Last week SQN CEO Claire Ritchie-Tomkins sat on the virtual panel of the European Sponsorship Association’s (ESA) “esports: building audiences during lockdown” webinar. Claire shared her insight across a variety of key topics of interest within the esports industry. Discussions expanded on the need to generate greater awareness for women in esports, converting traditional sports fans across to esports, and the overall industry. In the first part of our Q&A, we sat down with Claire and discussed her thoughts about esports and the direction that it is heading in.
Can you tell us a bit about your background with SQN, and your new project with Init Esports?
“Yes sure. I set up SQN in 2001 having worked in the IT industry for 15 years at HP and at Nortel. We started out mainly working in Formula 1 sponsorships, activations, PR and communications. We’ve grown across other motorsport series’ including World Rally, World Endurance, MotoGP and Formula E. Obviously we have seen the start of the rise of esports and believe that it’s an area of interest to focus on, particularly from a technological and sponsorship perspective. So, for the last 18 months, it’s certainly been on our radar. We’ve been doing work within it and are continually developing our network to expand our knowledge about the industry. From an SQN perspective we were already looking at esports and then at the middle of last year Stefy Bau came to me and asked if I would be interested in working with her in a partnership with Init Sports Management, with SQN to create “Init Esports”. This was initially focused upon looking at the world of two-wheels and primarily looking at females in the esports industry.”
Esports is continually rising and becoming a major powerhouse. How and why is the industry achieving this?
“I think that there are a few reasons behind this. There’s a whole sort of industry that nobody was really aware of which was the gaming industry. I think that people are starting to realise that it’s probably the younger generation that gaming and brands particularly have always wanted to engage with but have always had difficulty doing so. I think there’s sort of a two-pronged approach here. The fact that gaming is becoming more popular and people are spending their time doing that. Additionally, the developments from a technological perspective that have been made by the likes of NVIDIA, Intel, and so on and so forth have been one thing. On the other hand, you have this audience that is becoming very valuable to brands that want to communicate with the younger audiences and are struggling to do so. The younger audiences are on social media, they’re streaming, they’re not watching TV and they’re not necessarily being targeted in ways that brands have targeted in the past.”
You recently spoke on the panel of ESA’s esports webinar. One of the conversations was about the male/female split within esports. Out of the major gaming titles there are only 35% of female players. Can you explain why this proportion is so low?
“One of the interesting things, if you look at the industry as a whole, is that it’s split of 47% female and 53% male which is a pretty even. At the casual gaming level, you’ve got 60% female participation so those are gamers that are playing on mobile, consoles and PC’s in an amateur way. I believe the challenge is where that transitions into the professional level. Additionally, the fact that there are hinderances for girls and women getting into the main titles is difficult. We’ve had it said that females sometimes use fictitious names in a gaming context so that they are not perceived to be female and are therefore more likely to be accepted. We need to overcome this situation and promote the fact that women are just as good at gaming as males. One of the rarities of esports is that you don’t have that gender split in ways such as a strength perspective or whatever it may be that has been seen in traditional sports.”
Do you think there are any measures that the industry needs to take in order to encourage that and increase the female engagement and involvement with it?
“Yes, bringing women into gaming more and having a strongly knit community is crucial. There is a community-based company called “Women in Games” which has been around for a while now and they do this very well. I believe that it’s about women supporting each other and having opportunities in esports. It’s about making it more visible and making it more accessible. As the profile of esports continues to rise, more people will get into it. One of the things we are looking at are 16-18-year old girls and how they got into gaming. What are they interested in? How are they finding it? We are doing some of that primarily at Init Esports. It’s also about finding women in gaming, engaging with them and giving them a safe place to play. At the end of last year, Bumble entered esports sponsorship by supporting team “Gen.G”. That was one of the first female orientated brands that came into the industry. Now you can start to see sponsors such as makeup brands Mac and Sephora sponsoring all female teams.”
It was briefly talked about in the webinar about COVID-19 and the situation that is unfolding. Do you believe that it is having a positive or a negative effect on esports?
“I think it’s most definitely positive. Esports was certainly already on the rise and the industry was projected to grow quite significantly. I don’t think anybody could foresee the sudden explosion into the limelight that it’s had and that’s been brought about particularly by the cancellation of large sporting events. I think from a pure esports perspective, League of Legends, Counterstrike, Fortnite and all of those traditional esports have had a significantly different effect from COVID-19. But I think where we are seeing the major difference right now is the transition from traditional sport to esports. There has always been this conversation as to whether esports is a real sport and a prime example from this is sim-racing. There is a notable transition in sport that we have known in the past and a change in direction with fan engagement. I think the step that has been made during the outbreak of COVID-19 and is now being seen is that esports and sim-racing can be just as exciting if it is done in the right way. It is different but there are plenty of ways that are making it more exciting and interesting to fans.”
Look out for part two of our Q&A with Claire next week which will focus on the ever-expanding sponsorship sector within the esports industry.