Are esports really a sport? That's a difficult one to answer, on the one hand, players who compete in the highest levels are genuinely skilled and spend years training to get where they are, but on the other hand, the Mountain Dew League doesn’t sound like a sports tournament at all.

The real crux of the question lies in the difference between esports as a sport, and esports as a media product. No matter how much we argue or debate, the way fans interact with and consume esports content is very different from fans of traditional sports. There isn’t an Old Trafford or Ta’ Qali Stadium for specific teams and local fans. They train in closed facilities and broadcast from neutral arenas. You don’t need to live near an esports team to be a fan.

The same can be said for anyone who wants to bet on esports. Some people still enjoy the ritual of heading to an in-person bookmaker and placing their bets. Since esports has such a decentralised fanbase, it follows the bookmakers and betting operators will have to adapt. Specialized esports sites, like BettingTips.gg, have popped up to provide help to users who don’t have the knowledge and know-how to place their bets online. 

Look at the difference between the reaction to the introduction of the European Super League and the announcement of any new esports tournament. They are completely different. There are tons of different leagues for teams to compete in.

If you play DOTA 2, you could play in the official DOTA 2 Pro Circuit, the Pinnacle Cup, the DreamLeague, ESL One, and more and no one would bat an eye. Esports fans just want more content. This difference between sports and esports presents a major opportunity for brands and companies to capitalise on. 

Because of this huge range of tournaments and events companies are beginning to realise the opportunities that this sort of availability offers them. You don’t have to rely on ad space sold on the side-line of a football pitch, if you are a big enough company, you can sponsor an entire tournament. The decentralised nature of esports removes the local allegiances to any particular team. Anyone could wake up one day and decide they are a Fnatic fan. The game does not have the history or locality to support long term generational support.

Because of this unique fan culture and the opportunities that it represents, plenty of interesting companies have entered into sponsorship agreements with esports organisations.

Last year the global technology and data services firm IBM entered into an analytics and sponsorship deal with the official Overwatch League, their partnership will extend through the 2022 season. This is the first time that the computing giant has entered the world of esports. it may not be the biggest sponsorship, but the importance of this cannot be understated.

IBM is currently developing various data-driven solutions for the league using its IBM Watson artificial intelligence and cloud-based infrastructure. The firm will create tools to help the league process in-game data, produce more accurate ranking information and create predictive analysis elements for broadcasts.

As the esports world becomes increasingly reliant on AI data, a partnership with one of the world’s best AI computing companies will have a major impact on the future of the league and the growth of esports.

Lollipop company Chupa Chups has signed a sponsorship deal with Vodafone Giants, the Spanish esports organisation that fields teams in six games including League of Legends and FIFA. Unsurprisingly, this is the first time that the lollipop company has entered into the world of esports.

The partnership is designed to convey a message “full of excitement and fun” to the gaming community, as Chupa Chups seeks to “continue exploring new territories to reach its consumers,” according to their release back in April 2020.

For a company recognised from their stands at the checkouts of pharmacies and drug stores, it’s unexpected to see them realise the potential of the esports world. Vodafone Giants also has partnership agreements with chocolate bars producer, Kit Kat, and toy producer, Hot Wheels.

Outside of the advertising world, gambling and betting operators are also beginning to see the importance of the esports industry. There have been plenty of esports-only sites that offer tips and tricks for betting fans. However, even the biggest online sportsbooks have realised the importance of esports as a method of maintaining a youthful and global user base.

The international power of esports has positioned it as the future of the advertising, betting, and sporting world. The fanbase can be anywhere, the matches can be viewed online and for free, and the teams are not tied to one geographical location. 

Disclaimer: Play responsibly. Players must be over 18. For help visit https://www.gamcare.org.uk/

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