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How Plarium made esports sponsorship history with Natus Vincere

Plarium become the first mobile game developer to appear on an esports team uniform.
How Plarium made esports sponsorship history with Natus Vincere
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In the final instalment of SportQuake’s series with, company CEO Matt House is joined by Plarium's director of marketing, Sergey Bragilevskiy, to discuss the ground-breaking collaboration that led to RAID: Shadow Legends becoming an official shirt sponsor of the Ukrainian team Natus Vincere (NAVI).

Sergey Bragilevskiy: RAID had surpassed our expectations since its launch two years ago, both in terms of revenue generation and global popularity, reaching over 50 million downloads.

The western market had been our biggest success story, with RAID consistently topping US revenue rankings in the collectable card game (CCG) role-playing game (RPG) genre.

This popularity was driven by a two-year-long user acquisition campaign, based purely around performance marketing on digital channels. This approach was reaching a natural limit, so we decided the time was right to explore alternative ways to attract new audiences to the game.

Matt House: Plarium had been focused on performance marketing and they were looking for ways to broaden their reach.

After speaking with Plarium, the idea of esports sponsorship soon came to us. Esports is thriving, with industry revenues now exceeding $1 billion, as more and more brands use it as a platform to engage Gen Z and millennial audiences, who are notoriously hard to reach via traditional advertising channels.

Plarium is innovative by nature and saw the potential in becoming the first mover in such an exciting space.

This strategy of partnering non-endemic mobile-first games with sports to drive awareness and engagement with mainstream audiences is something we pioneered with Garena Free Fire and Cristiano Ronaldo, which is now being adopted industry-wide.

Strategic Development: Using esports shirt sponsorship to target core gamers

Bragilevskiy: RAID is a unique product, with a much larger focus around core gamers than most mobile games. From the outset, we wanted to reach a highly-targeted core gamer audience and build a recognisable image through a channel that this audience trusts.

We also wanted marketing activity to continue to resonate with western audiences and build on the excellent acquisition we had achieved in the region. SportQuake understood this and shaped a strategy that would meet this objective.

“Esports is thriving, with industry revenues now exceeding $1 billion, as more and more brands use it as a platform to engage Gen Z and millennial audiences”
Matt House

When they raised the idea of esports sponsorship, we saw a lot of overlap in the level of engagement and player passion between our two communities. Esports seemed like an attractive and natural direction to explore, and NAVI seemed like the ideal partner.

House: Esports is growing at pace, with Goldman Sachs predicting that viewership levels will be equal to the NFL by 2022. Data around esports fans also shows their value to brands, with studies highlighting that they typically earn double the average wage by the time they’re 30, with more disposable income.

We believed NAVI would make an excellent partner for four key reasons:

  • Key Markets - We wanted CS:GO to be a focus as the game’s key markets match those of RAID. NAVI is the world’s best CS:GO team.
  • Pandemic Player Surge - Since the partnership launched during the pandemic, we looked carefully at which games had best adapted to the situation. CS:GO had excelled, hitting all-time player records with more than a million concurrent players in March 2020. Specifically, participation by heavy users (the type of core gamer profile that Plarium wanted to engage) had increased by 30 per cent.
  • Shirt Sponsor Visibility – As an esports shirt sponsor, Plarium would drive huge coverage at all team activity including competitions, live streams and player appearances.
  • Influencer Marketing - Esports sits in a sweet spot between digital, sports and influencer marketing. There was considerable star power within NAVI’s ranks, most notably esports legend S1mple, who has over 5 million followers on social media. This would create a number of activation opportunities around influencer marketing.

Activation: A digital focused activation to overcome pandemic challenges

Bragilevskiy: NAVI showed great flexibility when it came to agreeing a suitable rights package, helping us to get more of the inventory that suited our goals best. This included the ability to add direct download links for attribution and tracking, for example, NAVI players’ social media posts & YouTube / Twitch pre-rolls and streams.

In terms of launching the partnership, timing was crucial. We announced right before a series of major esports events in which NAVI were taking part (and eventually dominated), bringing major attention to the team, the game and the partnership itself.

We amplified awareness further using a variety of tools, from PR activities to over 150 influencer marketing campaigns devoted to spreading the message to all relevant audiences and channels.

House: Activating an esports sponsorship requires careful planning across both online and offline channels. During the pandemic, the digital aspect became even more important as online streaming surged. To give context, Twitch streams were viewed a total of 18 billion hours in 2020 (67 per cent year-on-year increase), with the League of Legends World Championship the most viewed event (a cumulative 110 million hours).

Results: What impact did the partnership have?

Bragilevskiy: The NAVI partnership is a completely different marketing activity for us and it cannot be measured in the same way and by the same metrics as performance marketing channels. It is like our influencer marketing campaigns, but with much more organic buzz. It invited new discussions and talk in the industry and, of course, introduced all-new memes. Bottom-line: It garnered attention.

While the exact results will only be available at the conclusion of the partnership, it has been a great learning opportunity. We learned a lot about working with high-profile partners, the creative process and also got a better feel for the esports audience.

House: Expect this learning curve to continue as live events return. We have previously seen how important event activations are to drive fan loyalty and awareness (See DHL at the ESL One 2019 event as an example). Authenticity is crucial, with esports fans increasingly eagle-eyed than the average sports fans when it comes to the brands sponsoring their favourite teams, competitions and players. We’re looking forward to seeing what Plarium have in store.

Bragilevskiy: We have recently sponsored a major ESL CS:GO championship and have a bunch of exciting upcoming events with NAVI this year. In short, we have a lot going on within the esports world – stay tuned!

To find out more about SportQuake, contact Pat McColgan.