Hundreds of millions of people tuned in to the Summer Olympics this year, and while sporting events have brought people together for centuries, in recent years, the esports segment has outstripped the traditional sports market in North America, and was valued at almost $180 billion globally in 2020. Today, one billion people compete in esports worldwide, with 500 million in China alone.
Now one of the fastest growing entertainment segments in the world, esports is the name for competitive video-gaming. Centered around über-popular games like League of Legends and Call of Duty, players face off in organized competitions before global audiences. The esports fanbase is a true powerhouse, with events regularly selling out large arenas, and a rapidly growing online audience.
With esports viewership expected to grow at a 9% compound annual growth rate between 2019 and 2023, our teams at AB InBev have been working hard to find new and creative ways to connect with fans and elevate their experience with new and favorite brands.
Fueling the Competition With Energy Innovations
Energy and soft drinks are gamers' favorite beverages, and the preferred refreshment for about 60% of players in Brazil and China. It's no wonder: playing and watching for 4.36 hours on average, gamers need the right mix of energy, hydration and flavor to keep going.
To respond to gamers' unique tastes and needs, for the past three years, our no-alcohol beverage unit, NABev, has been developing new innovations across its energy drink portfolio. In 2016, we worked with a team of gamers to create Fusion, an energy drink designed by gamers, for gamers. Fusion sets itself apart by offering scalable energy levels that adjust to each gaming journey, as well as using healthy, better-tasting ingredients.
“We knew we needed to start by responding to an opportunity with a unique product formulation,” said Ana Henriques, Global Vice President of NABev. “From there, it's about building that authentic, emotional connection with consumers. We leveraged partnerships, activations and influencers to build affinity with Fusion across the gaming community in Brazil, and then China — which accounts for one fifth of the global esports market.”
For example, in 2021, as FreeFire emerged as Brazil's most popular and accessible esport, we seized the opportunity to launch a championship in which anyone could participate: the Fusion Capudo Cup. The activation pulled in 5,000 participants, and an additional 3.5 million viewers via the brand's influencer partner channels. Meanwhile, our live-cast hosted by Fusion in partnership with HUYA, China's largest gaming platform, generated over 90 million impressions over five days.
Gaining Creds With a Discerning Demographic
With the esports explosion, there's been a rush of companies looking to capture this new audience. But as brands wrestle for attention, authenticity is key. Connecting with esports fans means understanding and investing in what they love about gaming culture.
That's why we created Cooldown, an esports platform that helps users come together with others in the community to design their own viewing experience. Initially launched in the UK, Cooldown connects fans directly with partnering AB InBev bar owners, enabling them to set up viewing parties and watch in style at their favorite venues.
“The power of this platform is that it's scalable across multiple verticals, from gamification to user rewards and partner expansion,” said José García Valverde, Head of Esports Europe at AB InBev. “Platforms like Cooldown...will enable us to continue capturing growth opportunities as the esports market evolves.”
Using the Power of Our Brands to Tackle Big Social Issues
We're also leveraging our soft drink portfolio to connect with the esports community's teenage demographic on important social issues. For example, in recent years, our Pony Malta soft drink brand has set itself apart as a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion issues in the gaming industry, from gender representation to anti-bullying.
In 2020, after noticing that character options on the FIFA video games were limited to male avatars only in Career Mode, Pony Malta launched a women's football team in FIFA to help female players feel more represented. And on International Gamer's Day, Pony Malta invited the biggest players in the country to turn their usernames into anti-bullying messages.
Building the Esports Experiences No One Else Can
It's one thing entering the market with products specifically designed for or geared toward gamers, but we're also finding creative ways to make some of our best-loved AB InBev beers the go-to refreshment for LDA esports fans. In the U.S., our Bud Light team is building activations that elevate the gaming experience for players and viewers, creating authentic touchpoints with the brand.
By creating a Bud Light channel on Twitch — a live broadcast platform for gaming with almost three million daily viewers — we now have endless possibilities to offer gamers special experiences and perks they wouldn't otherwise have access to. For example, in 2019, we launched the Bud Light Beer League, a tournament based around the Japanese fighting game, Tekken.
“What's special about the Beer League is it's an amateur tournament where winners are given the opportunity to go pro,” said Joe Barnes, Director of Bud Light Sports Marketing. “By helping to make the competition open and accessible to more people, we've been able to set Bud Light apart as a brand that's truly invested in making positive contributions to the esports and gaming culture.”
Meanwhile, Bud Light Seltzer offers a completely different consumer experience with the owned platform, Bud Light Seltzer “Battle of the Best.” The ‘Super Bowl of Esports' was created in 2020 and brought 16 of the top gamers in the world together to compete for top prize as the best gamer in the world. Battle of the Best was the #1 brand stream ever on Twitch and the 9.5 million live viewers put the contest ahead of the NBA Playoffs and NHL Stanley Cup the night of the broadcast. With its experiential ingenuity, Bud Light is capturing the whole market — from creating more accessible experiences, to leading in prime time entertainment.
Check out Bud Light Seltzer's Battle of The Best Twitch stream here.
As AB InBev continues to leverage the power and scale of our brands to engage, inspire and bring happiness to consumers around the world, the esports market offers enormous potential to reach new and diverse audiences. We're always paying attention to the shifts in how people consume entertainment and connect with one another, and are committed to investing in the experiences, platforms and brand innovations that enable us to stay ahead of the curve.