Gaming is growing, and advertisers have an opportunity to reach gamers in new ways. Bidstack’s James Draper argues that in-game advertising brings the scale of mass-media exposure without ruining playing experiences.

In the last 12 months, the popularity of esports has gone through the roof with viewing figures now surpassing both F1 and the 2019 Superbowl. With this continual rise, we are seeing advertisers starting to dip their toes into the world of esports and gaming by finding more creative and innovative ways to reach their audience. Just recently we have seen Honda become the exclusive automotive partner for the League of Legends Championship series and Nike signing a multi-year deal with FURIA esports in moves designed to future proof their media strategies.

Previously, allocating ad spend to in-game advertising was very much something that would work in theory. Now, with gaming and esports making headlines – and with esports set to reach $1 billion in revenue this year – brands and advertisers are proactively finding ways to engage with this audience in an original way.

Now that the initial wave of digital advertising has settled, brands and agencies are starting to realise that online ads don’t always live up to their expectations. Standard display banners, in-feed ads and pre-roll are impactful, but do have some drawbacks. There are issues around brand safety, low viewability, rising audience distraction, an increased use of ad blockers and disruptive ad formats.

Advertisers are looking for innovative solutions that allow them to address these problems and connect with consumers via their preferred media, without disrupting their experience. And gaming, specifically native in-game advertising, is emerging as an effective solution to this problem.

From the user perspective, creatives served into natural spaces can deliver unobtrusive promotional content that enriches the gaming experience such as flags and trackside banners in racing games.

For advertisers, native gaming ads offer an opportunity to deliver highly visible messaging to an immersed audience. Users absorbed in play are unlikely to be distracted: there are no second devices or news feeds vying for their attention. And they are unusually receptive; a recent study carried out by Bidstack and Lumen Research found in-game ad attention can almost double when measured against traditional online advertising.

Having control over positioning also means that advertisers aren’t exposed to the online brand safety issues they might experience with traditional display. Ad blocking software also doesn’t come into play with this budding channel because ads are served directly into the games themselves.

Gaming has been expanding its mainstream following — and with it advertiser interest — for a while, but it’s poised for a period of sustained growth, thanks to a blend of technological advances, celebrity influencers, and the evolution of esports and burgeoning streaming services. This year a record 109,000 gamers competed to qualify for the Formula 1 New Balance esports series, which attracted 5.5 million viewers and 20 million online video views. So lucrative and far-reaching is the industry that Fortnite was able to award the teenage winner of its recent World Cup final £2.4 million in prize money – outdoing Wimbledon’s prize pot of £2.34 million which was taken home by Novak Djokovic. 

Gaming has a huge secondary audience that watch live streams or videos of their favourite gamers on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. Gaming influencers are the rock stars of gaming and can attract vast audiences; Hollywood movie star Jack Black recently appeared alongside A-List streamer PewDiePie, in a video that was watched more than 14 million times in seven days and more than 600k tuned in live to watch Drake play Fortnite with Ninja last year.

When influencer audiences, players, and esports viewers are combined, the potent appeal of in-game advertising becomes clear. And that reach will become even greater in the near future, with the imminent arrival of cloud-gaming platforms such as Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud super-charging usage and putting in-game advertising at the core of advertising strategies. 

The biggest benefit of cloud-gaming platforms will be increased scale. Gaming adoption is already impressive, with 86% of global internet users playing on game consoles, desktops, or smartphones. But cloud-based platforms will significantly boost the size and diversity of that audience. By shifting the weight of processing to the cloud, these platforms will vastly reduce the need for reinvesting in gaming equipment. Anyone with a reliable connection, web-enabled device and controller will be able to take part in high fidelity games. In other words – gaming will be affordable and open to all, and its advertising potential will become unlimited.

As brands increasingly recognise the limits of traditional digital advertising, both focus and spend are moving towards formats that reach audiences where they spend their time. By embracing native in-game advertising, brands can avoid some of the issues plaguing the industry, such as viewability, brand safety, and ad blocking. And more importantly, they can reach a vast, varied and receptive audience with high impact, naturally placed, engaging ad creatives.