Are you a gamer with an audience of 10k or more on social media?
Are you a tournament organizer who aspires to become the new ESL for hundreds of esports teams?
Here’s the ultimate guide on how to get sponsors to notice you and give you the money you need.
If you’re a multi-million-dollar company or the manager of a 35 million-dollar professional esports team (like Team Liquid), sponsors will surely throw themselves at your feet. In these cases you wouldn’t even have to look for them: money is thrown out like candy if a titan like Blizzard is even remotely thinking about looking for sponsorships to run the Overwatch League. Thousands of companies will fight to the death just to see their product showcased in front of countless players and potential customers.
Since you’re reading this article, though, you’re neither a Team Liquid representative neither the organizer of the Overwatch League. That means finding sponsors for your tournament or your team will require a lot of patience and thousands of emails.
But don’t despair—finding sponsors is not an entirely impossible task, especially if you can demonstrate your results, quality content and a high level of engagement. This article is here to help.
How esports sponsorship has evolved over the years
Sponsors have always been a fundamental part of the competitive gaming industry, and esports organizations have always struggled to survive without third-party money. However, this issue has gotten worse over the past few years. The LCS (North America’s official League of Legends esports league) and the LEC (League of Legends European Championships) have become franchised between 2018 and 2019. And Riot Games is not the only one adopting this strategy: the business decision was also made by companies like Blizzard.
So what does this mean?
No team can be promoted or relegated within the league. The only way to compete in the seasonal championship is to purchase a participation slot for the tournament. The average cost? It ranges between 10 and 30 million dollars. This Increases the the reliance of teams on sponsorships, which in turn forces lots of esports organizations out of business due to a lack of money.
In fact, according to Newzoo, about $615 million of all esports revenue is from sponsors.
In the early days of esports, sponsorships were exclusively provided by endemic companies that had their core business rooted in the esports industry or the gaming scene. Companies like Intel, Razer, Nvidia and Logitech were investing in the competitive gaming industry, boosting their influence and collecting astounding revenues. Eventually, an increasing number of non-endemic brands decided to join the esports market: Coca Cola, Red Bull, Monster, T-mobile and more. These non-gaming related companies became some of the main sponsors of the industry, supporting notorious teams like Cloud9, Fnatic, Team Dignitas and G2.
What are esports sponsors interested in?
The sponsorship goals for a brand entering the esports market can vary. Here are the major areas they consider.
This is where the highest level of community engagement can be achieved, which is why we can see a worldwide brand like Mastercard deciding to invest into League of Legends Worlds 2020. Acting as the main sponsor for the event granted them huge visibility, with an audience of 99.6 million potential buyers.
The steps you’ll need to take to position yourself well before contacting potential sponsors will be discussed later in this article.
Team sponsorship follows a similar model as in traditional sports. The brand’s logo will be added to merchandise and the team’s clothing, and their brand presence can be built up throughout the market thanks to the possibility that a team may participate in different video game competitions. A sponsorship of Fnatic, for example, would give that sponsor visibility during tournaments of League of Legends (check out the History of League of Legends here), Overwatch, Hearthstone, CounterStrike and many others, mitigating the risk of low visibility due to the potential failure of a single video game or tournament.
Since video game streamers are influencers and content creators, and therefore can engage bigger audiences, most individual sponsorships are addressed to them, and not to people who simply play video games.
There are different types of gaming sponsorships that can be arranged:
- Affiliate code sponsorships
Streamers are offered an affiliate code sponsorship, which gives a discount on certain products for them to share with their community. This practice usually brings benefits to the streamer, the brand and the community simultaneously. This is the preferred choice for streamers (and influencers more generally) who are followed by a smaller audience and thus excluded from more lucrative sponsorships.
- Hybrid sponsorships
These represent a step further compared to an affiliate code sponsorship. A company provides an additional discount exclusively for the streamer that allows the purchase of heavily discounted products. They can also decide to give the streamer/team/influencer free products to be advertised during live streams or esports tournaments. With this level of sponsorship, companies may also pay for travel and other expenses related to brand promotion, in proportion to the level of engagement on social media.
