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Astro’s sports lead: ‘Know your gamers, join their passion’

“Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion,” said Michael Jordan. In 2015, we at Astro were in unfamiliar territory when we started to look into esports.

For years, Astro has been (and still is) the home to sporting events and we were proud to call ourselves the “home of sports” in Malaysia. But when it came to esports, we had no presence in this space and we were definitely not the “home of esports”. Yet, we knew we needed to dive into this area, despite not knowing the minds of gamers. Our motivation as a media company is simple: we strive to serve what the fans want and are passionate about.

When setting up eGG Network, Astro’s regional esports platform in 2016, we went against the prediction of naysayers that gamers would not flock to “old school” TV screens to watch esports content. We just couldn’t ignore requests from fans to show live esports tournaments on Astro. Three years on, we’ve gained a greater understanding of esports viewers and enthusiasts.

What are esports enthusiasts like?

To sum up their behaviour, they not only play the games they watch, but also spend hours watching their idols’ display their skills in international tournaments, which are viewed by thousands in the stadium and millions online.

Their passion is comparable, and often even greater, than fans of traditional sports because of the long-drawn nature of esports tournaments.

The gaming audience continues to skyrocket and it is estimated to be 645 million-strong by 2022, according to Newzoo’s esports report.

Despite this, brands are hesitant to be associated with esports. Perhaps it is because of the stigma associated with gaming which is: “It’s a waste of time and money. Gaming is an addiction.” Truth be told, that was during the infancy of esports and gaming, maybe even before it was recognised as an industry of its own. As the entire gaming and esports industry matures and becomes more professional, more organisations and even governments are advocating esports as a competitive sport.

Today, professional gamers are required to maintain physical fitness as it enables them to compete at their highest standards. Fans idolise these professional esports teams and players. Professionalism in esports follows the footsteps of traditional sport athletes.

Gamers are inspired to achieve the same levels as the pros, not only in-game, but also in real life such as maintaining their physical health and even a positive outlook towards cyberbullying and toxic keyboard warriors. Professional gamers create such a strong following that global fans watch them on livestream for hours, spend money at esports events across the world and embrace brands the pros use. Instead of a two-hour concert, brands have an opportunity to engage onground and digitally with these superfans at esports events and tournaments. We have learnt that gamers are consumers who spend loads of time and money on their passion. As we learn to speak their language, reach out and become relatable to them, we stand to gain a multitude of loyal new fans.

This piece started with a quote by Michael Jordan, an NBA legend whose fearless spirit continues to break new ground. Case in point, his famous brand logo has ventured beyond basketball courts and onto football fields with a sponsorship deal with Paris Saint Germain FC.

Furthermore, esports will be an official medal event at the Asian and SEA Games. As for esports sponsorships, it’s time for marketers to embrace the unknown, stop labelling their brands as “non-endemic” to this industry and join the passion for esports.

The writer is Astro’s head of sports, CK Lee. The article first appeared in Marketing’s April print edition.