The Esports BAR – Une évaluation

Attendees of the inaugural Esports BAR in Cannes couldn’t have hoped for a better backdrop with the Radisson Blu rooftop overlooking both the town and yacht filled harbour. The setting alone was an indicator of just how far this industry has come. 

The business networking conference was made purposefully intimate by Reed MIDEM, limited to 100 attendees, and of these there were a number of high calibre company representatives from both inside and outside the world of esports. Day one saw a series of talks and panel discussions featuring the likes of Wouter Sleijffers at Fnatic, Activision Blizzard SVP Mike Sepso, Alban Dechelotte of Coca Cola and more. 

It kicked off with an energetic and engaging presentation from Newzoo CEO Peter Warman in which he revealed that a quarter of the research company’s business is now in the field of esports. The firm’s latest report, which amongst a number of positive claims, predicts that esports will be a $1.48bn business by 2020. It’s claims such as these which have led to some cries of over-inflation. To these naysayers, Warman stated that any claim these numbers are over-inflated are bull****.

He showed a number of convincing slides and discussed how the typical esports fan demographic has money to spend, and pointed to acquisitions such as Time Warner buying Machinima as evidence that major companies agree. He also rightly highlighted the fact that “40% don’t play the game they watch” as a notable statistic for media companies.

“This year or next will see an apparel battle between the likes of Adidas, Nike and Under Armour in the space”

Another point worthy of discussion from the Newzoo man was his prediction that the next couple of years will see an apparel battle emerge in the esports space between the likes of Adidas, Nike and Under Armour. Adidas has made the first move via North and Team Vitality, but the assumption is we’ll see this area of esports intensify as brands have realised the opportunity and are now planning their next move. Will we soon see Astralis decked out in Under Armour gear, or Na’Vi in Nike?

Buddying up – Teams & Brands

A strong panel followed Peter Warman and featured Wouter Sleijffers of Fnatic, Sidney Kim of ROX Tigers and ROX Orcas, and Jaime Fabricant of Pepsico. It was well moderated by The Esports Observer’s and Esports Business Solutions CEO Chris Hana.

(From the left) Chris Hana, Jaime Fabricant, Wouter Sleijffers and Sidney Kim

The discussion went in a number of directions but the overview was to break down how teams and brands work together. When asked about measuring ROIs, Sleijffers made a valuable point: “There is a big expectation that you can measure everything through data. You can’t. There is still an emotional involvement with sponsorship. There aren’t as many measurable data points in esports as many think. But brand association matters.”

He also commented on how negotiations between brands and teams tend to go: “It depends on the partner. Monster for example is product heavy…they want the players drinking it, but they don’t measure sales impact.

“Betting exists, and we are happy with it where it is regulated and legal. I think esports can be disruptive for betting”

“Meanwhile our current betting partner (GG Bet) do take into consideration conversions…and how many customers we help deliver. But, of course, there is only so far we can go in so far as promoting betting for example.”

Fnatic has partnered with Dafabet in the past and now counts GG Bet amongst its sponsors. On the topic of betting, Sleijffers continued: “The line we draw is that we’re not here to ‘push’ customers. Betting exists, and we are happy with it where it is regulated and legal. I think esports can be disruptive for betting. It just needs to find how best to execute it. If done well and in a positive way it can help the esports industry at large develop.”

Another poignant statement from Sleijffers was that they don’t see Fnatic as being “bound to esports”. Drone racing was discussed, and the organisation’s CEO said: “Maybe we’ll see this emerge as a new world sport. We’re looking at the big picture and remaining open minded.”

“I want sponsors to look at us as a global club rather than just targeting the Korean markets. For us to keep the very best players..this is important. They’re getting expensive”

As for an opinion from the other side, Pepsico’s Jaime Fabricant stated that it has to make sense for the brand. She said: “A brand like Mountain Dew fits esports whereas something like Tropicana doesn’t really fit. It’s important not to put in too many requirements as a brand.”

