Last week, Rove Hotels announced what it calls the region’s first-ever hotel gaming rooms. Formed in partnership with leading gaming peripherals company Razer, these “Gamer Caves” will feature in select properties across the group’s Dubai portfolio — Rove Downtown and Rove at The Park.

Teaming with Dubai-based esports promoter Playtonia and the Dubai Sports Council, Rove hopes the new room category will boost the brand’s presence within the Middle East — North Asia’s growing esports scene — and attract fans from other regions to the sites.

It makes sense to pursue this lucrative market. It is estimated there are more than 100 million gamers in the Middle East alone, where the hotels are based, with the gaming market in MENA being valued at more than US$4.5 billion. Worldwide that figure has been identified as between A$200 and A$260 billion — a figure that continues to grow as more companies embrace esports business opportunities.

In Australia, the gaming industry has crept up to exceed $3.4bn — bigger than the film and music industries combined. It’s no surprise, considering two thirds of Australians regularly play video games, according to the Digital Australia 2020 report by the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, which represents gaming industry brands locally.

The scale of esports was recently demonstrated by media agency Essence, in its report Gaming in the 2020s. The report cites an estimate of the global audience for organised forms of competitive gaming in 2020 at around 495 million and expected to rise to 646 million in 2023, with around 45 per cent of viewers watching a competitive gaming session at least once a month.

While clearly a massive and lucrative market, gaming and esports can be a tough one to crack. Hard-core gamers are notoriously cynical and sceptical of commercial integrations, not afraid to voice their displeasure at campaigns they see as impinging on their hobby or looking to cash in.

Joab Gilroy, the OCE Esports Journalist of the Year, has been following the industry since its inception, from underground niche hobby to the global commercial powerhouse it’s become today.

“Gamers still feel like outsiders, external to popular culture, and esports enthusiasts even more so. And that means they’re inherently distrustful of brands coming in without first having ‘earned’ a foot in the door.”

“It’s a question of authenticity.” Gilroy adds.

If you are able to find the right approach to the sector, Gilroy said, the rewards are definitely worth it. “Once in, however, gamers can be fiercely loyal and even defensive of brands in the space.”

The commercial side of the industry agrees. Chris Smith is the CEO of Big Esports, a consultancy designed to help brands navigate the competitive gaming landscape. Smith said brands need to have a clear understanding of their objectives before wading in.

“Brands and investors often reach out to Big Esports with the simple statement ‘We want to get into esports!’ It’s our job to read between the lines. What this usually means is that they want to get into gaming and past that, they want to get into Gen Z and Millennials, and gaming is the interface they wish to use.

“Esports is the buzzword always in the headlines but it’s only one section worth $947.1 million USD of the $159 Billion USD video games industry. Brands also need to ask themselves what an authentic engagement looks like in this space.

“Often things marketed as ‘esports’ are really ‘gaming’ (devoid of structured or professional competition). That’s perfectly fine, but brands doing so must be well aware of what they are doing.”

Smith echoes Gilroy’s sentiments on authenticity as well. “We’ve all seen numerous ‘logo slap’ campaigns into gaming and esports that aren’t authentic, where I don’t think the brand or agency has asked themselves about the actual value that their offering adds to the industry. For example, could you be Toyota and release a new Corolla and call it an ‘esports car’? No. Sure, you can market it to esports players like Toyota has done previously through its sponsorship of the Overwatch league, but you can’t claim that a single sponsorship involvement suddenly classes you as an esports endemic.

“I don’t think this engagement is a pure logo slap, but it would be important to understand whether [Rove Group’s] esports (but really gaming) integration is simply an addition to its current offering or a centrepiece. If I were consulting on the [Rove Hotels Gamer Cave] project, I would focus on being a quality hotel first and esports/gaming as a supplementary marketing exercise.”

While the success of Rove Hotels’ foray into this space remains to be seen, what it does show is just how complex it is for brands to tap into this massive and growing market.

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