Despite some prevailing stereotypes, the days of gaming as a niche hobby and sub-culture are long gone. Rapper Travis Scott’s recent in-game Fortnite concert drew over 12 million concurrent players, and a mind-blowing 27.7 million unique players experienced the five game events over 45 million times¹.

1 – It’s mainstream entertainment media, and it’s a big deal: 

  • $152.1Bn in global revenue – that’s only counting consumer spending²
  • More than 2.5Bn players worldwide²
  • Professional Esports leagues selling out 18.000 event tickets in under 5 minutes³

2 – How did gaming go mainstream?

The rise of mobile gaming made video games accessible to anyone with a smartphone or tablet, attracting a whole new crowd (55% of mobile gamers are women2). Of the three big segments of the gaming industry — PC, console and mobile — mobile stays winning both in global revenue and player share, with 2.3Bn active mobile gamers².

MMOs or Massively Multiplayer Online games radically changed the way people play, creating a sense of belonging and community that goes beyond the game. This added social dynamic makes people want to come back every day.

Signals that gaming has progressively become part of pop culture: 

  • Famous artists like Marshmello, Travis Scott or Drake have hosted in-game virtual performances or played live with famous gamers
  • Fortnite dances regularly go viral in the real-world
  • Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie Ready Player One delves into the future of VR 
  • Netflix keeps experimenting with interactive content, releasing game versions of its Original series and movies, and creating game-inspired shows
  • The Getty Museum made their archive digitally accessible for players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Players can decorate their virtual homes and islands with great works of art and share their creativity on social⁴


Multiplayer gaming is social by nature. Gamers are more likely to say they use the internet to connect with and meet new people4. In fact, gamers spend on average more time connecting on social media than playing console games or listening to music4

At the same time, gaming fills some gaps left by the over-commercialization of mainstream social platforms. The 3rd most common factor driving people away from social platforms is the “lack of human connection”; while the 2nd most common motivation for gaming is “having fun with people I know.”⁵ Gaming is emerging as a genuine space to build connection, providing players with tools for self-expression and networking. 

1 – Social play

Gaming developers are seizing the overlap opportunity by creating game platforms inspired by social, like IMVU, the most popular virtual social network with an Instagram-inspired look. Others are adding social features into games such as friend requests, private messages, team play and online notifications.  

Image : IMVU Next

Conversely, mainstream social platforms are increasingly focused on gaming. The new Facebook Gaming offer allows users to stream and play games or follow dedicated gaming groups and pages from within the platform. More than 700 million users engage with gaming content on Facebook every month⁶. Snapchat also has its own gaming platform called Snap Games

Image : Facebook Gaming

2 – Gamification of social content

The rising popularity of game-like AR lenses and avatars adds a layer of play to social content. On Instagram, CGI virtual influencers are amassing millions of followers, while TikTok sees a growing trend of content creation via virtual avatars rather than personal profiles. In 2019 meme giant Giphy launched Giphy Arcade, transforming gifs into playable, sharable games and offering the option for users to create their own.                                                                                         

On the marketing side, platforms are creating immersive branded experiences like Snapchat’s shoppable mobile game Baseball’s Next Level. Developed in partnership with Adidas, users could shop the brand’s 8-bit inspired baseball cleats directly through the game.

Image: Giphy Arcade. Wendy’s World, a remixable and sharable branded game.

3 – Gamification of the in-store experience

Nike’s immersive in-store gaming experience invited shoppers to run on a treadmill whilst becoming heroes in a fantastic virtual land made from the soft, bouncy attributes of Nike’s React running shoes. 48% of customers bought the product after experiencing the game. Shoppers also received a video of the experience to post on social⁷


2019 saw a 16% increase in gaming ad spend and the double-digit growth is expected to continue in 2020 thanks to better ad technology, a mass influx of advertisers and the popularity of free-to-play mobile games2. It’s no wonder that gaming has piqued the interest of brands, given its increasingly rich opportunity landscape.

1 – Esport sponsorship

Influencers are usually the people we turn to discover things we didn’t know about and find ways to improve our reality; whether it’s a holiday destination, a trendy outfit, a newly opened restaurant or glamourous events. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, officials mandated a complete lockdown for everyone and even as the lockdown is eased, social distancing rules are

Esports are official gaming competitions, leagues or tournaments in which professional teams compete for titles. Unlike traditional sports, Esports competitions are unisex though there are some exclusively women’s competitions. 

Esports are expected to reach 1.8Bn people in 2020 and bring in $1Bn in gross revenue, 82% from brand investment⁸. This remains an untapped sector for many categories so there’s still time for early entrants to claim a starting advantage.

Because the industry relies so much on sponsorship, World Final events are considered the pinnacle of competitive viewership, comparable to the World Cup for football. 

Last year more than 100M unique viewers tuned in to the Finals of the League of Legends (LoL) World Championship, surpassing the Superbowl for the first time.⁹

The sport has caught the attention of the world’s most high profile brands. For example, Louis Vuitton designed the trophy case for the League of Legends Summoner’s cup alongside a set of Prestige skins for game characters. 

Traditional sports brands moving into Esports

As sports like soccer, American football, basketball and Formula One cross over to Esports, popular clubs and brands are moving in the same direction. 2018 saw the launch of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports team for Formula One. 

