Gaming content is exploding. And what was once purely a niche culture has become far more mainstream as the gaming industry has branched out into esports, social media communities, merchandise and virtual festivals. The expanded reach beyond what was once considered a “typical” gaming audience continues to open doors for non-endemic brands to get involved with the culture, as a new report from Tubular Labs explains.
Chief among the takeaways is just how important influencers are to the gaming ecosystem at this point, making up 98% of all gaming content watch-time across YouTube and Facebook — versus 1% each for brands and media companies, respectively. The result makes influencers the gateway for gamers and non-gamers alike to interact with and follow new titles and console releases. Basically, if console brand or game developer doesn’t have relationships with influencers, they’re at a significant disadvantage right off the bat.
This idea noticeably played out even on gaming’s largest stage, E3. For top announced titles like Battlefield 2042, Elden Ring and The Legend of Zelda, among others, influencer videos made up well over 50% of the social video chatter during that immediate week. Engagement rates are also much higher for top influencer reaction videos, as third-party endorsements from trusted players provide what audiences perceive to be an honest assessment of the gameplay.
“Gaming isn’t a native language to many marketers,” said Doug Scott, Chief Managing Director at Subnation. “And brands are partnering with influencers to help them bridge the gap between endemic gaming content and non-endemic audiences. We’re also seeing this with influencers and tastemakers in fashion, music, technology and other adjacent interests of the gaming community.”
These influencers are opening doors to larger and larger communities of viewers, too. Tubular data shows that on YouTube alone, gaming video views have increased 57% over the last 12 months (through July 2021) — this despite pandemic-induced lockdowns largely easing by summer 2021.
But what’s being done to target non-gamers? Well, for starters, that group of non-gamers has been shrinking for years due to both a convergence of culture, along with the proliferation of mobile gaming among non-traditional audiences. Mobile gaming’s been popular for some time, of course. But Consumer Insights data shows that women are actually more likely to play mobile games at least five days a week. For some, it’s just a fun way to pass some time. But for others, mobile gaming can be a bit of a “gateway drug” toward a greater interest in the gaming industry overall — something that’s seemingly been the case since all the way back in 2014.
Mobile gaming provides a certain amount of accessibility to video games that didn’t exist in the past (you already have a mobile device, many games are simpler, no additional purchases are necessarily required) — and influencers playing games on social video breaks down those barriers even further. It’s part of why watch-time growth for female viewers age 25 to 44 outpaced pandemic peaks in 2020, and according to Tubular, it was the only demographic group to do that.
Non-endemic gaming creators also help push that increased visibility into gaming. Over the last 12 months, views for gaming videos by non-gaming creators on YouTube and Facebook increased by 180% while leaning into crossover opportunities with Among Us, Roblox and Minecraft, among others.
Lastly, Tubular’s report hones in on the clear opportunity within esports, as well as what esports success reveals.
When traditional sports were sidelined last year, sports-focused cable networks pivoted in part to esports programming, leaving some viewers asking “why?” Well, because social video already has proof points about just how engaging that content is — and not just when traditional sports aren’t around. As the Tubular chart showcases above, esports leagues are racking up watch-time on social video in comparison to traditional leagues.
Granted, part of that has to do with lengthy livestreams of events being broadcast on YouTube or Facebook, which is something that traditional sports leagues don’t do as much (Major League Baseball, for instance, airs one live game per week on Facebook). But getting any viewer to sit and watch video content for upwards of 20 minutes per month — and in the case of Overwatch League, over 100 minutes — is impressive.
Even if traditional sports leagues don’t air too many full games on social video, the success of longer livestreams from esports creators, along with the obvious success of Twitch, shows that there’s an audience for more engaging broadcasts. Especially for younger viewers, social video provides a platform to engage with content instead of simply watching it. The acknowledgement of that is something we’re increasingly seeing traditional sports rights holders catch onto as well. MLS club Inter Miami has been working with StreamLayer all season to incorporate elements like watch parties, stat overlays and chat to enhance broadcasts and create a more engaged experience for those streaming at home.
With more data like Tubular’s coming to light, it’s a boon to both gaming creators and audiences, as well as those outside of gaming looking to mimic some key lessons as they re-calibrate audience expectations in an increasingly fractured video space.