How a Twitch streamer’s NFL Draft event shows brands’ interest in fans at the crossroads of gaming and sports

As gaming and traditional sports content increasingly serve the same audiences, athletes are becoming online creators, and gaming streamers are aligning themselves with sports leagues like the NFL.

Twitch streamer Esfand’s NFL Draft event tomorrow showcases how traditional athletes and gaming creators are meeting in the middle — to the benefit of both themselves and their brand partners.

Esfand, who spoke to Digiday using his streamer name to avoid real-life harassment by overzealous fans, is one of the most popular streamers on Twitch. His follower count on the platform reached 1 million by early 2022, and he is a creator–owner of the prominent gaming organization One True King

In recent years, Esfand has also become the unofficial face of football on Twitch — the result of a gradual effort to widen his appeal and invite sports fans into his audience. And as the streamer leaned into football content, he found that his previously gaming-centric audience was willing to come along for the ride.

“A lot of my audience was mixed with Europe and MMO [role-playing game] players and stuff like that. There was some overlap with the football audience, but they were mostly two different things,” Esfand said. “What happened was that I kept playing ‘Madden [NFL],’ but I role-played it — dressed up as a coach and said all the dumb high school football things — and a lot of these RPG gamers started realizing that ‘Madden’ is a role-playing game.”

To take advantage of his audience’s growing interest in football, Esfand plans to produce a livestreamed event tomorrow — the Draft Day Extravaganza — to coincide with the first day of the NFL Draft. The five-hour broadcast will feature a rotating cast of both Twitch creators like Esfand and current and former NFL players including Austin Ekeler, Micah Parsons and Kenny Vaccaro. The event will be streamed out of WePlay Esports’ Los Angeles studio in partnership with brands such as SimpliSafe and EA, whose collaboration with Esfand includes early access to in-game “Madden NFL” player ratings. 

“We’re excited to be partnering with Esfand for the Draft Day Extravaganza,” said Jonathan Chin-Shepard, vp of U.S. customer acquisition at SimpliSafe. “Not only does Esfand reach and resonate with sports fans, who have proven to be a valuable audience for our brand, but there is a lot of potential on Twitch that we look forward to exploring.”

Esfand’s NFL Draft show — and brands’ interest in sponsoring it — provide the latest example of the mounting convergence between sports and gaming fandom. The NFL has certainly taken note of this shift, too. This weekend, the league will be putting on a whole raft of gaming activations around its upcoming draft, including custom branded spaces in Roblox, Fortnite and Rec Room. (Although Esfand has partnered with the NFL in the past, the league is not involved in his upcoming draft event, and NFL representatives declined to comment for this story.)

Marketers are champing at the bit to take advantage of the growing overlap between the sports and gaming audiences, both through livestreamed events such as Esfand’s Draft Day Extravaganza and beyond. Last week, for example, Lenovo partnered with the Dallas Cowboys and Gamesquare to launch Dallas Cowboys Game Time, a community platform for gamer Cowboys fans.

“If you look at the demographics of the gaming audience, it’s not just teenagers, right? It’s pretty broad. But the average age of the gamer is younger than the average age of most professional sports fans,” said Gerald Youngblood, CMO of Lenovo North America. “And so we think that this is an intersection point to really bridge that divide — and we want to be there.”

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