‘Esports can be just as influential’: Kia pushes into competitive video games

Kia is taking a cautious but optimistic approach to its first foray into the fast-growing world of esports.

The company is among a raft of big advertisers trying to carve a credible presence in a competitive gaming space where there is no natural fit for their brands. It became the main sponsor the League of Legends European Championship earlier this month to build that credibility over the next year, after which it will assess whether to increase its investment, said Michael Choo, head of brand promotion team at Kia.

As one of the most popular esports titles, League of Legends attracts swathes of viewers to its championship series in Europe and North America. Tournament organizer Riot Games claimed that last year’s League of Legends World Finals attracted nearly 100 million viewers, for example. And the sponsorship prices match that reach. The most expensive tournament-level deals like League of Legends Championship and Overwatch League are set in the mid-seven figures, said one sports sponsorship executive on condition of anonymity.

It’s a small price to pay for a business that can afford to be one of the top tier sponsors for the World Cup, which is arguably among the most expensive rights in sponsorship. Esports, however, is attracting more sponsorship budgets from advertisers like Kia, with spend from those larger brands pushing revenues for the industry up from $655 million in 2017 to $2.9 billion in 2022, according to Goldman Sachs.

Kia will focus its early spending on sponsorships, not advertising, via partnerships with Riot Games and media platform Dbltap. Kia will develop videos on the reigning European champions Fnatic that will follow the team as it tries to defend its title. Another video series will use the esports team setup to promote teamwork, while another will revolve around a game show featuring Fnatic’s players.

An ad is also being developed for the Spring season that will focus on the League of Legends game. Dedicated ads like this are a departure for the car advertiser, which will pay to have it run on dedicated sports channels as well as more mainstream ones like Instagram and YouTube. The video will likely riff on the same tone used in the one that launched Kia’s partnership with LEC, which featured high-profile players such as Quickshot, Froskurinn, Vedius, Medic and Drakos in its cars.

“Only true gamers and esports fans will be able to fully appreciate the video,” said Choo. “Our content goal is to be accepted by the esports fan community as a brand who truly cares about and supports the rising eSports culture.”

Despite having high hopes for esports, Choo said any future investments would not come at the expense of its ties to traditional sports. Given the different target audience demographics between traditional sports and esports, Kia sees the two industries as complementary in terms of reaching a diverse spectrum of potential consumers, said Choo.

Top tier esports are compelling to advertisers, but so far they haven’t been well packaged to mainstream brands. While some advertisers like Audi, Adidas and Vodafone have waded into a competitive game, it’s arguable that ad dollars remain eclipsed by traditional sport. This is down to a lack of clarity for the rights holder, an uncertain audience profile, market infancy and games publishers being more interested in game sales and micro-payments than they are ad budgets.


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