Where are all the Esport Cover Stars?

There are some opinions that no-one will argue with. Even on the internet.

For a journalist, these are true blessings, and we must treat them as such. They are fed, watered, nurtured and allowed plenty of space to roam around and socialize with others. I’ll let you meet one of my favorites: esports is a booming industry. Like, really booming.

Esports analytics site Newzoo are tipping the industry to top $1 Billion globally in 2019, with almost half of that revenue coming from sponsorships alone – the rest coming from media rights, advertising, merchandise and publisher fees. That’s a lot of money. Enough to buy 140 million copies of Shrek 2 on DVD, if one were so inclined. It’s clear to see that, from humble beginnings, esports is having its day in the sun. This will not be the popularity blip of a passing fad, but the latest milestone in an industry that is hurtling rapidly skyward.

The Upper Tier

The figureheads of any sports are, naturally, the players. Who better to look to for guidance and motivation than the men & women who have devoted their lives to becoming the best at their chosen discipline? Esports players are no different, esports players are a huge deal to millions of people. Their skills, dedication and hard work have elevated them to a level that others are unable to reach. They are the best of the best, the 1% who have out-trained their competition and honed themselves into razor sharp weapons of singular purpose. They are – say it with me now –  athletes.

Now, stepping back briefly to those millions of people I was talking about. Just under 400 million esports viewers in 2018 alone. That’s more people than live in the United States.

Lo and behold, we have a market.

So this beggars the question: Where are the cover stars? Why isn’t Olofmeister shouting at me from the TV to buy Gillette Razors? Why isn’t Bjergsen on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a Hula skirt? Be Like Mike? Be Nice Like Dev1ce. I’m Lovin’ It? I’m Doublelift. I could go on all day. The point is that these guys should be everywhere, selling us everything, yet it seems that advertisers aren’t catching on.

Existing Attempts

The amount of statistical information available to us in 2019 is terrifying. If you know how to use a search engine, you can find how many people from where did what, when they did it, who with, and what socks they were wearing during. The point is, it’s not hard to see a thousand enormous advertising opportunities being overlooked by seemingly everyone.

I say seemingly everyone, as there are two notable recent examples of esports stars being treated as… well… stars. Firstly, we have the internet’s favorite ligma fatality: Ninja, who featured on the cover of ESPN’s September 2018 issue. Accompanied by an expose on him entitled ‘Living the Stream’, the issue was entirely centered around competitive gaming, including a bleak piece on a man that murdered two people and then himself during a Madden tournament. This is good, but not quite good enough. Esports should be part of the sporting world, not a special that you publish one month, then back to traditional sports. It should be integration, not exception.

The second example is a slightly better attempt. In October last year, Chinese League of Legends player and AD Carry for Royals Never Give Up (RNG) Jian ‘Uzi’ Zihao was selected to appear in Nike’s “Dribble &” ad campaign with renowned Sprite Cranberry enthusiast LeBron James. Making him the first esports player (hopefully of many) ever to be sponsored by a big sportswear brand.

Two’s Company

So, two. That’s where we are at the moment. There is certainly room for improvement. Traditional sports is a $400 billion industry, it’s going to take a while for real change to permeate the zeitgeist, especially with something people hold so close to their hearts. But once the market is fully realized, the explosion of exposure will come. So be vigilant, keep an eye on the sports brands, and if anyone needs me, I’ll be waiting on the call from McDonalds. There’s gold in I’m Doublelift, and it’s all mine.

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