Whether it’s watching a tournament stream, talking strategy in a forum or seeing the latest gossip on Twitter, eSports is consumed almost exclusively online. Fans in online communities are the lifeblood of eSports – and the most important metric courted by events, teams and brands alike. In this article, we’ll show you how to embrace that audience through online communities, forums and social media.
The first step in reaching an online audience is knowing where specifically that audience is located online. Each game has its own dedicated sites and subsections of larger sites, as well as presences on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Learning these locales takes time; if you’re not already familiar with the game then poll people who are and find out where they spend their time online.
I’m most familiar with the game StarCraft, so let’s use that game as an example. Most discussion in the StarCraft community takes place on two websites: The community website TeamLiquid.net and the StarCraft subreddit (section) of Reddit.com. Each site has its own rules and peculiarities – TeamLiquid is very closely moderated and will ban users for flaming well-known gamers and personalities, while almost no topics are barred at StarCraft Reddit but excessive self-promotion can warrant a site-wide ban. Courting and engaging with these two websites is essential for anyone that wants to become part of the StarCraft community.
Social media is also playing an increasingly large role in eSports. Twitter and Facebook are the two largest players here, and can be thought of as two more essential places to maintain web presences for any event, tournament or team of note. There are many other social networks that can be helpful too, though: Instagram, Google+, Vine, Snapchat, SoundCloud and even YouTube.
The usual model for eSports (and indeed most of the web) is to create content on your website, where you’re best able to promote yourself and provide a full branded experience to the reader. This website is fed through promotions through communities and social media, as mentioned above. While it’s possible to work without a website, it’s a big help to provide a single place for fans to find everything that you’ve created.
It’s important to tailor your content for the medium on which it is broadcast. Some things are obvious – you post videos on YouTube, audio recordings or songs on SoundCloud, short videos on Vine, photos on Instagram – but other distinctions are more subtle.
Twitter is all about crafting highly shareable, compact content (which probably links back to a website or includes a photo); your number one goal should be encouraging users to hit that retweet button. Twitter is also rather more transient than its peers, making retweeting and engaing with fans possible without polluting your overall message.
Facebook is more measured, with space to share a few sentences of text, a photo or video, and a link. Here, sharing is less common and it’s more about engaging the audience you’ve garnered from other sources. Posting to forums and communities requires meeting the rules of that community, perhaps including a hefty excerpt and a link to your site instead of a simple link that would be passable on Twitter or Facebook.
The best strategies rely on cross-promotion: an article on a website might be tweeted with a killer quote from the text and a great picture; linked from Instagram via a behind-the-scenes photo; expanded upon by a snippet that didn’t make the article on Facebook; and includes a video posted to YouTube that adds another option for text-averse fans. Each component enhances the whole, with the full picture being sourced from a web of specialised media.
So you’ve identified your target audience and their hangouts online – what next? How can you engage with that community, promote your content and get people to be interested in what you’re producing?
Creating quality content is the key; provide value to your audience. If you want people to know about your team and read your team website, then get your players to provide their unique insight on the current metagame or a popular strategy. Use your connections to get an interview with pros in the headlines, or those behind the scenes that haven’t gotten a chance to speak their piece. Give away signed gear so that your fans are fighting with the same equipment as their favourite player. Ultimately, it’s all about giving the perks of your position to your audience.
Of course, engaging with a community is not just giving them content in exchange for their attention. There should be a dialogue too, between eSports fans and tournament organisers, casters, hosts, streamers and pros. Certain mediums are better for this than others, but it is important to put yourself out there regardless. Make it clear that you are always willing to engage with interested, passionate people – even if they hold opposing views to your own.
One of the beautiful things about eSports (and indeed internet communication in general) is that well-known community members and unknown fans can communicate as equals; anyone can make a Twitter account to comment wisely about a recent match or ask a great question in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) interview. Make full use of that as a content creator; be accessible and be willing to take the time to engage one-on-one with your fans and your detractors. That conversation might only be between two people, but its effects are much more far-reaching.
That means that you should take care when speaking online – while there is a great opportunity to win goodwill, there are also opportunities to lose it. Don’t say anything on Twitter that you wouldn’t say in front of a crowded room of people; remember that even in private conversations it only takes one person to save a screenshot or hit record, and that conversation is as public as if you wrote an announcement yourself.
Thankfully, the rewards of maintaining an online presence outweigh the risks. There is no better way to promote your work, make critical connections and win the hearts and minds of your fellow eSports enthusiasts. Whether you are a caster or a tournament organiser, a writer or a pro, embracing the online eSports audience is an essential part of your job – so get out there, and get busy.