Several years ago at The Ivy Sports Symposium, several marketers were asked to look into the future and describe what would be the ultimate in fan engagement. It was just after the launch of X Box Live, which was just beginning to change the way immersive gaming and fan interaction was being conducted, but limited connectivity was holding back much of the immersive game play amongst massive amounts of players that is commonplace today. However it was EA Sports Peter Moore who threw one of the more intriguing ideas out there, that someday soon you would not be playing with your friends, but suddenly a superstar would drop into a game, Shaquille O’Neal for example, and would play against you live and in real time.
Of course what seemed futuristic then is much more reality now in the eGaming space, and with the continued improvement of virtual reality the access in real time to traditional elite athletes, let alone the best eGame stars, gets closer and more authentic with each passing day.
However as enticing as the space is, it is still hard to negotiate, and the tribal nature of millennials craves authenticity, and many brands are just now working their way around to find a happy mix of traditional activation in a gaming environment. Make a wrong step, and lose the audience. Use the wrong medium, and you don’t find the ROI you desire. It is not the stomach for the quick fix. It needs the right combination of engagement, with the appropriate elements.
Enter Nike and NBA 2K. The athletic apparel company recently took an intriguing brand step forward when they chose to work with the massively popular publisher to launch the shoe of returning Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kyrie Irving, not in a traditional broadcast outlet or even a more accepted, for brands anyway, digital platform. They chose to go fish where the gaming fish are, with the massive Amazon-owned livestreaming service Twitch. Those who don’t know Twitch need to learn fast, as its 100 million monthly visitors make it the fast-growing place for live engagement in and around eGaming of all levels.
The promotion took Irving, an avid gamer currently returning to action with the Cavs after his knee injury in the NBA Finals last season, and placed his new shoe, Nike’s The Kyrie 2, into a global Twitch livecast and play session of NBA 2K16. Virtual players wore Nike shoes and the court was adorned in digital signage, while Irving was immersed in the live interaction with players, a potential audience of several million for the new game, which hit retail stores in October. The audience was built partially by the livestreams 2K has been doing around the game, using Twitch’s ever-growing marketing platform to enhance the community who may crave action, but not necessarily hoops as their game of choice. Since most of the
Twitch content is consumed live (although there is the ability to play back at a later date), the ability for celebrities and athletes to immerse and engage at a given period live with millions of global fans, is exactly what Moore had talked about years ago, and what brands are seeking to deliver with content; direct and immediate engagement with a highly charged and young consumer base who can become even bigger advocates of the brand than they had been before.
Now this type of immersive experience with a platform like Twitch is still evolving. Pick the wrong brand and the wrong athlete and product and you have a miss. Try and engage across a non-gaming generation, targeting older parents for example, and you will miss the opportunity again. It has to be targeted, well thought out and supported both before AND after with solid marketing spends, and the athlete or celebrity has to be engaged and authentic in his interest in gaming on some level. Like trying to fake it on a traditional court, faking gaming play can also lead to embarrassment. But if successful, it is a very unique way to give a passionate audience an insider’s look at the most traditional of sports, basketball. It grows the brand footprint, it gives those traditional fans a way to engage online, and, perhaps even more importantly, it finds a way to cross into an eGaming world where basketball, even with its stars, may have trouble penetrating. The timing, much like Irving’s anticipated return this month (coinciding with the launch of the shoe this week just as the Christmas season hits), has to work, the brand has to do its homework and the engagement level has to be built.
For Nike it seems to have worked to date, and if so, it is setting up a great best practice for crossover engagement that is sure to be replicated by brands trying to effectively crack an eGaming generation while still holding tight to the traditional. The future talked about at Princeton years ago, is getting closer.