Musings on the Esports Team Identity Crisis
At ESI London 2022, top esports executives discussed how teams can build and maintain their identity.
For esports teams, building and maintaining your identity is everything. While traditional sports can rely on a regional fan base of often generational fans, for esports, that regional pill is often hard to swallow. In a world where esports teams have to be global to be successful, you’ll lose regional fans making the transition.
“That’s the price you’ll have to pay,” explained Kelly Ong of Alliance during a panel at ESI London 2022. The panel, titled “The Esports Team Identity Crisis” was chaired by Ong, Heather Dower, the founder and CEO of Hotdrop, Claire Hungate, the CEO of Team Liquid, and Mario Fernández González, the CEO of DUX Gaming.
As the chief strategy officer of Alliance, Kelly has seen how growing a global audience can impact your regional fan base. Alliance was primarily a nordic brand and used its regional ties to build its foundation. But as the team expanded to a global fan base, its regional footprint shrank.
More concerning, it affected sponsorships. “We’d tell Swedish sponsors that five percent of our followers are from Sweden, and they’d say, ‘okay, well, we’ll give you five percent of the amount.”
For an already global brand like Team Liquid, you’d think this wasn’t as much of an issue. But TL CEO Claire Hungate echoed the sentiment. “It’s a challenge for everyone.” The Team Liquid executive explained that the teams have to adapt their strategies to hone in on regional identities.
Are players the key to esports team identity?
One often cited idea is that esports fans are fans of players, not teams. So signing superstars should help craft a strong identity. But Kelly explained that it was a double-edged sword. “Expect [only] five to 10 percent of their fans to become your fans… You can’t buy loyalty.”
Ultimately, teams must forge their own identity. And often, that means maintaining their regional identity. Alliance did this through their vlog series, including a Midsommar edition that showed the team enjoying the Swedish holiday. Likewise, DUX Gaming has ties to Spanish football through its ownership of a semi-pro football team. And Team Liquid’s North American connections are deep through both their team’s legacy and their current positioning.
By keeping these regional links while expanding to a global audience and echoing them through content, teams can maintain and preserve a unique identity.