Esports teams are, by and large, global brands without much in the way of a home crowd. This means social media is an essential tool in attracting new fans; complementing competition results with the brand’s voice and various personalities. Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are apt platforms for video content, suiting some forms of storytelling better than others. None quite compare to TikTok though, with a channel-swapping interface that made viral video hits an almost daily occurrence.

If you’ve been exposed to one of these videos, but don’t know the background, here’s the basics. TikTok is a video-sharing social networking service owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. Its content offering is built around lip-synced or looped videos, lasting anywhere from three to 60 seconds.

The app’s key appeal comes from its use of artificial intelligence. While the timelines of other social media apps are generated algorithmically, TikTok uniquely analyzes users’ interests and preferences based on how they interact with the content. There’s no homepage interface; only a content feed created by how long a user watches a video. 

This is different to Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify, where AI is merely a tool that’s part of the experience. These platforms recommend content, and the user can choose from there, whereas TikTok aggressively dictates what you can see. This lack of choice could end up becoming the de facto format of future entertainment platforms. 

According to SensorTower, TikTok has achieved close to 2B lifetime downloads across both the Apple App Store and Google Play. Its biggest market is India, with 41.3% of downloads. Brazil was second largest with 9.7M downloads, while the U.S. was in third with 6.4M installs. This is just for February; it’s not clear yet how much the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has boosted total downloads.

Right now, only a handful of gaming influencers and personalities have over 1M followers on the platform, and most are still figuring out exactly what to do with it. Gaming companies and agencies are also in the experimental phase of using TikTok, or similar platforms like Facebook’s Lasso. 

 

@tsmWelcome back to TSM, DOUBLELIFT 😎 rate the acting for a reply 😳 – ##fyp ##foryou ##foryoupage ##meme ##funny ##tsm♬ original sound – tsm

 

Out of the top professional esports teams in western territories, the following are some of the most followed on TikTok, at the time of publication:

Team SoloMid (TSM) – 544.9K

100 Thieves – 286.5K 

G2 Esports – 269.1K

Cloud9 – 42.6K

FaZe Clan – 30.5K 

Fnatic R6 – 10K

For reference, here are the U.S. sports teams with some of the highest followings:

Philadelphia Eagles – 754.1K

Dallas Cowboys – 656.4K

Pittsburgh Steelers – 403.8K

The NFL is heavily tying its future growth to the platform. It’s official channel currently boasts 3.6M followers, launched as part of a multi-year partnership between the league and the platform, announced in September 2019

Esports competition organizers are also looking into how the platform fits their audiences. During the League of Legends World Championships finals in 2019, Riot Games partnered with TikTok to launch its original music track, “GIANTS.” On the platform, Riot and TikTok activated a hashtag challenge, where user-generated content was uploaded in-sync with the track. 

“Additionally, TikTok influencers attended the event in-person to drive authentic content creation, sparking rapid growth and hitting over 1B views globally to date,” Alay Joglekar, social media lead, Riot Games, told The Esports Observer. 

“This was a highly collaborative partnership and fantastic learning experience for Riot, as we continue to focus on growth across relevant platforms that our players are engaging on. After this first deep dive, we plan on partnering more closely with TikTok to deliver even more custom experiences for existing and new fans.”

This month, third-party tournament organizer and events/production company ESL debuted on TikTok in partnership with the platform. ESL set up two separate channels: one for its Counter-Strike: Global Offensive match highlights, and another for general esports content. Two branded hashtags, #progamer and #mygaminglife, mix meme-ified esports moments with snapshots of gaming life in the COVID-19 quarantine. 

Credit: ESL

ESL states both channels secured 2.3M video views in just four days, and 2.5B in the first ten. The company is also upfront that these campaigns are targeting Generation Z; a demographic of people born between the mid-to-late 1990s to the early 2010s, who have mostly grown up with digital technology and the internet, and who comprise the majority of TikTok’s user base.  

As with streaming and other social media platforms, individual gaming personalities are able to command even higher followings than company brands. Some of the most popular gamer accounts on TikTok include:

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins – 2.5M

Brian “FaZe Rug” Awadis – 2.5M 

Pokimane – 2M

Frazier “Kay” Kay – 1.2M

 

@methodscoAlmost broke table but nothing stops the home workout 🤓 ##ad ##tiktok ##tiktoktime @tiktok @tiktok_us♬ Talk Up – Drake

How well their individual content performs is a little less clear. To get an idea of the kind of audience a TikTok campaign can bring in, The Esports Observer asked Scott “Sco” McMillan, a Twitch streamer and founder and co-CEO of esports organization Method. He partnered with the platform in February of last year, and provided some metrics on the campaign:

His first post, in which the TikTok content was also posted on his Twitter account (currently with 95.8K followers) generated 144K impressions, 43K video views, and 12K engagements. The third promoted post was the highest, with 195K impressions, 64K video views, and 16K engagements.

But TikTok and its creator ByteDance are looking at more than just how the gaming community uses and consumes content. On Jan. 19, Bloomberg reported that the company is ready to challenge Tencent Holdings’ domination of the mobile gaming market with non-causal titles. According to Bloomberg’s sources, ByteDance acquired several gaming studios and exclusive distribution rights, and poached top talent from rivals to fill a team of over 1,000. 

The first games of the venture will reportedly be released in the Spring, though COVID-19 may have affected those plans. It’s worth noting that, according to a recent survey by Global Web Index of 4,000 people during the outbreak, 51% of Gen Z are consuming significantly more online video content, including TikTok, than before—a higher percentage than any other age group.

While a large part of Tencent’s success in the mobile space has been its own strategy of licensing and porting popular PC titles to phones, the company also built the ideal distribution platform via its Mobile QQ and WeChat platforms. These chat, social media, and payment tools are ubiquitous on Chinese phones, as are the games they have been integrated into.

TikTok’s more popular content skews towards the anarchic, and it’s not clear if a game service will match that countercultural image. But as we’ve seen with readily accessible mobile games like Garena Free Fire, the captive audience could make now a better time than any for TikTok to cement itself in esports and gaming.


This article is an excerpt from the report, Gaming Influencer Endorsements, a comprehensive overview of global talent, featuring a 10+ pages guide to understanding the differences in gaming personalities, 15+ illustrated pages on how to model social media strategy, four case studies showcasing the future of player endorsements, and more => get all the insights here!   


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