Vero’s Hoai-Anh Pham shares research from Vero and Decision Lab that highlights exciting ways in which brands can connect with e-sports audiences in Vietnam, the rising star in the country's digital landscape.

Descending from gamer culture, e-sports has historically been categorised as a medium with a sub-culture audience. Unlike gaming though, what draws consumers to e-sports is not just the game itself but the metaverse around the game, that is, the external aspects such as the individual player style, team strategy and social opportunities. E-sports provides an immersive space for individuals to be entertained and create identities, content and connection.

As access to technology expands, we have seen rapid growth in e-sports, as well as much more mainstream awareness. Video games have transcended alternative cultural status and become pop culture in their own right. In 2020, the global e-sports economy generated revenue of $947.1 million with an audience of 435.9 million.

When thinking about Vietnam’s e-sports gaming landscape, there are a few factors to consider. Vietnam’s population is one of the youngest in the region with over half of the population under 25. Smartphone penetration is high at more than 50% and high-speed internet coverage continues to grow. Gaming or cyber cafes are popular social gathering spots that offer low-cost leisure, entertainment and escape. Easy access to quick on-the-go internet plus the COVID-19 pandemic have spurred interest in Vietnam’s growing online gaming industry. Vietnam now has the highest percentage of adult gamers in the world, at 85% in 2020, according to a Statista survey.

For brands then, e-sports in Vietnam presents a flourishing market with access to an extraordinary number of dedicated and enthusiastic consumers.

Who are Vietnamese gamers?

Our research shows that Vietnam has the highest percentage of adult gamers in the world, with 78.6% of respondents to the study logging on two to three times a week.

The age demographics of our survey respondents show that e-sports fans have grown up. While young people have a slight majority, nearly half (47%) of our respondents are 30 or older.

Males still slightly dominate e-sports audiences but the percentage of female players has grown in recent years to more than one-third. Easy access to the internet through affordable smartphones has meant that millions of people now have access to gaming. Story genres have exploded and inclusive, varied storylines mean an even wider, more diverse audience wants to get in on the action.

But one of the most interesting things about the e-sports gaming community is that only 16% of survey respondents refer to themselves as gamers only. Watching and streaming are an important part of play.

The social aspect of play

Socialisation plays a big part in the appeal of e-sports gaming in Vietnam. Contrary to the stereotype that gaming is solitary and anti-social, e-sports games function as social platforms. While most people play for fun and stress relief, 46.5% of players see interaction with others as a primary factor for why they play.

Interactions happen via voice and text chat, primarily in-game but sometimes on separate messaging platforms.

  • 73% of players play alone and connect with friends and strangers online.
  • 22% play in the same space as others and less than 4% play primarily with bots.

Interactions and socialisation are key to the overall e-sports gaming experience. Watching other players livestream their own gaming is also a way of interacting. When players livestream their own gaming, they effectively become content creators themselves.

This social aspect of play means that KOLs or influencers can build avid followings through play.

Working with e-sports KOLs

Our research shows that e-sports fans are exceptionally devoted to their chosen KOLs, with 66% of those surveyed saying gamer KOLs make up half of those followed and 44% exclusively follow KOLs. For brands, KOLs are effective at both raising awareness and promoting sales – 65% say they purchased a product advertised by a gamer KOL in the previous month.

One of the reasons that we’ve seen e-sports KOLs become so popular is the unpolished approach. It is not so much about being aspirational. What consumers love about e-sports KOLs is the live nature of their work. For e-sports fans, authenticity is especially important, so brands must be willing to adhere to the KOL’s personal brand rather than trying to impose their own.

E-sports as an eco-system, not just another social platform

Whilst the social aspect of e-sports is an important part of play for consumers, there are also several other interesting opportunities for brands to reach out to new audiences. 86% of e-sports users claim that they interact with brand communication efforts. Among those, campaigns with in-game prizes and video attract interactions from 40% of players.

This is a wonderful time for brands to think about fresh ways to reach their audiences. We have seen that e-sports touchpoints have been particularly rewarding for technology and electrical brands but as we see audiences become more mainstream, FMCG companies will also do well here. The key is to be innovative – it's not enough just to add your logo to a game; brands also need to engage their audiences through authentic conversation and co-creation.

Another in-game route to new audiences is hybrid, cross-platform promotion. This type of connection occurs in real life and gives e-sports gamers in-game rewards for engaging. For instance, Samsung collaborated with Epic Games to release the Galaxy Skin in Fortnite. This could then be given as an in-game award to those who download the game onto a Samsung S11 or S11+.

Or for a Vietnam-specific example, in September 2020, Oishi collaborated with Garena to launch a limited Oishi 4X Snack with packaging featuring characters from Arena of Valor and in-game reward vouchers inside each pack.

Like traditional sports, sponsorship can also herald impressive results in terms of brand communications. Due to the immersive nature of e-sports play, viewer retention is held during sponsorship ads, resulting in higher performance compared to traditional sports.

The League of Legends World Championship 2020 reported 139 million hours of viewership, up from 137 million in 2019. This competition, arguably the most popular e-sports game, achieved a peak viewership of 3.8 million during its final match, making it the most-watched e-sports event of the year and the second most-watched ever (No 1 remains a semi-final match from the 2019 World Championship).

The immersive nature of e-sports is a major strength in terms of reputation and awareness building.  The motivation of viewers to interact with streamers and other followers can be a good opportunity if brands approach it well.

For example, Burger King took advantage of Twitch’s “donation bot” feature to create a marketing campaign. The bot reads out messages from fans who donate during a stream but BK has been using it to advertise its latest offers, gaining exposure that would have cost thousands of pounds for as little as £2.50 (82,000 VND).

The future of brand communication in e-sports

With the inclusion of e-sports into the SEA Games or Southeast Asian Games this year and the array of endorsement opportunities, brands should be thinking about e-sports as an entire eco-system, even a sport in its own right.

E-sports continues to boom in Vietnam (and across the globe). The frequency of engaged individuals to their respective channels, as well as the value that audiences place on gameplay, mean that e-sports has developed as a culture and an industry. This value is great for business – brands should be thinking strategically and creatively about how they engage with these channels to tap into this value and create a deeper connection with their audience.