It has been a pleasure for all to see the pace of expansion in the NHLGamer community. There’s well over 4000 of us here today. With the number of players, teams, leagues and tournaments and the organization thereof, NHLGamer – to us at least, fully qualifies as an esports organizer. Fortunately, that is also the perception outside of NHLGamer. To illustrate that point, NHLGamer was invited to organize two major NHL/FIFA events in Finland last year, broadcasted on TV, with responsibilities ranging from online qualifications to live commentary in said broadcasts. The events themselves were a great success, including the experience and the lessons learned from all the inevitable small bumps on the road.
One of the goals of NHLGamer has been to bring together on one platform as much of the competitive EASHL userbase as possible, whether competitiveness meant having fun in the Summer Cup, or pursuing the toughest objective – winning the ECL Elite. The growth we have seen in just a few years is a delight to many, but it does not come without new challenges.
The community had a fantastic response to the pronounced need for additional staff. Nothing but a heartful thank you will do service for that. It signals that you, the players, share our vision and goal. Though to avoid the pitfalls of complacency, we must recognize there is still a long road ahead. If you would also like to see NHL-gaming mature to its full potential as a legitimate and well-recognized esports, but don’t feel like a staff responsibility is really your thing, don’t worry. There are issues that must be confronted on a team-level if the objective in horizon is a (semi)professional esports league.
It has been wonderful to see many teams starting up their social-media channels and beginning to create an identity, be it through writing, logos or just pure memery. It is an extremely important task, branding many would call it, because sponsorship is not charity. Companies do not hand out sponsorship to various places from their marketing budget based on whatever individual preferences. This is an important point; sponsorship deals come from the marketing budget. They always expect a return on investment, or ROI in short, for all marketing. Otherwise it is just a waste of money. In the case of sports teams and especially esports, the value of a team is mostly made of its visibility. There are various tools and methods for companies of numerating the visibility or the value of it, but those details are outside the scope of this article. What this means is that if you would like to see your team grow in status, or just help the community grow and be recognized, as a whole (preferably both!), you must create value.
Big and medium-sized companies always have some kind of a brand identity, an image of the company that it tries to reinforce through various methods. Astronomical sums can be used for this purpose, for sometimes the brand is the only thing the company is valued of. Let’s take an example from a brand very known in sports: Nike. Unlike many would think, Nike does not produce a single shoe. It licenses the production to subcontractors and instead spends almost a billion dollars a year for marketing and reinforcing its brand, including the careful selection of athletes, teams and organizations it sponsors, those that are seen fitting for its brand image. Perhaps a plural should be used, because there can simultaneously be different images being portrayed to different audiences.
Some avid readers might be worried of this corporate talk, reflecting on the dull-and-boring interviews of athletes we see nowadays. While those without a doubt stem from the wishes and requirements of financial backers, it is to be remembered that on the quest for the end of the rainbow, the road is painted in many colors. Last year the amount of Twitch users surpassed that of Netflix or any other on-demand streaming service. As of February 2018, Twitch had over 2 million monthly broadcasters and 15 million active daily users. The typical characteristics of a Twitch user is a male between 18 and 34 years of age. What it means for the esports community, NHLGamer included, is that a company is far more likely to see marketing value in an esports team, if it is trying to target a similar demographic for its products. That’s why an energy drink company is far more likely to sponsor an esports team than a spring water company would be. This of course reflects to the desired or sought-after images that potential sponsorship targets portray; Ninjas in Pyjamas works much better in esports than it would in horse polo.
NHL-gaming has large untapped potential as an esports. While hockey is not a major global sport it still gives an enormous base of audience, who do not play the virtual game themselves, but are already completely familiar with the rules and various nuances of the game. Therefore, were the community to grow in quantity and professionality, it does not take a long leap of imagination to one day see ECL Finals on live television.
One discussed topic around the community lately has been the concept of buy-in tournaments, where the teams pay a certain amount to enter a tournament in hopes to get their hands on a bigger prize pool. We will be talking a lot more about this in the near future, but for the time being, let us at least confirm to you today, that this concept is definitely on our road map and you will be able to participate in these kinds of tournaments right here at NHLGamer.
“Why so serious?” – the big question of our generation. You don’t have to be serious to be successful. Sports is an entertainment business and it is very hard to entertain if you are not having fun. An image of a group of laid-back guys having a blast and left-handedly crushing their opposition is not a bad sales pitch at all.
Keep developing your own brand of hockey. Do not hesitate in finding ways to increase the visibility of your brand and contacting potential sponsors or partners. There is simply nothing to lose. NHLGamer is an expanding canvas and everyone has been given a brush. You have the power to define the outlines of the picture that forms; every drop of paint is a step closer to our goal.
Good luck and have fun!