#UnitedInRivalry: BMW's eSports Marketing Strategy

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The eSports industry has been growing rapidly for years. The successful teams and pro players are already celebrated at the numerous competitive championships, just like the professionals of classic sports.
This growth opens up new, promising advertising opportunities for companies in B2C to reach new target groups. However, sponsorship in eSports is very different from the previously established and proven strategies in physical sports. So how can brands effectively use this new opportunity to promote their brand and products?
In his presentation at ISPO Munich Online, Stefan Ponikva, Vice President Brand Experience at BMW, provided insights into BMW's eSports marketing and showed how the BMW brand has become successful in this new target group using the #UnitedInRivalry campaign.

BMW is establishing itself in the world of eSports with the motto #UnitedInRivalry.

UnitedInRivalry - This is the eSports campaign from BMW

BMW was already active in the world of virtual sports in 2017 as an official partner of the League of Legends World Championships. With its new UnitedInRivalry campaign, the automotive group now wants to establish itself as a big player with the support of advertising agency Jung von Matt through a partnership with five of the world's best eSports organizations.

Cloud9 from the USA, Fnatic from the UK, Funplus Phoenix from China, G2 eSports from Germany and T1 from South Korea are active in the well-known multiplayer online batte arena (MOBA) League of Legends and are currently considered the most successful teams in the competitive eSports history of the game.

Launched in late 2009, the game is undoubtedly one of the most popular and influential online multiplayer games ever, with up to eight million players from around the world logged in simultaneously every day. The 2019 LoL World Championship Finals in Paris thrilled an online audience of approximately 44 million fans worldwide who watched the livestream at home.

“At Fnatic we are dedicated to maximising performance and entertainment through technology and innovation. It is these shared values that make BMW the perfect partner as we seek to level-up every gamer on the planet. As a pioneer in the automotive space, with a history of advancing entertainment in competitive sport and working with the best talent and teams, we are thrilled to be working with BMW to build the future of esports and entertainment together.”
Glen Calvert, Fnatic COO

As part of the sponsorship, BMW provides the eSports organisations with official team vehicles. Each team receives an individual vehicle whose paintwork has been designed jointly by BMW and the players themselves, making it a distinctive part of the team.

The strategy for success

The teams have developed a historic rivalry through their regular clashes on the big stages of League of Legends championships, both among the players themselves and between the teams' fans. At the same time, however, the rivals are united by a passion for gaming and competitive eSports.

This gives rise to the motto UnitedInRivalry, which is meant to challenge the teams to goad and outdo each other. This challenge is not only intended to increase the motivation of the players, but also serves above all to entertain the fans, who join in through the already existing rivalry and spread the motto virally through their own posts and comments in a playful way.

At the same time, the campaign is designed with the future in mind. The aim is not to immediately win over the championship spectators and the teams' fans as customers. Rather, the car manufacturer wants to establish itself early on in the predominantly young target group in order to create a long-lasting connection between eSports fans and the BMW brand and thus win them over as a new target group in the future - in line with the trend-setting corporate motto "THE NEXT 100 YEARS".

Moderator Jennifer Boone and Stefan Ponikva in the ISPO Munich Online 2021 live stream.
Image credit:
Messe München GmbH

Stefan Ponikva shows three principles that BMW and other brands must follow on the way to success in eSports marketing:

  1. Acknowledge the community and communicate on an equal footing
    According to Stefan Ponikva, in this industry and with this audience, you have to communicate at eye level and engage in authentic storytelling, otherwise failure is inevitable.
  2. Finding the sweet spot in the eSports ecosystem
    Choosing the right teams, the right games and the right championships, and communicating closely with the teams and the community is crucial.
    Only when these criteria are considered and carefully chosen can the campaign storyline go viral through fans and the media.
  3. Staging the right brand in a strong and authentic way
    Unexpected actions can create the maximum impact for the brand, and those who stick to the normal sponsorship level, such as simply placing logos, will not survive. According to Ponikva, that makes no sense in this industry.

What's next? - This is how BMW wants to establish itself further

BMW started its strategy by sponsoring League of Legends. Now the success is to be extended to other games in order to take the campaign to the next level. The five teams are already active and successful in the competitive championships of other games besides LoL, but now another team from the world of Dota 2 is to be added to the partnership. This team has not yet been announced. What is certain, however, is that BMW will continue to invest more in the eSports industry in the future, in addition to sponsoring traditional sports.