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Esports needs an injection of star power
Unlike traditional sports celebrities, awareness of successful esports pros remains relatively low

Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and Tom Brady all have one thing in common: they are world famous, even to those who do not follow their respective sports. Building a personal brand that can find a place in mainstream culture takes a lot of time and effort, but esports as an industry could benefit greatly from its pros doing just that. Outside of the narrow demographic that regularly follows esports tournaments, how many people have heard of successful players like Doublelift, Faker, or Mang0?

Stars like Ninja and Tfue, who have cultivated their own following by also regularly streaming on platforms like Twitch or YouTube, are the most likely to be well known outside of esports circles. By building their own personal brands, individuals such as Ninja have an opportunity to draw attention to esports as a whole and to serve as ambassadors for the nascent industry.

This idea is not lost on marketing and PR experts. Matt Rizzetta, CEO of N6A, a brand communications and social media agency, commented to ScreenRant earlier this year, “I believe esports needs to build brands and storylines around specific personalities and champions in order to gain more traction among the mainstream sports and entertainment consumer audience… I expect [esports] to follow a similar blueprint to what the NBA adopted under David Stern, aligning the league with specific superstar players.

At present, even for people who watch esports, Interpret’s New Media Measure® points to a distinct lack of star power. When esports viewers were asked about which esports titles have their “favorite professional player,” there was no clear winner. In fact, the highest percentage was only around 5.5% for League of Legends (the most popular game in esports), followed by FIFA at 5.3%, and Overwatch at 4.7%. On a professional level, esports is only about two decades old, while Twitch isn’t quite 10 years old. Esports is coming into its own, and the stars that will propel the industry forward likely haven’t even appeared yet.

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