As esports itself evolves so does the demographic of viewers. We’re now beyond the point where esports fans are largely made up of ‘boys in their parents basement’. While the male to female ratio for general gamers is fairly even, the statistics of the female esports audience has been relatively low to date but we are seeing clear signs of growth.
According to Nielsen’s latest Esports Playbook data, 30% of esports fans are female, while 23% of esports fans that watch esports on a weekly or more basis are female. This draws the conclusion that it’s no longer simple to say the main demographic of esports is 13-40 year old males.
One contributor to esports seems to not realise the trend; brands. In 2014, ESL’s Programming Director, Michal Blicharz told Polygon: “Historically all attempts to target non-core esports demographics have been failures.” Compare what esports was in 2014 to now and you can imagine the changes you can safely assume have taken place. But brands and advertisers still seem to hold this mindset and have yet to continue to evolve from where they were three years ago.
Most brands don’t necessarily cater to a specific gender, but they obviously drive to males as they are the most desirable and easiest demographic to target. Understandably it can be difficult for certain brands to reach the female audience, endemic or not. How exactly would you start an advertising campaign targeted specifically to women for a keyboard? It’s a tricky proposition, but it’s not impossible, so why don’t we see more of it in esports advertising?
Cliff Morgan, Founder and CEO of GFUEL, and Nick Lacagnina, Chief Marketing Officer, told Esports Insider that whilst their customers are predominately male, they find most of their Amazon customers are female: “We are always trying to widen our demographic and some flavours like Pink Lemonade and other light flavors were designed to appeal to women as well as men. We are contemplating an organic line of GFUEL because it’s a growing market that also attracts more females.”
Aside from the fact that brands simply don’t want to put their energy into targeting a smaller demographic, the esports audience overall is difficult to reach. With tools like AdBlock, companies have had to drastically shift the way they approach their marketing strategies. Advertising is no longer solely on broadcasts, it’s through direct sponsorship of players, influencers and streamers.
“When sponsoring a team or individual it’s always important to show your audience someone they can relate to or aspire to.”
While co-ed teams are a rarity, so increases the number of female-only teams, most of which are members of established organisations with their own sponsors. The same goes for sponsoring female influencers. This strategy seems to bode better than direct advertising as the number of female professional players is quite low.
Ben Malka, community manager for HyperX, tells us because of their wide demographic it’s important to sponsor players and influencers along with targeted advertising: “When sponsoring a team or individual it’s always important to show your audience someone they can relate to or aspire to and working with gamers such as Nysira, Pokimane and Chloe Lockley-Middleton they’re great examples especially to our younger female audience. When it comes to our older audience, they may not be engaging with streams or esports so we also have to target our advertising effort to more suitable platforms they are engaging with in order to get our message out there.”
“In the past two years we have started seeing an increase in engagement from the female gaming audience. The reason we believe this trend is occurring is from the quality of female gamers out there creating great content through Twitch, YouTube and other social platforms. Through our partnerships, HyperX as a brand is able to highlight that our products are not gender specific and are enjoyed by all gamers.”
Along with teams, there are initiatives out there for diversity in esports. AnyKey is an advocacy organisation dedicated to supporting diverse participation in esports, particularly for women. AnyKey was created as a result of a partnership between Intel and ESL, two of the largest companies in esports. While they provide competitive gamers with resources and opportunities for collaborations, AnyKey also is pursuing research and initiatives that will “help build a gaming culture in which players are noted for their skills, not personal traits.” An initiative like AnyKey not only provides a backbone for professional female gamers, but proves to the fans that anyone can achieve success as a professional gamer regardless of gender.
Brands have some catching up to do when viewing the esports demographic. With data being collected like that of Nielsen’s Esports Playbook, it’s no longer valid to assume spending time and money targeting the female fans would be a waste.