Women in Esports: How it has become a necessity for brands, rightsholders and fans

Reading time: 5 minutes

There has been a clear rise in women’s sports in recent years.

Over 2 billion viewers tuned into the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, cricket’s new Women’s Premier League in India became the second most valuable women’s sports league in the world, and last year’s Tour de France Femmes achieved a higher market share than the men’s Giro d’Italia.

This phenomenal increase has also been seen in the world of gaming through esports. For so long the gaming industry has perhaps falsely been regarded as male dominated, with brand partnerships tending to be catered towards traditional male interests.

When it comes to esports, the competitive arm of the gaming space, female viewership has been climbing, with an incredible 24 million hours watched of female esports in 2022.

Changing the Game

Riot Games is at the forefront of this “women’s revolution” in esports, thanks to the formation of the Game Changers series as part of the Valorant Champions Tour (VCT), the professional esports scene for the game Valorant.

Set up in 2021, the series only features women and marginalised genders and provides them with the opportunity to play on the biggest stages across the globe. Viewership has risen dramatically from 21,000 to 240,000 peak viewers between 2021 and 2022.

Ashley Washington, Product Lead for Game Changers EMEA at Riot Games said: “The Game Changers EMEA program provides women with a platform in esports, but also acts as a springboard for success in career. Whether that is as a personality, caster or a coach in the esports space.”

Beneath the main series, there is a second part of the program which holds monthly tournaments, providing more opportunities for players at a semi-pro and grassroots level.

Riot Games has also expressed a keenness to extend Game Changers further in its premier title League of Legends (LoL), which the platform currently only available in the US for LoL.

It's clear to see that the women are already present in the industry, with more than 1,000 women taking part in Game Changers EMEA last year. The question that brands and rightsholders must ask themselves is what are these women's wants and needs, and how can we provide solutions and resonate with them.

Land of Opportunity

Whether you are looking through the esports lens or the wider gaming landscape, you can see the new opportunities that arise for brands when it comes to reaching women.

Looking at CS:GO, in 2021 there was just 25 tournaments exclusively for women, this rose dramatically to 143 in 2022.

EE, the British mobile network operator, has a longtime strategic partnership with Excel Esports. Together, they have shined a light on women's esports within the UK ecosystem, hosting one of the first women's esports events at Insomnia.

EE and Excel also recently set up a Women’s Gaming Talent Programme, with only 18% women in the UK considering a career in gaming.

The programme offers a four-month placement for six aspiring women looking to break into the industry. The modules range from nutrition and wellbeing to skill workshops and financial guidance, with participants having the chance to join Excel’s Valorant women’s team.

The initiative fits brilliantly with EE’s brand, with their history showing a clear desire for diversity and elevating women, most notably work with the England women’s football team, the Lionesses.

EE also has a desire to be the number 1 brand in UK gaming, offering the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III Beta for its customers, as well as heavily angling their 5G as the best of gaming in the country. You can see that objective with EE setting up an online Game Store to look after all gamers' needs.

Being seen as the standout brand for women’s gaming in the UK will go a long way into achieving that, with the various partnerships and activations they execute addressing different audiences.

Creating new experiences

As much as esports and gaming have been around for a while now, and partnership activations are nothing new, there is still so much scope in the space to produce creative experiences.

With many brands using the likes of Roblox and Fortnite as testing grounds for the metaverse, and the demographic in the industry being a lot more tech savvy, you can understand why most brands and even rightsholders will have a gaming strategy.

Leonie Fabisch, Director of Global Gaming at SPORTFIVE said: “Authenticity is the key. Is there diversity within the game itself you are targeting? Look to resonate with a particular audience and it can be incredibly rewarding.”

Looking at Roblox for example, there is an incredibly wide-ranging player base, hence why plenty of high-end fashion brands have been seen activating in the space. From Gucci to Net-a-Porter and even supermodel Karlie Kloss, there is a clear appetite to reach potential customers in new and creative ways. 

Even make-up brands like Charlotte Tilbury have ventured into esports, sponsoring the Girl Gamer Esports festival, as well as launching their own Twitch channel, in which it invites women in the industry on to discuss all things cosmetics and gaming. Similarly the brand has an initiative, Charlotte’s Magic Beauty Stars, which provides social creators with commission for providing its products.

They are not the only the cosmetics brand to have tested the waters in the space, with a MAC x The Sims collaboration enabling players to use MAC products on avatars in The Sims 4.

Brands looking to step into the ecosystem can do so by truly understanding the demographic of the audience they are trying to reach. Consult the community, conduct surveys and speak to experts in the field, with SPORTFIVE possessing years of knowledge of the industry and have activated brands in esports in a variety ways over the years.

Contact SPORTFIVE at [email protected] to find out the opportunities that lie in the esports space. Riot Games and EE both spoke during SPORTFIVE's Women in Esports Workshop at ESI London in October 2023.

Beyond the Match
The SPORTFIVE Magazine

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