As for brands looking to be associated with a team or a specific player, Fabricant commented: “It’s important to have sponsorships of teams and players…as we get to know the players in esports and their lifestyles then we’re able to execute this far better. The more we understand each individual the more of this there will be.”

Sidney Kim had his say on how teams need sponsors to keep the top talent, and that a focus on specific regions can hurt certain teams. He said: “I want sponsors to look at us as a global club rather than just targeting the Korean markets. For us to keep the very best players..this is important. They’re getting expensive. This is one of the reasons we set up an office in North America last year.”

Kim also stated that they give their Korean players English lessons in order to better prepare them for commercial opportunities for both themselves personally and the team.

Platforms, platforms, platforms

“For esports to become a real sports business, if it’s anything like any other sport in history, then broadcasters will have to pay up to get the content”

Where and how will we be watching esports in 2020? That was the focal point of the discussion between Mike Sepso, SVP at Activision Blizzard, Chris Mead, Partnerships Director at Twitch, and Raoul Leibel, Esports Sales Director at Webedia. The panel was chaired by Catherine Warren, President of FanTrust.

Sepso stated: “Esports as it is today wouldn’t have existed without Twitch, but now we need competition.” The discussion looked at the differing models and platforms of streaming sites and esports move to television, and this also naturally focused on money.

Sepso continued: “For esports to become a real sports business, if it’s anything like any other sport in history, then broadcasters will have to pay up to get the content.” Of course, media rights deals have already begun to spring up in esports to some degree, with Youtube securing the exclusive rights to the ESL Pro League Season 5 and 6 for instance. Deals like this are heavily expected to become more commonplace, but the argument is more over the level of balance needed between free and paid content.

(From the left) Catherine Warren, Chris Mead, Mike Sepso and Raoul Leibel

Twitch’s Chris Mead noted: “Accessibility to content, especially esports content, is one of main drivers in Twitch’s success today.” As for Activision Blizzard’s immediate plans, Sepso explained: “We’re bringing traditional broadcast expertise into the mix which makes our content expensive to produce but it’s brand safe, it attracts a new audience and further engages the current one.”

He added: “One of our pushes is to get people interested in the drama and personalities than just the game. That takes storytellers and creatives who’ve been doing this for a long time.”

Matchmaking in Cannes

The day closed with a session between FanTrust’s Catherine Warren and Senior Entertainment Marketing Manager Alban Dechelotte of Coca Cola. He said: “Our product has a legacy, and the last thing we wanna do is ruin this. So marketing will never be at a cost of reputation. We have industry standards in and beyond gaming. We’re not creating campaigns which primarily targets a young (-13) audience. A good example of that is that we’ll never touch Minecraft or Pokemon Go.”

As for the next moves Coke will make, Dechelotte mentioned FIFA and mobile as interesting opportunities. He said: “What is coming with FIFA is exciting, especially in Europe. We’re looking at new titles and new platforms. The mobile for instance is a new frontier we’re looking into.”

As for platforms, he opined: “Personally, I’m more excited about Facebook than ESPN.” Dechelotte’s background lies somewhat in traditional sports marketing and he complimented esports generally on the professional nature of the proposals he’s received. He said: “Esports proposals are very smartly built, and look at all options of activating the partnership. And I say that having worked in traditional sports and with proposals from football clubs and more for 15 years.”

“One of our pushes is to get people interested in the drama and personalities than just the game. That takes storytellers and creatives who’ve been doing this for a long time”

The first day ended with a networking and cocktails event on the rooftop of the hotel, whilst the following days involved full-on and pre-planned one on one networking sessions. There was also a celebratory dinner in downtown Cannes with local outfit Le Hive Esport putting on a gaming tournament for Esports BAR diners.

The Esports BAR left few in much doubt that the event would return in 2018 even bigger and even better. The quality of the event was a testament to this nascent industry’s potential, and doubtless it will have sown the seeds for some high profile deals too. All in all, it was un bon voyage.

(Disclaimer: We are an Official Media Partner of the Esports BAR)