According to Rogue Energy, the typical requirements to be considered an influencer are
- 10,000+ highly active social followers on at least one social platform
- Several hundred thousand social impressions each month
The typical requirements for eSports teams are
- Semi-pro or better players with set rosters
- Actively attending tournaments
- 10,000+ highly active social followers on at least one social platform
- Several hundred thousand social impressions each month
- An organization website
- Pure sponsorships. This type of sponsorship is aimed at professional esports teams or players that have a huge number of followers. According to yellowzebrasports, with this kind of sponsorship, “You may get promoted by the brand in their native advertising campaigns, receive lump-sum payments, and have access to free products”.
The growth of the esports market has created a need for appropriate infrastructures to host the increasing number of events being organized. Esports arenas might be the best investment for sponsors right now, but most organizations don’t seem to have fully grasped their potential, and instead they keep exploiting the existing infrastructure, despite a limited scope for the esports industry.
How to find esports sponsors in four steps
After acquiring decent media coverage and reasonable viewership numbers for your live streams, you are probably ready to take some sponsorship deals to help you set up your League of Legends or Dota 2 event.
(To know how to set up a perfect esports tournament, click here)
There are four things that are necessary to do in order to convince companies that your tournament is worth the investment. Let’s take a look at each of them.
Define your needs
Do you need products? Which kind of product and for what scope? Do you need money? How much?
The first to thing to consider is what kind of investment you are looking for. Obtaining a $10k sponsorship is often a challenge, despite that amount not being a huge deal for companies like Monster. Any sponsor investing in your project will want to be sure that they’ll get the highest results possible: every dollar must be worth it. Generally speaking, it’s easier to have sponsors provide discount codes and free products to be given out at your tournament to your esports community.
Sponsors are classified into different categories based on what kind of products they’re providing and in what quantities. Esportsobserver.com describes these categories in their article “Sponsor me: How to contact a sponsor”
Title sponsor (75% to 100% funding)
The brand is included in the tournament name (for example, the Vodafone ESL Championship) or the team name (Team Fordzilla). A title sponsor will also have more decision-making power and will be able to make decisions about the organization of the tournament, the presence of certain teams or players, and much more.
General sponsor (50% to 75% funding)
This sponsorship contributes a significant amount of money, and the sponsor will expect a large presence and advertising opportunities.
Official sponsor provides 20% to 50% funding.
Technical sponsor (10% to 20% funding)
These sponsors provide equipment and event related products. This kind of sponsorship is usually found among streamers and players, who grant companies like Razer, Intel and so on the chance to advertise their products by gifting them to spectators during live streams.
Participating and informal sponsors (up to 10% funding)
These sponsors are involved in a minor way, such as smaller monetary contributions or other forms of informal support.
These categories of sponsorship should be weighted accordingly. In other words, if a sponsor financed 75% of your budget, their brand should be mentioned or displayed almost everywhere (organizers should stop just short of tattooing it on their foreheads). Small sponsorships should also be credited proportionally, such as simply naming them in the end credits or just putting their little logo hidden somewhere.
So the first thing you need to do is figure out what kind of sponsorship you need.
Identify pontential sponsors or esports sponsors
Once you’ve identified your needs, come up with a list of all the sponsors you could potentially ask for investments.
Keep in mind that you can’t sign with companies that have the same business: asking both Nike and Puma for t-shirts isn’t a brilliant idea, since you can only have one main sponsor for each business. So before accepting a sponsorship proposal, be sure it’s the company you want to partner with.
Be prepared by knowing the history of the brands you are applying for. This serves two purposes: when the company asks “What do you know about us?” you will be able to answer efficiently, and you’ll also get an idea about what they can offer you.
Which companies are the biggest esports sponsors?
