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Storyboard | Gaming & esports brands hooked to ads, spend upwards of Rs1,000 crore in 2021

With a surge in gaming and esports in India, brands have dialed up advertising to boost reach and popularise new offerings.

October 05, 2021 / 12:57 PM IST
According to a June 2021 EY-FICCI report, the esports and gaming industry is expected to grow fourfold in India to about Rs 11 billion by 2025.

According to a June 2021 EY-FICCI report, the esports and gaming industry is expected to grow fourfold in India to about Rs 11 billion by 2025.


Gaming and esports platforms are turning into major advertisers as they focus on not just customer acquisition but also spreading awareness for mobile gaming and esports in India.

Brands like Junglee Rummy, Ace2three, Nazara Technologies' NODWIN Gaming and many others are spending more than 80% of their marketing budget on advertising to create buzz and get more people on to their platforms.

“Leading players in esports and gaming are spending heavily on marketing and product R&D (research and development), while the smaller and mid-sized players are exploring higher RoI (return on investment) marketing solutions in their category,” says Shrenik Gandhi, co-founder and CEO, White Rivers Media. The agency works with India’s largest gaming platform Dream11 which is also the first Indian gaming company to become a unicorn.

Gandhi notes that as another set of investors stand prepared to place their funds in the category.

Putting TikTok super influencers in the game

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Brands like Dream11 which have been advertising on television are also investing heavily in content creation. While the platform already has celebrities like Rohit Sharma, M.S. Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Hardik Pandya and Shreyas Iyer advocating their offerings, they also recently roped in international social media sensation Khaby Lame.

Lame, the Senegalese-born TikToker based in Italy, is famous for his wordless comedy short videos ridiculing people who seem to unreasonably complicate simple tasks. The partnership with Dream11 is Lame’s first-ever association with an Indian brand.

Dream11 got Lame to supercharge the fantasy sports platform’s IPL 2021 campaign #Dream11PeDimaagLagaNa during the second phase of the 14th edition league.

Khaby Lame (Image: screen shot) Khaby Lame in a video for Dream11 (Image: screen shot)

With big names come big spends

According to expert forecasts, ad spends from the industry (esports and gaming) are expected to touch upwards of Rs1,000 crore in 2021.

“Sixty per cent to 65% of our balance sheet goes towards marketing expenses, and marketing for us at the moment is nothing but advertising. The content is designed in a way that helps us in customer acquisition as well as brand building,” says Deepak Gullapalli, founder and CEO, Head Digital Works (Ace2three).

In 2019, Ace2three spent close to Rs150 core on digital advertising which is close to 100% of its annual marketing budget, and ad spends have only gone up since then.

Most of it is directed towards digital because that’s where the platforms have their offerings and also because it is a preferred medium for esport and gaming enthusiasts aged 18-40. Esports and gaming companies use social media platforms, streaming platforms and in-stream ads, and partner with influencers to create exclusive campaigns.

“Seventy-five per cent of our ad spends go towards proven digital properties that include social media marketing, influencer marketing and outreach programs, and the remaining 25% is cordoned off for experimental and traditional media,” says Akshay Paul, CMO and co-founder, Penta Esports, the esports arm of Newgen Gaming that was founded in 2021. It's an all-in-one destination for e-sports including leagues, tournaments and related content.

“Experimental media,” according to Paul, “includes the likes of OTT platforms, music apps or any other new age property where we have a young audience.”

Bindu Balakrishnan, country head India at DCMN, a digital media strategy and planning agency which works with gaming publishers in India and other global markets, says, “Digital ad spends is set to grow by 200-300% next year - as the willingness to spend of a gaming user has increased by 400-500%.”

What's next for the pandemic-boosted category

Online gaming and esports, like edtech, got a huge boost when the world barrelled into a crisis and people were confined to their homes in locked-down cities. People sought comfort and entertainment in everything from gardening to gaming. Although esports and gaming are fast-growth categories, the pandemic, combined with an aggressive marketing push, accelerated growth.

A June 2021 EY-FICCI report titled ‘Esports in India’ states that the industry is expected to grow at a 46% CAGR to grow over fourfold from Rs2.5 billion in 2021 to Rs 11 billion by 2025 with the prize pool expected to reach Rs1 billion by 2025.

The report also says that over Rs 600 million of ancillary revenue will be generated from the space between FY2021 and FY2025.

It is also largely a volumes game. According to reports, India has the second largest base of online gamers in the world after China. EY reported India as having 150,000 professional players generating viewership from 17 million people across 14 broadcast platforms. This is expected to grow to 1.5 million professional players, 85 million viewers and 20+ broadcasters by FY2025.

Level up: Getting more players in the game

Esports brands, naturally, want to add even more new users. The easiest way to do that, according to them, is by investing in strategic marketing.

Nazara Technologies' NODWIN Gaming, for instance, is making strategic investments in digital media. They are connected with the gaming community through Discord, a VoIP, instant messaging and digital distribution platforms.

“We have a widespread deal with MTV – NODWIN streams an average of four hours of esports content every week on MTV. We use this platform to promote everything we are doing, because it largely has a young, digitally-driven audience, which is our main target group,” says Sidharth Kedia, CEO at NODWIN Gaming.

In addition to these mediums, they are also using multiple media vehicles like print, radio or the digital space to promote a particular event or IP, depending on the need and scale they are looking at.

Recently, NODWIN Gaming announced a partnership with cinema exhibition company PVR Limited. This will be India’s first In-Cinema Esports live tournament experience.

Alongside regular advertisements promoting their events they also create content around challenges and other issues in the industry. Towards the end of 2020, the company put together a docu-series on esports events at a time when the world was at a standstill. The series was mostly about the company’s journey through the lockdown.

“We want to set the bar for e-sports in India and we want everyone to know about how we are going about it,” Kedia adds

While NODWIN didn’t share its ad spend, the company did indicate that spends have grown in proportion to the company’s growth.

Poker face: Brands have to play it safe when it comes to advertising  

While creating the “right buzz” is top on the agenda for e-sports brands, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has introduced guidelines to make real-money gaming advertising safe and responsible.

In December 2020, the government asked all private television channels to follow ASCI guidelines on online gaming and fantasy sports. As per the guideline, all such advertisements are required to carry a mandatory warning message that says, “This game involves an element of financial risk and may be addictive. Please play responsibly and at your own risk”.

The disclaimer, as per the guideline, is also expected to occupy at least 20% of the advertisement space.

The guidelines also state that gaming advertisements cannot depict users under 18 years as engaging in “online gaming for real money winnings” or suggest that such users can play these games.

It is expected that the advertisements will not suggest online gaming as an income-generating alternative to employment or depict a person playing such games as more successful than others.
Tasmayee Laha Roy
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