South Asian Americans In The Gaming Ecosystem

February 02, 2021

There have been great strides in the gaming world and COVID-19 has propelled the growth of video games and esports consumption. 

A new Nielsen report on the gaming industry found that 82% of global consumers played and watched video game content during the height of shelter-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Digital game spending in the first half of 2020 was up 12% year-over-year ($61.3 billion vs. $54.6 billion). Consumers have been spending more time watching games, too. Using Twitch as a barometer, viewership, and total hours spent watching online games increased on an average of 16% year-over-year (YOY) in January and February 2020 and 123% YOY from March through June.

Games such as Fortnite and Animal Crossing have a huge user base, data points, and user-generated content. Brands will need to dive deeper into understanding how people act and interact with the new reality to be able to plug in products creatively.

Any brands that want to invest in reaching consumers will need to plan for more activities inside the new world of virtual reality. 

Gaming Partnerships From Presidential Elections To Soft Drinks

Around 11 million people around the world play Animal Crossing, a social simulation video game series for the Nintendo Switch™ that enables gamers to play a character in villages inhabited by animals to build up communities and set up their own paradise from scratch on a deserted island. Many brands have already found ways to reach an engaged audience.

The Biden-Harris presidential campaign had yard signs for supporters to display in front of their Animal Crossing homes. They also set up an official Animal Crossing island named Biden HQ, which had poll booths, a virtual amusement park, model trains, exclusive in-game campaign merchandise, and “No Malarkey!” 

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) went on “House Calls”, virtually visiting other players on their islands on Animal Crossing. AOC also played another game called Among Us, an online multiplayer social deduction game on Twitch with Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and Twitch streamers Pokimane, HasanAbi, and more, to get more young people to vote. 

Beyond politics, in the Fashion world, designer labels Valentino and Marc Jacobs designed outfits that Animal Crossing players could wear as they set off on their virtual adventure. Inspiring designs just for the game to exclusive Animal Crossing look.

Panera Bread partnered with NBA 2K League joining Bud Light, AT&T, Snickers, and others. The partnership is first for Panera Bread with a professional esports league and the NBA 2K’s first with a restaurant brand. NBA 2K League content has generated over 415 million video views across all NBA  and NBA 2K League social media platforms alone. 

Coca-Cola partnered with the Pittsburgh Knights, a global esports franchise that manages esports teams and players in popular game titles such as Super Smash Bros. Melee, PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG), Hearthstone, Rainbow Six Siege, and Trackmania. Coca-Cola partnered with Pittsburgh Knights for the launch of their new drink Coke Energy. 

The Role Of South Asian Creators, Gamers, & Spectators

South Asians have long been associated with the gaming world, playing an influential role as creators, gamers, and spectators. As players, South Asian Americans have been depicted as esports fanatics, similar to the association of African Americans with American Football or Basketball. 

South Asians are at an inflection point and brands now have the opportunity to reach young, affluent, and educated groups through platforms they are highly engaged in.

As game creators, South Asian Americans are prominent and arguably overrepresented. This phenomenon could also be attributed to the fact that Tencent, an Asian multinational technology conglomerate is a full or partial owner of many top American game developers. Tencent owned ventures include Riot Games, Epic Games, and Activision Blizzard, creators of massively popular games in the U.S. such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft.

The good news is that games cannot impose ethnic or cultural identities in the traditional way as films and music can. For example, Animal Crossing, a game created by two Japanese does not explicitly reveal or rely upon any Japanese identities. For marketers, it is an opportunity and a challenge. The gaming world will challenge marketers in a way another medium of communication has not because it cannot be analyzed with the same reliance on stereotypes, tropes, and narratives.

Many prominent gamers are South Asian Americans. Three of the top ten highest-paid gamers in the world are Asian American, according to Forbes. 

Indian origin Saahil “Universe” Arora ranks number two and is the second highest-earning professional gamer in the world. Together with his Pakistani teammate, Sumail Hassan, and 3 other members, they formed a gaming team called Evil Geniuses that had won $6.6 million in 2017 making it one of the biggest wins in the history of esports.

Nielsen’s report found that Asian-American gamers are young, with 69% falling between ages 13-34 versus 44% of U.S. Gamers.

Strong representation at the professional level, notable increases in prize money, and scholarships are sure to fuel the enthusiasm in gaming among young Asian Americans. 

In America where sports scholarships have long been a way into good universities, full-ride scholarships and aids for esports players are on a rise. Over 200 colleges in the U.S. are now participating in esports leagues with many offering scholarships, as well as a growing number of high schools adopting esports programs. TESPA awarded over $3.3M in scholarships & prizes to its gamers. The National Association of Collegiate esports reports giving $15 million in esports scholarships and aid.

Nielsen’s report suggests that the types of games played by Asian Americans show the variety – 44% play puzzle games like Candy Crush and 33% prefer strategy games like Civilization and 19% play online casino games.

Virtual Is The New Reality

Metaverse, a universe beyond perceived reality, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet. That is the future. 

Big techs like Facebook Gaming and Microsoft Mixer are working on entering into a market dominated by Amazon’s Twitch.

Virtual is the new reality. From Fortnite hosting a concert featuring Travis Scott to the U.S. Air Force conducting recruitment drive on Call of Duty League. This new virtual universe will have massive implications on society at large and how brands market and communicate. 

Gaming is not an alternative to traditional platforms but a mainstream in itself. Creators, gamers, and spectators have built communities and created unique ways to integrate gaming with their social and life events. For brands, it means there are more ways to engage with the consumers meaningfully.As the gaming ecosystem continues to evolve, one thing for certain is that gaming will revolutionize the marketing landscape. Gaming companies can make their presence felt in the South Asian American community by using FrontAd to reach new prospects. Marketers of all sizes have to keep up with the new opportunity to increase reach.