SBJ/February 6-12, 2017/In Depth

Path to fame: Bud Light contest creates esports all-stars

Esports athlete “Filipino Champ” receives his commemorative jersey before heading to E3 in June to be introduced as one of the first Bud Light All-Stars.
Photo by: COURTESY OF BUD LIGHT
Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Esports was an obvious path for Bud Light, but the brand’s marketing team knew it had to be careful. Gaming’s millennial male-heavy audience is open to brand messaging but extremely discerning. The wrong move out of the gate could doom the beer brand to mockery for years among gaming fans. After months of research, Bud Light launched the Bud Light All-Stars at the DreamHack Austin festival in May.

Who did the deal? Bud Light’s digital brand manager Jesse Wofford led the work. WME-IMG’s Manny Lorras and Ryan Dow advised closely. The promotion started with a sponsorship of DreamHack Austin, where the contest launched, along with deals with Twitch and the publishers, Valve and Blizzard Entertainment, to use the games’ IP.

How did the discussions get started? As the team researched esports, it found a lot of conventional plays, Wofford said. “We try to really identify unique spaces to carve out for our brand. That’s how we came up with the concept — something we felt was value-add to the space. It was a program where we were the only ones bringing it to the table. We weren’t one brand among many or in a league; we were the only ones there. It’s something in our control.”

How did the activation work? Bud Light had fans select their favorite players in five titles: “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Street Fighter,” “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft,” “Heroes of the Storm” and “Halo” in voting over about a month. The winners in each sport were named Bud Light All-Stars in June, and then were featured in special online game content on Twitch over the summer, along with a behind-the-scenes documentary on the video game network Machinima. Then they competed in a three-round tournament at TwitchCon in the fall. Each step along the way happened at live events, but the bulk of the activation was in the online content.

Why was it unique? The idea was to create and contribute a new path toward fame and improvement for players under the exclusive branding of Bud Light, not simply leverage a property’s existing popularity.

Why do we like it? Esports is an intriguing space for any brand targeting young men, but picking the right property in a confusing, evolving industry is a challenge. Bud Light simply created its own, attracting fans across five game titles and markets without any single long-term commitment.

— Ben Fischer

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