptance to grow its audience.
We have seen both endemic and non-endemic brands sponsor major gaming tournaments, teams and players. How influential are these brands in the esports community?
Mah: Most of the brands are relatively familiar to most consumers, except in their endeavours in esports, so a large part of the marketing that these brands implement are largely brand associations at first, to change the perspectives of its target audience towards the brand that is starting to better understand its audience. Endemic brands are usually the ones that have a upper hand in terms of their influence due to the nature of their products being seen as more useful to esports fans. Non-endemic brands are seeking to grow their influence, and they can do so by positioning themselves as being serious about building a long-term track record in esports (it’s more than just a marketing drive).
Can you cite an example of a brand that has communicated very effectively and purposefully with a game’s fan base, and successfully integrated itself into a close-knitted family?
Mah: I believe the best example is Mercedes-Benz, through its interest in sponsoring tournaments for DOTA 2. The brand became an overnight success when its ad campaign was shown frequently during tournament livestreams. It became such an online sensation that an internet meme was created, and it was also heavily discussed on online forums, Facebook and on Reddit. As their involvement in esports grew in 2017, the perception of DOTA2 fans towards Mercedes evolved into one where fans recognised the brand as one who understood the audience it was showing its ads and campaigns to. Mercedes-Benz become very well-liked for its initiatives in the different DOTA 2 tournaments it supported worldwide.
Over the next few years, where do you see the biggest pockets of growth in esports?
Mah: The largest growth in esports would definitely be in Asia, as the North American, European and Chinese markets start to mature. We are seeing more mainstream brands getting involved in esports through brand associations with teams and events. More companies are investing into managing their own teams by scouting young talents who can be groomed into professional players. In addition, more companies are sponsoring key events to connect with the larger gaming community. Eventually, we will see a huge growth in the number of teams and event organisers. Popular games like Fortnite and PUBG have birthed a new generation of gaming influencers who have grown the interest of gaming in mainstream societies. South-East Asia will see significant growths, while the rest of Asia would follow suit as more fans get access to esports content.