Let’s go over some of the major companies who are financing esports associations and teams.
With over 30 billion in revenue annually, Coca-Cola is one of the main sponsors in the esports market. It has been sponsoring the Overwatch League for both 2019 and 2020.
“Intel has partnered with the leading esports leagues, brands, and publishers for nearly two decades, delivering end-to-end pro gaming solutions built on world-class technology that bring spectacular events to the world” (intel.com). It is the main sponsor of one of the most famous tournaments organizers, ESL. They also sponsor the DreamHack Open, DreamHack Masters and many others. It also provides scholarships to NSE students to help them to become pros.
Red Bull is involved with different teams and tournaments, including the G2 team, Cloud 9, and the South Korean esports team T1; they have worked with Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, one of the most famous Fortnite streamers; and they also put their name on a League of Legends tournament, the Redbull Factions.
Monster sponsors Team Liquid, Alliance, and Evil Geniuses, as well as Fnatic:
“The most successful esports brand of the last decade, winning more than 200 championships across 30 different games.”
As we’ve previously mentioned, they were the main sponsor for the League of Legends Worlds in 2020.
In 2021 Ford began a sponsorship of the Rocket League championsip, and they’re also founders of Team Fordzilla.
They put their name on the ESL Vodafone Championship, the longest running esports championship in Italy. Since 2005 this tournament has been the proving ground for the best players and teams to prove their worth and try to win a prize pool of over € 19,000. They are also founders of the Spanish esports team Vodafone Giants.
A new entry into the esports industry. The Japanese automobile company has started sponsoring the League of Legends Championship Series, as well as the most successful team in the esports history, Team Liquid.
They were the first automobile producer to invest in esports in 2019. Now they’re one of the main partners of the ESL.
Razer is one of the earliest sponsors in the esports industry. Today they sponsor almost 15 different teams, including the Mad Lions, Alliance, Evil Geniuses, PandaCute, Legacy Esports and many more.
Create a presentation
Do you know what an elevator pitch is? It’s a 1-minute presentation designed to persuade potential investors to provide capital a company or otherwise support a project. It forces you to present the idea quickly and clearly with just a few words, because, let’s be honest, the result of a 30-minute monologue would be a bored investor, and a bored investor means no money.
Creating a 60-second presentation can be very challenging, and you may need more time to communicate your idea properly. What I’ve found effective over the years is a 5-10 minute powerpoint in which I usually follow these guidelines:
Start by presenting the idea
Try to be catchy and clear, providing all the information that will help potential sponsors to better understand the project.
Describe the market size
A tournament’s organizer should mention, for example, how many people play esports every day on the reference market.
Who is the reference target?
Try to outline the profile of the public. Newzoo provides a variety of infographics that could be helpful in doing this.
Present the team
Ideally your team should be able to cover different competencies with no need for any external aids.
Explain why they should invest in your idea
Are you offering your sponsors high visibility on social media? Or do you think your fans are interested in their products, and a sponsorship would improve their sales? Sponsors want to know what you can give to them and how you can help their company’s growth.
Show your results
If you are an esports organisation that’s been around for a while, you’ve probably achieved some of your goals: show those off! The index of growth of a company is a valid measurement tool used by sponsors to better understand how much an organisation is worth. Some platforms have analytics tools implemented, providing a picture of your performance over the day/week/month. Twitch, for example, talks about the average viewers, subscribers and revenue of a streamer.
Describe your future projects
Where would you like to be in a year?
Leave them your email, phone number and all the social media for your esports organisation so that they can look at what you are doing. If you have a website, don’t forget to mention it!
Go out there and sell your idea
You know what you need, and which investors you’d like to reach, you have your cool PowerPoint presentation with some cool graphic analytics. No one can stop you and your idea from getting the attention you deserve. Go out there and remember that you’re selling yourself and your tournament, so try to convey your passion and be as persuasive as possible.
If people can see the effort put into the project, you will be rewarded!