As we welcome 2021 with open arms and wave goodbye to 2020, it’s time to summarise something we actually enjoyed — the most creative advertising campaigns this year.
At Esports Insider, we’ve chosen to celebrate these activations by showcasing some of the most significant, captivating, and outstanding advertisements delivered, whether it be through long-running campaigns or one-off brand collaborations.
Here, presented in no particular order, are what we consider to be some of the best esports advertising campaigns of 2020:
Skillshot: Gamer Therapy
Mental health has become a major talking point in the esports industry, especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns this year. As such, Cloud9 launched a mental health campaign with Kaiser Permanente, GRID partnered with Rethink Mental Illness for a charity CS:GO event, and online initiatives like YANA (You Are Not Alone) helped to keep gamers connected during a year marked with unexpected loneliness and stress.
Skillshot Media also launched ‘Gamer Therapy’ to pair gamers of all skill levels with licensed therapists, who also happen to be gamers. While playing together, they are able to talk casually about subjects that concern them and receive helpful, healing feedback. The campaign video by The Community illustrates that even people we see as successful (pro athletes, casters, etc.) feel anxiety and need to practise self-care, too.
Destigmatising mental health concerns will help prevent burnout among pro gamers and help reduce toxicity toward others and ourselves. If anything good came out of 2020, it was the fact that the esports industry stepped up to remind us that it’s okay to seek help.
Lenovo Legions: Stylish Outside, Savage Inside
Lenovo Legion is an active brand partner in esports and set out to promote its gaming PCs and laptops with a hype-filled TV SPOT. ‘Stylish on the Outside, Savage on the Inside’ appealed to APEX Legends players in particular by illustrating that gamers have ‘two sides’ — the responsible adult and the savage in-game character.
It also calls attention to APEX Legends Global Series, for which Lenovo Legion is a major sponsor. As part of the arrangement, Lenovo will provide more than 200 Lenovo Legion desktops and monitors for players at all upcoming Apex Legends Global Series Majors. In addition, Lenovo Legion laptops will be provided for caster desks.
KIA Motors x LECtronic: Dance with me feat. Sjokz
Another great thing to happen in 2020 was the creation of LECtronic — a band formed from League of Legends European Championships casters Andy ‘Vedius’ Day, Aaron ‘Medic’ Chamberlain, and Daniel Drakos.
Following some not-so-mediocre rap battles, LECtronic showcased their musical skills again with ‘Dance with Me,’ a music video that turned into one of the most talked-about ad campaigns of 2020.
Rapping, singing, and dancing from real-life casters makes ‘Dance with Me feat. Sjokz’ a catchy way to hype up both the LEC Summer Finals and Worlds, whilst also showcasing KIA’s brand in an alternative way.
Overall, League of Legends has had some really great advertising campaigns this year, many of which could have made this list.
Bumble: Play Like a Girl
Multinational esports organisation Gen.G introduced Team Bumble in 2019 — an all-female professional Fortnite team. As the name suggests, Team Bumble was launched in collaboration with Austin-based matchmaking/networking app, Bumble.
Gen.G released a four-part video series in 2020 called ‘Play Like a Girl’ that invited influencers to play with and get to know members of Team Bumble and Gen.G. Guests included rapper AD, The Bachelorette contestants Tyler Cameron and Dylan Barbour, Twitch streamers Pathra, model Margaux Brooke, caster Jess Brohard, and more.
The result is a casual play session that shows off the girls’ skills while normalising their presence in a pro-gaming world. This series was included on our list because although Bumble is not actively promoted, the team bearing its name is making strides to lift female gamers up.
This is incredibly important for public acceptance of females in the esports space. The more esports fans and fellow gamers realise that women can hold their own (and are people with feelings, too), the less toxic the industry becomes over time.
Geico: Bjergsen’s Fan Club
— TSM (@TSM) May 28, 2020
Some of the best esports ad campaigns are entertaining on their own while throwing a virtual ‘I get you’ wink at hardcore fans. Team SoloMid’s star League of Legends mid-laner, Søren ‘Bjergsen’ Bjerg grew an impressive beard that had fans talking but he suddenly shaved it during the quarantine.
GEICO played into this hot gossip by creating an advert that imagines how fans would react. In this fun ad campaign, Bjergsen’s ‘fan club’ nervously prepares to meet the man himself via video chat. They have all grown beards to impress him…unfortunately it seemed like Bjergsen didn’t get the memo.
MTN DEW GAME FUEL: TSM is Charged
If you haven’t noticed a pattern by now, the best esports advertisements tend to resonate with gamers when they either go full-hype or full-on fun. Mountain Dew chose the latter with this spot in which TSM discovers its most locked-on self by drinking AMP FUEL (featuring Bjergsen’s beard, RIP).
Energy drinks and esports are natural teammates, inspiring many brands to launch products specifically for this market. Just this year, Coca-Cola launched Coke Energy alongside a partnership with Pittsburg Knights, for example.
KLEVV: Light in Your Body
If video killed the radio star, then esports could be the death of ‘boring looking’ gamers. In this spot for KLEVV’s gaming memory with customisable RGB lighting, T1 Entertainment & Sports exudes all the looks and charm of fellow South Korean group BTS while appealing to PC gamers who love to customise their rigs.
Each member of T1’s League of Legends team shares their KLEVV models of choice, making statements like, ‘I want to know your RGB code’. Will T1 posters soon be hung on their walls, and demand Beatlemania-style devotion from adoring fans? After this ad, they just might.
Betway: BLAST Betway Breakout
This light-hearted and entertaining activation challenged CS:GO rivals Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz of Astralis and Kenny ‘kennyS’ Schrub of G2 to an escape game.
Both players had 10 minutes to use teamwork and progress through all the challenges. It required a lot of communication, quick thinking, and timing to solve all the puzzles. It was a fun break from the action of BLAST Premiere Fall Series and audiences could download the game for themselves on Steam to see if they could do better.
Moreover, the map in the episode is designed to fit Betway’s signature purple colour scheme, whilst also having online advertising throughout the course, to signify the collaboration between BLAST and the gambling firm.
Nike: Camp Next Level
Nike’s first-ever esports ad debuted in China just ahead of the League of Legends World Championship. The beautifully crafted commercial imagines a high-tech training camp that integrates physical attributes with endurance and even the ability to withstand online hate.
Camp Next Level pays homage to retired LoL player Jian ‘Uzi’ Zihao who played for Royal Never Give Up before retiring for health reasons. Zihao cited obesity, diabetes and a hand injury as reasons for stepping back from his pro gaming career.
Zihao appears as a hologram at the beginning of the spot, as hardcore trainer ‘NXT’ explains that your body is the key to your success and that he’s on a mission from a ‘legendary LoL player’. Zihao signed an endorsement deal with Nike in 2018.
‘Camp Next Level’ provides a positive, yet light-hearted message of working hard while taking care of yourself. In addition, it is a landmark ad for Nike, which until November 2020 had never aired an esports advertisement.
GUCCI: The Dive
Italian luxury fashion brand Gucci officially stepped into the world of esports this year through a collaboration with British organisation Fnatic. The Fnatic watch was featured exclusively on Gucci’s website for £1,150 as a limited edition piece, and quickly sold out.
The collaboration was not only unexpected but highly successful for Gucci’s first foray into the industry. It’s partnerships like this that prove that even non-endemic brands can create meaningful connections with esports fans in surprising ways.