When we need an answer, Google is the place we go to get it. It’s therefore also one of the best places marketers looking for insight into their industry can visit to understand trends and how customers are engaging with them.
For emerging sectors that are largely digital in nature, this kind of insight is even more vital, and nowhere is that truer than in esports. In this article, we analyse Google data to understand how people are searching for esports.
As we explain in our free guide Field of View: Understanding Your esports Audience, esports is not a new phenomenon. Atari hosted the first competitive gaming tournament in 1980 and internet users have been searching for the term since at least 2004, when Google Trends numbers date back to. However, esports as a professional, organised and highly lucrative sport is relatively recent, and as the graph below shows, Search interest started to spike in 2013 and has hit various peaks in line with the esports events calendar every year since.
When we consider raw numbers, it’s even clearer that searches for ‘esports’ have been in the ascendency in recent years – and show no signs of slowing down. In 2013, Google recorded a Search Volume (which is usually expressed in terms of searches per month) of around 368,000, a figure that now stands at 450,000. This represents an increase of 22.28%.
We see a similar story on YouTube. Thanks to stern competition from dedicated streaming channels such as Twitch, esports has taken a little longer to gain traction on the world’s most recognisable video platform, not truly gaining any clear sense of momentum until 2014. However, now fans take to YouTube to upload and view a wide variety of content, including how-to guides and unboxing videos. There’s even a vast audience who enjoys simply watching others playing games, with a recent survey finding that 73% of the YouTube gaming community engages with this kind of content.
What does this mean? Though this is just a snapshot view focused on performance of the term ‘esports’, it’s indicative of the desire to learn about the sport. Whereas most people wouldn’t search for a traditional sport using ‘football’ or ‘rugby’ because they know the specific team, league or result they’re looking for, consumers still need to know what esports is and how it’s different to simply playing games. Brands looking to get involved with the sector should analyse the kind of keywords that are being searched for in more detail and note the seasonality seen here to understand how to engage with this interest.
Modern esports gained traction in South Korea at the turn of the Millennium, but its popularity has spread far and wide in the years since. Somewhat surprisingly, most searches for ‘esports’ come from Latvia, with Spain and Portugal in second and third. The Philippines is the only region in Asia to appear in the top ten, though this is likely due to online censorship and restrictions in certain key territories.
Missing from this list, of course, are the United Kingdom and the United States, who rank outside the top 20 at 29th and 24th respectively. This doesn’t mean that there’s not the necessary interest in the UK or US though; it simply means that internet users are searching for the topic in a different way. Perhaps they’re looking for specific games or teams or maybe they seek out the platforms they want to engage with esports on, such as Twitch.
Indeed, the two countries rank higher when we look at searches for the more general term ‘gaming’ (which is to say, non-competitive video game playing). In this instance, the UK is positioned in seventh, with the US in 11th. This suggests that esports is still in a period of growth in the UK and US, with plenty more potential esports fans already engaged with games in a non-competitive/non-professional environment and primed to join the ranks of dedicated followers.
What does this mean? Each country has a different way of engaging with esports, depending on culture, language and the popularity of esports in that territory. Brands looking to get involved in the sector should identify the territory or territories they want to target and explore performance in Search to understand how to engage.
Teams and games are critical factors in fan engagement with esports. Some followers are dedicated to just one team or just one game, while others are more open and will follow multiple teams and games. It all depends on the person, but whatever way they choose to engage, people are highly passionate about who and what they follow. Indeed, research from blicx.com found that 57% of esports fans say their emotional investment is driven by the game.
In terms of teams, the two most-searched-for clans are the UK’s Fnatic and the Netherlands’ Team Liquid. Both pulled in a search volume of 110,000 during 2016/17, having hit over 100,000 each year since 2013. Optic Gaming, Evil Geniuses and Team SoloMid round out the top five, with the first two pulling in a search volume of 40,500 and TSM 22,200. Chinese team Wings Gaming disbanded in 2017 in a dramatic move that explains the vast increase in searches this year. However, the lack of searches for this successful team before they quit underlines that although esports is global, locality still plays a part in awareness.
When it comes to games, the biggest point of interest is the huge success of Overwatch, a title that only launched in 2016, but which is as popular on Search as esports juggernaut League of Legends. Even before it launched, Overwatch pulled in a search volume figure of 9,900, hitting 301,000 as it neared release. Now at a total of 6,120,000, it’s far outstripping fellow esports newcomer Rocket League, despite the automobile football game’s dramatic 121,900% search volume increase in recent years.
The game’s popularity speaks to a sea change in gaming as a whole and esports specifically that brands need to stay aware of. One of the more inclusive video games on the market, Overwatch was an intentional effort to feature a more diverse cast of characters, with the game’s director Jeff Kaplan saying to Polygon, “it’s about trying to be welcoming to a lot of people and thinking about others.” Caroline Miller, of Indigo Pearl, who specialises in video game PR, agrees, telling us: “The games themselves [will draw in more gamers]. Overwatch exploded into the esports scene last year, creating lots of new players and fans.”
What does this mean? Esports enthusiasts are a passionate group, and they expect brands who are getting involved in the sector to reflect that passion. That means understanding what drives it, what it’s built on and how it can evolve. The data here represents a starting point, but brands should engage in fan communities to stay up to date.
esports is a vast, ever-changing industry and brands need all the help they can get to understand and evolve alongside it. Search data is by no means the be-all-and-end-all of that research, but it’s a vital starting point, especially because esports enthusiasts are so digitally-savvy. By exploring Search trends such as the ones we’ve looked at here, brands can give themselves an inside track and display how their knowledge and passion for esports mirrors that of the fans.
Find out how you can learn about esports by downloading our guide, Field of View: Understanding the Esports Audience.
Want to be at the top of the search ranks? How about a website that’ll give your audience a great experience? Or maybe you’re looking for a campaign that’ll drive more leads? Get in touch to find out how we can help.