Psyonix’s popular car-meets-soccer game Rocket League has become a popular destination for leading auto brands and racing leagues to market themselves, often with dedicated in-game vehicles or esports tournaments. In the past, we’ve seen Ford, McLaren, NASCAR, Formula One, and Lamborghini, among others, partner with Psyonix for inclusion in Rocket League. Luxury brand BMW in November joined the growing list, adding its new BMW M240i to the in-game vehicle roster and leveraging its brand as a title sponsor for the Rocket League Open and Rocket League Freestyle tournament.
Notably, the brand-new M240i became purchasable/drivable in the game before launching in the real world. Even before Rocket League, numerous car brands have looked to drive awareness through gaming, as we’ve seen new vehicles debut in both Gran Turismo and the Forza series in years past before their real-life counterparts hit the showroom floor.
According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, just 12% of current BMW drivers in the US watch esports, which is slightly behind esports viewership in the general populace (14%) and several percentage points behind other leading auto brands. It’s worth noting, however, that many within the younger esports demographic are unlikely to have the disposable income to afford a high-end car purchase.
For BMW, utilizing esports as a marketing vehicle isn’t necessarily about converting its existing customers into esports fans – it’s a long-term strategy that the company is putting into motion now. The firm has been pushing to elevate its brand in gaming and esports in recent years, partnering with five global esports organizations in April 2020 and teaming up with Fnatic on a short esports film this past summer.
“Esports is a way for us to reach Generation Z who aren’t interested in us now but there will come a time when they’re ready to buy a car and we should be in their mind when they do,” Stefan Ponikva, head of BMW Brand Experience Shows & Events, explained to Digiday. “We don’t see esports as sponsorship activation. It’s more a strategic communications channel.”
BMW sees esports having a “big footprint” in its marketing for years to come, and that’s likely true for most of the big-name auto makers.