Esports is fuelled and kept afloat by partnerships. Without brands paying to advertise with teams and tournament organizers, considering the current state of play, we’d see a much smaller fraction of companies occupying the industry.
Great partnerships are symbiotic and benefit both parties. The brand that’s looking to advertise themselves wants the maximum amount of reach and to truly make an impression on consumers, and the company they choose to advertise with wants to deliver a great service to the brand to keep them around and to improve the experience for the consumers. The best partnerships are actually beneficial not only for the two entities but for the audience too.
One of the deals that come to mind when considering the criteria for one of the best in esports is that between tournament organizer BLAST and bookmaker Betway. Exclusive to Dexerto, it’s now been announced that they’re entering the third year of their alliance. Not only that, we sat down with BLAST’s commercial director Leo Matlock and Betway’s head of esports Adam Savinson to get a deeper look at what they’ve built together and the importance of their continued success.
Betting big on BLAST
Betway are no strangers to esports, already boasting a well-renowned partnership with Swedish organization Ninjas in Pyjamas. They’ve also worked with the likes of tournament organizers ESL and DreamHack as well as teams PSG.LGD and MIBR, providing varying levels of support while looking to capitalize on the booming esports betting market.
They partnered with BLAST in March 2019 to receive coverage across the BLAST Pro Series, a circuit made up of eight events across several regions. Some deals simply include the inclusion of logos on social media and the tournament broadcast, but both parties understoood the opportunities available by digging deeper than that. If they wanted BLAST viewers to truly care about Betway, they needed to integrate the bookmaker in an authentic fashion that made sense to Counter-Strike fans.
- Read More: Team Vitality wins BLAST Premier Fall Final
For their first year with BLAST, Betway gained extended backstage access, VIP hospitality options, and in-venue branding. Moving into 2020 it appeared as if they were both happy with their arrangement; they had renewed their deal and, later, the betting giants supported BLAST’s first foray into a new title: Dota 2.
“When people from outside of esports come into the industry, such as myself, there’s a trope that what we’re going to do is bring what’s good in sports and replace what you see in esports,” said Matlock. “We’re trying to take what we know and have learned and apply it over in esports, making sure that the partnerships we do and their outputs to be on an equal footing — if not better — than what we see in the NBA, the NFL, a Premier League football team.”
No matter how you choose to activate a partnership, there are typically a couple of goals in mind. One is making sure your partner is getting value from the agreement, whether that’s generating new customers, creating brand awareness, or another method of conversion. You can somewhat define the success of such a deal by how well this has been executed and, as explained during the interview, they believe they’ve hit it out of the park.
Moments that matter
“If you ask Counter-Strike fans who have watched BLAST at some point this year for any length or from anywhere, they’ll likely be aware of Betway,” Matlock claimed. “Yes, we need to fund our business, but the point of funding our business is for us to do bigger and better things that reward the fans. We’re sitting here really proud of what the two teams have done in 2020.”
— BLAST Premier Fast Forwarding to 2021 💥 (@BLASTPremier) November 2, 2020
A major component of the partnership between Betway and BLAST is content. Having bespoke, unique footage for the fans to enjoy — both during and after the broadcast — is a great way of providing engagement and, thus, allow the bookmaker to leave an impression on Counter-Strike fans.
“It’s important to create content that people are enjoying and can engage with, that’s our main ambition,” Savinson told Dexerto. “We really want to prove to the audience that we are part of the community, that we understand it, and that we want to give back.
“It’s imperative for a sponsor in any industry, but especially in esports, that we give back to the scene in terms of financial contribution to help great companies like BLAST and to add to the entertainment experience. Whether you’re a customer or not, we want to make sure that you’re enjoying esports as much as possible.”
- Read More: BLAST announce $2.4m circuit for 2021
When it comes to competition, there’s only so much the organizers behind it can control. BLAST have control over who competes in their events through their team partnerships, but they can’t dictate how the match will play out. This means that they need to ensure that all elements of the show are as entertaining as possible, and partnership activations can actually play into that. They don’t need to be boring, bland advertisements.