Involvement opportunities for brands include becoming official sponsor of a competition, starting a team, or creating a new tournament like HP did for the launch of its gaming brand, OMEN by HP. The OMEN Challenge achieved 3 million unique views and 4.2 million social impressions.¹⁰

2 – Leverage streaming platforms

Beyond professional competitions, brands can access an even bigger audience of casual game viewers through social platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming or Facebook Gaming.

Wait, what’s Twitch? Twitch is a community-driven streaming platform. Streams act as virtual hangouts in which informal communities emerge, socialize and participate. Though Twitch was established as a popular platform for watching live gaming, other categories (like Just Chatting and Performing Arts) are quickly taking off. Twitch’s live chat feature creates an interactive feedback loop, which allows viewers to engage and become part of the broadcast. 

How can brands activate on Twitch?

Product placement

Monster Energy streamer, xx, streams with a glowing mini fridge full of Monster drinks in view. This stimulates interest from viewers who regularly ask about his favorite flavors or suggest new ones to try. 

Target hard-to-reach consumers

Twitch boasts a high rate of concurrent viewership, with an average of 1.44 million viewers tuning in at a given time. Twitch users typically watch for 95 minutes per day.  65% of the userbase is male, and 73% falls within the under-35 age bracket.¹¹

Create organic content

Brands like Red Bull have their own Twitch channels on which they create content or livestream events.

Range of ad formats

Twitch offers a range of different ad formats for brands to choose from including premium video placement and page takeovers.

TwitchConTwitch’s annual IRL conference meet-up is a great way for brands to create awareness and connect with audiences through on-site experiences

3 – Blended in-game ads

The free-to-play model, in which free games are monetized via ads, has disrupted the industry, inviting advertisers directly intogames. For mobile games, in-game ads usually occur as banners or reward videos (“watch a video for an extra life!”), but the industry is shifting towards immersive blended in-game ads that offer a more realistic experience for gamers. These can occur as a part of the game scene, or as customized items, gifts or character skins for players. The 2008 Obama campaign popularized political in-game ads to target young voters, particularly men aged 18 – 34.

4 – Tap into gamefluencers 

As gaming diversifies, brands are turning to high profile influential players to access their growing fanbases. Game viewers are some of the most engaged and loyal audiences, to the point that many popular streamers are financed entirely by their communities. This is why exclusivebrand-influencer deals are far more common in gaming. In 2019, Ninja (the world’s most popular streamer) joined the Adidas family in a first-of-its-kind collaboration deal between a streamer and sportswear brand. 

5 – Cross-industry collaborations and partnerships

The fashion and FMCG industries are ahead of this curve. Some examples: 

  • Moschino’s capsule collection with The Sims¹² where players could dress their avatars in exclusive runway looks
  • Monster Energy’s extensive sponsorship of Esports teams, streamers and developers¹³  
  • Nike as exclusive apparel and footwear sponsors of the League of Legends Pro teams¹⁴

Last year MAC Cosmetics developed an exclusive lipstick collection with Tencent’s mobile game Honor of Kings, a multiplayer battle arena game, popular in China among young women players. The results: 14,000 pre-orders and all five shades sold out in less than 24 hours, proving that women gamers are active, engaged and here to stay.¹⁵

6 – Enter the arena 

The brands that really stand out at advergaming are those that seize the right opportunities to connect with audiences beyond paid placement, creating an organic way in and winning attention rather than paying for it. A good example is Wendy’s Keeping Fortnite Fresh campaign, which earned the first ever Social and Influencer Grand Prix at Cannes in 2019.

Known for a commitment to fresh meat, Wendy’s created a look-alike avatar of its brand mascot which entered the game to destroy frozen beef freezers. The mission was livestreamed on Twitch. Not only did Wendy’s forge an unprecedented connection with their gaming audience, the brand also delivered a strong awareness message to support its firm position against ‘the evil of frozen beef’.


The gaming space has long proven itself beyond the old stereotypes. Gaming is a lifestyle which dominates the media and entertainment diets of an increasingly growing consumer base. One-off placements are a foot in the door, but in 2020, a truly winning game marketing strategy asks a bit more from brands. It’s about exploring the range of possibilities the industry can offer, supporting innovation and meaningful community engagement. Game on. 

By Sheilla Twizelimana

Edited by Catherine Sackville-Scott and Awie Erasmus

¹ Pitchfork, Hogan, Where Can Virtual Concerts Go After Travis Scott’s Fornite Extravaganza? May 2020

² Newzoo Global Esports Market Report 2020

³ Reuters, Powell, eSports scores professional status, 2014

⁴ Time, The Pandemic Closed Art Galleries’ Doors. But Who Said a Gallery Needs Four Walls and a Ceiling? June 2020

⁵ Global Web Index, World of Gaming report, 2020

⁶, Raji, A New Home for Facebook Gaming, 2019

⁷; Nike ReactLand; 2018

⁸ PWC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019 – 2023

⁹ Riot Games via, Pei, This esports giant draws in more viewers than the Super Bowl and it’s expected to get even     bigger, April 2019

¹⁰ Warc, EA Games: OMEN by HP Challenge

¹¹ Business of Apps, Iqbal, Twitch Revenue and Usage Statistics, June 2020

¹²; Introducing Moschino x The Sims; 2019


¹⁴; Nike Unveils Team Kits for League of Legends Pro League; 2019

¹⁵; Esports emerges as in-demand beauty marketing channel; 2020