Esports fandom is not limited by international borders. Popular players such as Korean League of Legends competitor Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok boast legions of fans in far-flung regions such as China and North America. Like other world-spanning fandoms such as K-pop and anime, esports is a universal language that brands can use to reach consumers outside their domestic markets.
To take advantage of esports’ global reach, Korean esports team Gen.G has intentionally established a presence in three major markets — Korea, North America and China — allowing its local partners in all three regions to reach new audiences.
An international, market-crossing strategy was part of Gen.G’s game plan from the beginning. It was the inspiration behind the organization’s original name, KSV Esports. “Our founder, Kevin Chu, had a brilliant mind early back then that gaming and esports cannot be regionalised; it is a global initiative, a global community,” said Gen.G CRO Martin Kim. “So it was sort of a cheesy take on the name: we were trying to become a bridge between Korea and Silicon Valley, hence the KSV.” The company changed its name to Gen.G, which stands for “Generation Gaming,” in 2018.
Marching to a different tune
While most esports teams have fans all over the world, Gen.G’s cross-market focus is reflected in the diversity of its social media following. 68 percent of prominent American organization 100 Thieves’ followers are located in the United States, according to gaming and esports data platform GEEIQ; for Gen.G, this figure sits at 34 percent. Though Gen.G has devoted considerable resources to becoming a household name in American esports, its front office has no plans to recreate the influencer-led strategies of competitors such as 100 Thieves. “We knew early on that we weren’t going to be the likes of the top guys, the 100 Thieves and the FaZes — they’ve established their brands as something else,” Kim said.
That doesn’t mean the cross-market path was an easy one for Gen.G. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a drawback, but teams need to understand that cultivating global fandom is a multi-period investment,” said Carlos Alimurung, CEO of ONE Esports, an esports media company based in Southeast Asia. “It takes time and effort to have a team resonate across cultures and national borders. I strongly believe the payoff is worth the effort.”
“It’s a double-edged sword; we brag about it, but it’s also our hardest asset,” Kim said. “We’re dealing with three different markets, three different IPs — because every market has different games that they’re good at. As global as the esports community is, the characteristics are really unique, regionally.”
“A perfect storm”
A recent example of a brand taking advantage of Gen.G’s cross-market nature is the team’s partnership with Korean game developer Nimble Neuron, which launched at last month’s Game Developers Conference. “Nimble Neuron was sort of a perfect storm,” Kim said. “They had a specific need tied to a game, and we felt our tool belt could really apply to supporting their cause. But it was North America specific. Are we doing anything in Korea? Yes. But they have a marketing team out there, they have initiatives, they have a league out there. So, we’re supporting them — but in North America, we are driving them.”
So far, Gen.G has used its connections to prominent North American streamers and influencers to help raise awareness about the Nimble Neuron game Eternal Return, enlisting popular Gen.G creators such as Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek and Brooke “SupCaitlin” Mauro to promote the title at live events.
“We’re placing our priority on the North American region. We expect to improve our gaming experience and eventually expand our IP as a fascinating esports game this year,” said Nimble Neuron CEO Nam Seok Kim. “We believe Gen.G’s influencer network and marketing capabilities will speed up the process.”
Gen.G is also able to connect American brands to audiences in Asia. The organization works with its brand partners to create simultaneous activations across multiple markets, such as last year’s Gen.G/Crocs Minecraft competition, which was open to residents of the U.S., China, South Korea, Europe, Japan and Canada. “Off the top of my head, the best example is PUMA. We started our partnership with PUMA as a local Korean team, and now we are one of the most preferred brands on the global level, when it comes to esports,” Kim said. “Because we’ve proven to them that our partnership isn’t really pigeonholed into one small market, now we are a global partner there.”
Getting a seat at the table
Gen.G’s cross-market strategy is beneficial to the organization beyond its role in bringing in new brand partnerships. It also allows the company to take a more active role in its partners’ marketing strategy, giving it a chance to flex its creative muscles through activations such as the aforementioned Minecraft contest. These days, rote esports partnerships and logo-slaps are no longer of interest to gaming and esports consumers — they need something more, and Gen.G is ready to meet the challenge.
“For us, the strategy is to get a seat at the table and try to become a strategic partner for the brand, whether it’s creating an authentic experience or launching your own branded team,” Kim said.
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