Sponsorship of eSports is a fast growing industry in its own right. Whether you see it as supporting teams or selling out to commercial titans, support from popular companies is a crucial way for eSports teams to succeed. In such communities where people are so passionate about their interest, splashing a big logo over your favourite team’s shirt can seem like selling your soul to the corporate devil or missing the point of eSports entirely.
The arguably brutal reality is that like any industry is that everything, one way or another, comes down to money. (The brutal reality is that, like in any other industry, everything comes down to money, one way or another.) This kind of thinking may be cynical and pessimistic, but the important part to remember is that the more money there is, the more eSports will flourish. Fundamentally, people who play games do so because they enjoy it, despite the venom that is thrown around in threads and comments online. Anything people enjoy they mostly want to do more of and when this enthusiasm turns to real commitment, what better way than to try and make a living from what you love.
Having sponsorship and bringing video games into a positive mainstream light allows those who love eSports to do more of it and those who compete at the highest level to earn a decent living. With big brands like Monster Energy, Razer and Alienware all throwing in their lot with various gaming houses and teams, being a professional gamer is actually becoming genuinely viable. We’re all used to seeing these names on shirts and gear.
Having sponsorship and being covered in mainstream media play off each other in one of the only ways that eSports can get the recognition it deserves. Essentially more sponsorship leads to more attention, which in turn leads to better sponsorship. It makes sense that companies like Razer, Alienware and Monster would want the attention from the eSports community, as they will buy hardware, computer accessories and huge quantities of sugar-fuelled liquid energy.
But in a bold move back in December 2014 one of the biggest porn websites in the world, YouPorn, decided to wade into the fray asking on Twitter if there were any DotA 2 or LoL teams that were looking for sponsorship. Naturally, the people of the internet jumped at this suggestion, retweeting this over 4000 times and favouriting it over 2000 times. The thought of this, not just the site’s content, is alluring in many ways.
When asked about this move after a contract was apparently in the works YouPorn said, “We’ve noticed how eSports have really taken on a life of their own, with tv coverage and the size of tournaments growing on the daily, we thought now was a good time to dip our toes in the water. “There are a number of costs associated with these kinds of competitions – equipment, entry fees, travel costs – we are looking at a variety of possibilities to help our team succeed in competition. We’re still in negotiations, but are very excited to begin this new endeavor!”
The site ended up sponsoring a Spanish eSports club called Play2Win, but now they have confirmed their continued expansion. Team YP, as it has become known, have now picked up North American team No Broodmama, who will be competing in the ESL One New York NA qualifiers over the weekend of September 11th-13th. The brand has gone somewhat unnoticed over the last six months, but as they continue to put their branding on competitive teams, there are maybe a few concerns.
In contrast to the sponsors that I mentioned above, that provide hardware/peripherals/energy drinks, YouPorn doesn’t provide any of those things traditionally associated with gaming. They don’t make computers or headphones and in fact they don’t make anything. YouPorn is a “free online adult entertainment service”. More commonly known as a porn site: a site where, usually horny teen boys let’s be honest, go to get their fix.
Given that they are not trying to sell any gaming related product, sure the only marketing thought process can be: “Gamers spend a lot of time on the internet; there’s porn on the internet; let’s try and monopolise this market with our porn”.
Apart from the sheer comedy value of having a porn site sponsoring a DotA 2 team, YouPorn is one of the most visited websites in the world and has a huge amount of traction on the internet and, most importantly, decent money to contribute to a team, so in that respect the marketing logic is not that farfetched. Anybody interested in seeing eSports succeed can get on board with a team getting more money and opportunities to compete. Having players coming into tournaments with the tag ‘SingSing.YouPorn’ or ‘n0tail.YouPorn’ would almost be worth it alone.
More seriously though there are real concerns about the image that having a porn website sponsor a competitive eSports team. Aside from jokes about the large intersection between video game enthusiasts and porn ‘enthusiasts’, if eSports is to be taken seriously in mainstream media, having an association with a porn site might actually hinder rather than help the scene.
Given that sponsorship is mostly a step in the right direction towards attention from a wider audience, having YouPorn as a partner to an eSports team will draw the spotlight in one way or another. Even the word ‘porn’ grabs the eye of the average viewer. It would be attention, but despite the old adage it might actually be ‘bad’ attention. Part of widening the reach of professional video games is legitimising them in the public sphere. Selling the concept of video games as a sport is hard enough to your average punter. Now imagine having to add that also one of the teams is sponsored by a porn site.
As much as it is not a secret that people watch porn, a lot of porn at that, it is still a taboo subject in public discourse as well as in the general media. Millions of people may be unashamed of their porn habits, but it is hardly a respectable pastime. Like the money, it is the reality of the situation. It has been a long road for those who have fought to help eSports succeed, but recently there has been huge progress. Tournaments like ESL One being held in a football stadium, The International having its prize pool increased 10 times by the community and being covered on big news networks have started to make the case for eSports as just that; a sport.
In response to this concern a spokesperson for YouPorn said, “We’re just a brand looking to have some fun in the gaming community and are not out to create any problems.” But they are not just any other brand. Unfortunately the world that will hopefully receive eSports at large, may have a real aversion to giving a porn site such a large platform in competitive sports.
More than that it could be contentious for the other sponsors that have already put their brand name on the line for the gaming cause. As much as many would like YouPorn to be “just a brand”, there are countless companies, venues, sponsors and relatives of players who view it far from that and regretfully will have an influence on eSports in some collective way.
There is nothing wrong in principle with YouPorn sponsoring a DotA 2 or LoL team. It’s all in good humour and would probably be quite funny to see how creative they could get with things like team kit and merchandise. Who knows it could even work in reverse and legitimise porn sites. I highly doubt that though.However, I think the reality is that it will appear as a niche hobby, one that is still looked at with suspicion by mainstream communities, sponsored by an illegitimate website.
Sadly for YouPorn, they are predicting the correct trends in eSports commercialisation and expansion, but they might be the wrong face to present to a public that is not already sold on professional video game players, let alone porn sites that actually consider themselves serious businesses.