What Is Esports, and Why Are Restaurants Interested in It?

Restaurant brands are exploring esports to further engage their guests and to make themselves more visible to potential diners by building eSport Lounges into their locations. Esports, or electronic sports, is a competitive environment for video gamers in which participants enter tournaments as individuals or teams and compete for prizes. eSport Lounges feature popular games like Fortnite, Super Smash Brothers, League of Legends, and Madden.

The earliest esports events began in the early 1970s, just as video games reached mainstream popularity. Tournaments featured single-player games like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong, and named winners based on their high scores. When multiplayer games like Street Fighter made their debut, two players could finally challenge each other face-to-face. Today, tournaments may feature up to two teams of five players in various genres; shooting games and battle arenas are the most popular.

Over the years, esports has evolved from humble beginnings in shopping malls to packed stadium arenas. Like traditional sports, esports presents a massive marketing opportunity for the restaurant industry.

Millions of Millennials and Gen Zs Tune In to Esports

About 380 million people watched esports globally in 2018 — 25.7 million in the U.S. alone — and viewership is growing year-over-year. Most esports organizations broadcast events via live stream — the digital equivalent of live television coverage — where viewers watch on their computers or mobile devices.

Source: Newzoo

In 2019, esports industry revenue could grow to $1.1 billion. Interestingly enough, millennials and Gen Zs make up the majority of viewers.

How Brands Are Getting Involved in Esports

Live streaming sites represent new digital channels for restaurant brands to promote themselves. Sites like Twitch, a platform that focuses on video game live streaming, and YouTube’s gaming channel are viable outlets for brands to market themselves. 

Source: Syracuse University

Live streaming is perfect for restaurant brands looking to connect on a deeper level with younger demographics. So how does your restaurant get started?

Sponsor Players and Teams

Restaurant brands partner with esports players and teams in the same way they sponsor traditional sporting events. Jack in the Box partnered with Team Envy, a professional Call of Duty team. The two groups created various marketing campaigns aimed at their guests and fans, including sponsored Tweets with comical images, free giveaways for event attendees, and videos of Team Envy players with Jack in the Box‘s mascot.

Source: Sheldon Melvin

Some brands like Wendy’s approach player sponsorships differently. On the release date of Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Twitch gamer “Nairo” announced his partnership with the restaurant brand. Wendy’s even delivered during his live stream.

Sponsor Tournaments or Leagues

Instead of players or teams, Buffalo Wild Wings sponsored a League of Legends tournament to attract more guests into its stores. “It was basically an opportunity to communicate with what we thought was an under-represented group of individuals within casual dining,” said Bob Ruhland, vice president of marketing at Buffalo Wild Wings. “It was a very influential population that was looking for a place they could gather outside of the home.”

Arby’s looked at sponsorships as a way to strengthen its relationship with its own team members and their guests — both of which are esports fans — and partnered with ELeague, an esports league. Arby’s ran personalized brand campaigns during live streams, and brought their “roadside meathouse” to feed hungry attendees and gamers.

Source: Eleague

Turner Broadcasting Company (TBS) hosted an ELeague season featuring Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a popular online shooting game, and saw 16 million viewers across their online and TV segments, while 12.6 million viewers watched the event online.

Refabricate Stores for Viewing Parties

Buffalo Wild Wings continues to focus on its core concept as a sports bar. To widen that net and include esports, it unveiled plans for a new store, which features rooms with self-serve beer taps and game consoles. The new design — which will feature a takeout area and a takeout window — will attract younger patrons and provide a more seamless experience for takeout guests.

Host Live Stream Events

Wendy’s hosted a live stream of Fortnite and took part in one of the game’s special events, aptly named “Food Fight.” The restaurant brand urged players to fight against an in-game team named “Durr Burger.” This subtle message was a jab at Wendy’s rivals, especially those who use frozen burgers in their stores.

Partner With Video Game Companies for Giveaways

Pizza has always been a popular food choice for video gamers. Knowing this, Pizza Hut teamed up with Microsoft for a holiday promotion. Guests who ordered the Triple Treat Box received a special entry code for a chance to win an Xbox One S console complete with a custom Pizza Hut-branded controller. Each Triple Treat Box contained a separate code for $10 off select Xbox One games.

Source: Xbox Wire

Offer Promo Codes for Loot

Loot is an in-game prize or reward that includes unique character costumes, power-ups, or in-game currency. Jersey Mike’s partnered with Riot Games to run sponsorship activations at the North America League of Legends Championship Series. The restaurant brand engaged event attendees and had a special promotion in its stores — diners who made a purchase received a promo code to redeem for special League of Legends loot.

Publish Ads on Live Streaming Sites

Carl’s Jr teamed up with Twitch to celebrate Vice’s new gaming website. Happy Star, the restaurant brand’s mascot, acted out various skits in the many Vice offices. Twitch then played these live skits on their native ad platform.

Source: IPG Media Lab

Connect With Gamers and Live Stream Influencers

Another way for a restaurant brand to get involved is to Establish an Influencer Partnership with gamers in the industry. Similar to social media influencers, restaurants can work with individuals to promote their brands on live stream channels.
HelloGamers is a website that acts as a social network for players and companies looking for sponsorship opportunities. Brands can connect with individuals or teams, so there’s an opportunity to start small and test the waters before going all in. Other sites like Wehype work specifically with Twitch influencers.

Source: Twitch.tv

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Ray Bugayong

Ray Bugayong

Ray is the Demand Gen Manager at LevelUp. As a former small business owner, his involvement with local food groups fuels his culinary creativity. When he's not dreaming of food, you can find him at the gym or a local cocktail bar dreaming up his next entrepreneurial pursuit.

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