The booming e-sports and e-gaming marketing opportunity for soft drinks
One consumer trend to have been super-charged by the pandemic is the e-sports trend. For soft drinks brand owners, argues soft drinks category commentator Phil Tappenden, this presents an opportunity too good to miss.
Things have moved a long way beyond the relatively straightforward video games of the 70s and 80s. Indeed, there’s talk of e-sports being considered for future Olympic Games. As e-sports has grown increasingly sophisticated, sponsors have been drawn to back teams, individual players, even gaming commentators. Tie-ups can feature joint marketing, co-branded promotions or can be purely financial.
An early adaptor was, unsurprisingly, Red Bull with its penchant for the edgy element in sports and leisure activities. The brand devised the concept of gaming spheres, where enthusiasts could play and inter-relate in comfort, fuelled by Red Bull.
In partnering with e-gamers, soft drinks brands are targeting the amateur gamer core market
Like most group activities. gaming lounges have been constrained by the COVID pandemic. Yet, a lot of mostly independent locales have survived around the world - many with the support of localised soft drinks brands. While not huge in terms of player numbers, they're a middle ground between e-sports and e-gaming.
E-sports tends to refer to the professional, while e-gaming is more of an amateur environment: Both hark back to those pioneering gaming days. Some of the soft drinks brands that partner with e-gamers have put considerable effort into ensuring their influence extends across the divide between professional and amateur, the latter being where the core market lies.
Late last year, Gamma Enterprises' G Fuel brand, well-established as one of the energy drinks leaders among gamers, celebrated the 30th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog with a 'Party Punch' flavour, the third G Fuel variant in a collaboration with the US division of Sonic's owner, Sega. Bannered as being "packed with antioxidants from 18 different fruit extracts", the drink is available in 40-servings tubs and limited edition collector boxes.
Marketing messages have included references to avoiding medical stresses such as RSI
G Fuel's marketing message is that these mixes and RTDs provide the extreme energy and focus essential to the high-speed decision-making environment of e-sports. Such messages come from other beverage brands in the field, with a recent trend towards highlighting nutrient values as well as contributing to the avoidance of occupational medical stresses such as RSI.
Elsewhere, Red Bull also associated with e-sports in a rather different way in 2020, when Formula One team Red Bull Racing opened an e-sports training facility at its technology campus in the UK. Drivers have the opportunity not only to train for races but also to compete in e-sports tournaments.
Red Bull is also active in team sponsorship. In April last year, the brand signed with Wave Esports to support the Austria-based organisation's ‘Valorant’ team in its current play as well as helping expand into other games.
The links between soft drinks and e-sports might not be global yet but they appear to be trending that way
E-gaming even has enough 'oomph' to make waves in beverage packaging. Ardagh Metal Packaging, for example, has been working with thermochromic ink manufacturer CTI to create a limited edition gaming-themed can for the Czech brand Big Shock. The pack has a gaming-oriented twist, delivering a green-for-go colour addition when chilled and ready for consumption.
The links between soft drinks and e-sports might not be global yet but they certainly appear to be trending that way. And, they're extending across more categories.
In April, Nestlé Thailand launched Nescafé Triple Espresso with a heavily-funded marketing campaign whose highlight was an e-sports tournament giving coffee drinks a chance to team up with pro players and celebrities. The aim was to attract a new generation of coffee drinkers, stressing the effectiveness of the beverage in staying awake, alert and focused.
iPRO Hydrate signed a three-year deal in 2021 with Revolution Esports, stressing the brand's healthy hydration message, partly via a series of e-sports hubs across the UK. And, Frucor Suntory joined forces with Xbox Australia a year earlier, to maximise the launch of the Maximus Game-On Blackcurrant and Lime sports drinks, targeted at gamers. The activation gave away 90 of the then-new Xbox Series X as well as thousands of game passcodes.
One last example: Coca-Cola Europacific Partners GB recently announced a Monster Energy partnership with free-to-play shooter game Apex Legends, with ring-pull codes giving points towards 'Battle Pass' prizes and in-game content.
Is the soft drinks/e-sports symbiotic relationship destined for long-term life? I’m always wary about talk of a phenomenon, seeing this in the same dodgy claims arena as ‘unique’. But, there's a whiff of the phenomenal around, especially given the enormous audiences keying into e-sports streaming tournaments and the millions of e-gamers playing happily in their mentally - sometimes physically – challenging franchise channels.
There's a definite natural affinity because of the need for drinks – energy, healthy hydration, coffee, functionals, iced teas, whatever – to boost mental acuity and physical stamina.
I think this one is a stayer.