Fnatic’s Valorant success shows why winning competitions still matters in esports

As esports teams increasingly turn from competition to content creation, some observers have begun to wonder whether winning those competitions still matters. But when Fnatic won last month’s Valorant championship, the org experienced a massive boost in engagement and social traffic, showing that winning still holds value in esports — as long as you know what to do with it. 

Fnatic’s victory came at last month’s Valorant Champions Tour LOCK//IN 2023 tournament — the largest event in the history of the first-person shooter title, boasting peak viewership of 1.43 million. And as soon as the London-based esports org emerged victorious, its social and marketing team jumped into action. Fnatic prepared a slate of social content pegged around the event, including branded content posts tying sponsors such as Jack Link’s to Fnatic’s victory.

And the social content popped. Over the past month, Fnatic has reaped the rewards of victory, becoming one of the highest most-engaged esports orgs on its partnered content, according to the data platform GEEIQ. In Q1 2023, the team garnered 120,000 new social followers and over 57 million video views, with much of that coming off the back of the VCT LOCK//IN win, according to Fnatic head of marketing Joshua Brill.

Fnatic’s victory-infused social growth represents more than just a line going up: it’s a business opportunity, pumping the exact metrics that esports orgs often use to sell themselves to potential advertisers.

Winning a Valorant tournament didn’t create new marketing or advertising inventory for Fnatic — but it juiced up the numbers in a way that helps Fnatic’s sales team prove the tangible reach of its pre-existing inventory to prospective sponsors. The org’s boosted metrics have already been relevant in conversations to sign new brand partners, said Brill, who told Digiday that inbound interest in Fnatic brand partnerships had increased since the team’s Valorant win.

“It was good timing,” Brill said. “It’s more that we can report on the metrics that they’re looking to succeed on, the media value from a sponsorship perspective.”

High performance has always been an important facet of the Fnatic brand. After all, the London-based esports org has won championships in popular games such as “League of Legends” and “Counter-Strike.” But as individual influencers take center stage in the gaming and esports community, the value of this branding has come under scrutiny.

“There’s a whole conversation around how fickle esports fans are — do they follow players? Do they follow trophies, or teams?” Brill said. “You could win and not actually have the right infrastructure to capitalize on it, whether it’s with new partners or just growth on your own channels.”

Fnatic’s recent success is a repudiation of this skepticism. In esports, winning still has its clear benefits — but both players and teams need to intentionally build on their wins to develop a more lasting brand. This is how prominent pro Fortnite player Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf managed to spin his one-off 2019 Fortnite World Cup victory into a years-long streaming career.

“Anybody can go and win a tournament and get the first-week hype or whatever, and then it dies out because they do nothing with it,” Giersdorf said. “But I think it’s always going to drive attention. Winning is still super important in esports — I mean, that’s what esports is about.”

Still, for the competitive spirit to remain a part of esports, even those teams whose branding is not centered around performance must be further incentivized to field strong teams and contend for championships. Lucrative prize pools can help — but Brill believes that teams would care more about victory if esports leagues and their game-developer owners created more lucrative revenue share opportunities for winners, such as the branded skins sold for winning “League of Legends” World Championship squads.

“This topic is the most important topic to all the esports organizations, because we are trying to become more sustainable businesses,” Brill said. “Commercial partnerships, such as they are, are dangerous to rely on, because brands can pull out, and you need to survive. So the digital, in-game aspects of esports organization revenue is so important, and one of the fastest-growing revenue streams.”

As esports orgs grow closer to gaming and esports holding companies, some will lean into competitive success, and others will inevitably strike further into content creation and even metaverse development. For those companies, the term “esports organization” may eventually become a misnomer.

“Ultimately, most teams are just trying to do what’s best for their business, whether that’s winning, or attracting the most fans or whatever their goals might be,” said Alex Gonzalez, head of the esports organization Luminosity Gaming.

https://digiday.com/?p=498264

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