“What is in our control is the supporting supplementary content and features that go around it, all the way from the animations that pop up during gameplay to promoting Betway’s brand in a way that doesn’t interfere with the broadcast experience,” Matlock said. “We work collaboratively, not just on the creative side but with the delivery, execution, and logistical side to ensure that it’s all being done in the correct way.”
The third year
BLAST and Betway are now embarking upon their third year of close collaboration, coming off of the back of challenging circumstances that saw events move online. Players were no longer accessible in-person for content, nor were many people allowed in venues, so they had to get creative to fulfil their agreement. The secret of their partnership is that it’s evolving on a constant basis no matter the external factors that may be in effect.
“The BLAST Pro Series is where we started, that evolved into BLAST Premier in 2020 with a different tournament format, structure, and brand with different teams,” said Matlock. “We knew there’d be further evolution in 2021. It’s much easier at the end of a year to know what our next year will look like and then talk about that with a partner and make sure that’s something they want to be part of. We want to just make sure that our partnerships are married up to what we’re delivering as that provides better partner satisfaction.”
— BLAST Premier Fast Forwarding to 2021 💥 (@BLASTPremier) June 25, 2020
Despite the aforementioned challenges, BLAST ceased the opportunity to try new things — from expanding into titles like Dota 2 and VALORANT to trying new styles of events in Counter-Strike. With the company’s slate changing year-on-year, there are plenty of opportunities for Betway and other partners to reach new audiences through an existing collaboration.
“This deal will specifically cover BLAST Premier which is, and will continue to be, the primary BLAST product,” Matlock told Dexerto. “We experimented with BLAST Rising this year which we took to Betway and asked if they wanted to be part of it. They opted in, and did the same with our Dota 2 event Bounty Hunt. That’s always at their discretion and we prefer to operate like that.”
- Read More: The biggest esports partnerships of 2020
Being flexible and creating a tight-knit bond is imperative in esports, with the industry changing at a head-spinning rate. Companies can come and go in what seems like an instant. Developers hold all the power over the titles and can revoke access with a snap of their fingers. This fact demonstrates the need for unwavering support for companies that operate in the space, and much of that can be found through such partnerships. Long-term arrangements are becoming more and more common in esports, and that’s indicative of where the scene is going.
“We absolutely appreciate the value of long-term relationships,” said Savinson. “When we go into any partnership it’s because we want it to continue and be as fruitful as possible. Long-term relationships with tournament organizers are definitely possible, having an association with a large brand such as BLAST has massive value over a long time and we want to be synonymous with it.”
When two teams become one
Both Betway and BLAST believe they’re happily entering their third year together is due to how they devised their working relationship from the start. Operating more as one unit than business partners who are simply fulfilling contractual obligations, they’ve spent time getting to truly know one another in an effort to align themselves as closely as possible.
“We make sure that the teams, from a junior social media editor all the way up through to the most senior people in the business, can really get to have input into what will help them out with the deal. Collaboration underpinned by trust is why we’ve been able to do a lot of great things in 2020 with Betway and our other partners.”
Savison echoed this statement, further solidifying that trust is a key component of their partnership — much like in any relationship, business or otherwise.
“The relationships that have been built up over the last few years between Betway and BLAST have led to trust and comfort that nothing is tainted,” he said. “We don’t go to BLAST and say, ‘This is a content piece we are doing, you must put it here as per our contract.’ That’s not how this works. We get into a room together, we discuss exactly what we’re trying to achieve, and everybody has a platform.”
While the return of offline events is still in flux, it’s clear that Betway and BLAST are continuing on their journey together satisfied with the past and excited for the future. There aren’t too many iconic, long-term partnerships in esports at this point in its evolution but if I were a betting man, I’d be happy to place my faith in these two companies working together for years to come.