Hype Machine: How eSports Keeps Fans Hooked

How the biggest eSports titles are carefully managed and marketed to bring in new fans and interest veterans.

As eSports grow, so too does its promotional arm. eSports began as a grassroots effort of passion and competition, with competitors sleeping in vans and scraping together enough to rent a hotel, travel out, and perhaps make a little bit of profit if they won. These days the prizes are bigger, the players have so much more to fight for, and the world knows all about what’s at stake. Consider for a moment that the Evolution Fighting Championship was televised on ESPN. There is no question about whether we’ve made it: we’re already here, so it’s time to buckle in. Of course, there have been many things that have succeeded initially and then faltered due to lack of interest. The companies behind the biggest eSports, in turn, have to drum up interest. They’re not alone—fans are working hard to spread the word and continue the grassroots origin of eSports. Let’s take a look at some of the way that eSports is being promoted across different games and genres.

Hype Machine: How ESports Keeps Fans Hooked

Putting the Legends in League

To start, there’s League of Legends. Riot is arguably one of the best in the business when it comes to maintaining interest in a single release through new champions, releases, and patches—and more importantly, hyping them up. Whether it’s the majestic, soaring music over the cartoony figures of the new duo champions, the haunting Jhin teasers and trailer, or the cosmic awe and terror inspired by Aurelion Sol, Riot has mastered the art of the elevator pitch for their champions and articulate them through animations, art, or even viral and creative ways (such as the Lissandra and Jinx teasers hidden on champion information pages).

They’re not just building up the new cast, though. Riot has managed to revitalize old interests, such as Taric and Ryze, through re-launches. Despite the fact that these champions have already been purchased long ago or are available at insanely low prices due to their age in the game, they still get full treatment: models, skins, lore, voice acting, the works.

How is this worth it?

  • It builds up the world of League of Legends and allows them to construct successive content off that foundation. For instance, Taric was a knight from another dimension. Now, he’s part of the Mount Targot retcons, and can tie in with other champions and future releases.
  • It builds interest and rewards existing players. Keeping with the example of Taric, he was once a character that the playerbase joked about being a little flamboyant or out there. Now, those qualities are built into his character, pleasing old fans and drawing new ones (who might be interested in a feminine, strong, articulate, and bold male character who breaks stereotypes).

While League has worked hard at hype and marketing, they’re not the only players in the game.

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Watching Over Blizzard’s New Cast

Another slick and polished marketing production can be found surrounding Blizzard’s new shooter, Overwatch. Overwatch has garnered a huge amount of praise for its cast, both in terms of gameplay mechanics and diversity. Blizzard has confirmed that there are at least two queer characters in the cast, and after critics talked about the lack of body diversity in the game, Blizzard offered Zarya, a bulky weightlifter that joined the army to protect her country. Mei and Ana are also additions that round the cast out and draw in new players: Mei is a short and chubby scientist, which is a great change of pace from the long legs and slim torsos of the other female characters. Ana is a real one of a kind on her own: an older mother with a sniper rifle and an eye patch.

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The fans have rewarded Blizzard for these efforts with an outpouring of viral support. There’s fan art, animations, original compositions, and a ton of word of mouth. Blizzard has clearly recognized the fruits of their efforts and are responding with a 100 page graphic novel that delves into the history of some of Overwatch’s key characters. While Overwatch is still finding its footing as a competitive game, there’s no denying it's a major hit with the fans.

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Fighting Game Passion

When it comes to games like the Smash series or Street Fighter, there are less slick production bits and CGI promotional shorts. What it lacks in official backing however, the Fighting Game Community more than makes up for in sheer fan passion and dedication. I attended Good Game Con in Toronto this summer for the League guests, only to find that Get On My Level 2016 had completely eclipsed the rest of the festivities, with thousands of guests crowding around the action as the dozens of League looked on in envy and awe.

The recent Evolution Fighting Championship only furthered my belief that Fighting Game Community fans are the most passionate on the globe. EVO was aired on ESPN, and hundreds of thousands of people tuned in to cheer for Hungrybox and Infiltration while blowing up Twitter, and spreading the good word.

Part of the recent wave of interest in Fighting Games comes from the documentary The Smash Brothers, a nine part series that follows the big names in the Smash community and introduces the viewer to the storyline. Interestingly, a piece meant to celebrate the history of a community has helped encourage a new wave of interest and fans. Now, the FGC is enjoying one of the brightest spots in their history.

Marketing doesn’t always have to be insincere or calculated. It can come from a place of love and passion, and there are few better examples of that than in eSports. As the competitive gaming community continues to grow, marketing and fan passion will ensure that—as Dr. Zeigler might say—heroes never die. Of course, it’s always just plain enjoyable to climb aboard the hype train and see how something new pans out!