Esports is coming to an IMAX theater near you
” IMAX signed a deal with esports infrastructure startup Vindex to bring esports event live streams to the extra big screen, per Variety.
The startup will be tasked with creating unique experiences for fans across the globe to witness live streams of competitive video gaming. The deal will benefit the esports world as much as IMAX, which will likely be able to draw some extra viewers to theaters through the partnership as movie theater ticket sales decline in the US.
As esports grow in popularity, the very digital medium is seeing success crossing over into physical spaces to further engage fans. While the companies have yet to announce which esports are set to live stream in IMAX, almost every major Esport has some form of live competitions that fans can either attend in person — usually at stadiums — or live stream from home. Both options tend to attract a high number of viewers: For example, tickets for the League of Legends World Championships, held across Berlin, Madrid, and Paris for its final, sold out in 8 seconds, and online viewership peaked at 44 million concurrent viewers across many digital platforms.
For comparison, the Wimbledon final — the world’s biggest tennis competition — hit a peak TV audience of 9.6 million. And ESL’s ISM Katowice esports competition brought in 174,000 attendees over the course of two-weekend finals in 2019. Further, Philadelphia, among other cities, is currently in the process of building out an entire stadium for the purpose of hosting esports events. These numbers, combined with esports’ explosion into pop culture in recent years, making it pretty clear there’s a huge audience for live esports experiences. While the IMAX events aren’t exactly the same as attending a competition in person, they will expand access to live, physical experiences around esports for those who can’t attend marquee events in person but crave a more communal viewing experience.
In-person esports experiences could offer brands a unique opportunity to reach the enthusiastic, young, and global esports audience. For instance, the IMAX partner theaters would be wise to make space for brand booths, or other mini experiences, as is the case at live esports events now. These aspects pull fans into the experience and also present a lot of opportunity for revenue generation beyond advertising. And some of the standard forms of theater advertising could become available too, like pre-event trailers or commercials, or brand advertisements on tickets. However, it’s important to note that game developers and leagues are quite committed to striking a balance between brand presence and maintaining the fantasy of their game’s world.
That means that, while there are plenty of brands that sponsor esports teams or are otherwise represented at competitions, space is limited — and at least for now there’s likely more enthusiasm among brands hoping to reach the esports audience than there is an appetite among gaming organizations to sell ad space. So, while the IMAX-Vindex partnership will almost certainly create more opportunities for brands to reach esports fans, marketers will need to think hard about their approach to securing ad space. Typically, this means tailoring campaigns to a game or team, as esports fans and organizations place a high value on authenticity. “