Bud Light is no stranger to the world of traditional sports. As the official beer sponsor of the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, the alcoholic beverage company is currently backing the two biggest sport leagues in North America. Now, Bud Light is looking to get into the battlegrounds inside monitors and televisions with its Bud Light All-Stars initiative.
"The process [of sponsoring esports] started about a year ago," said Jesse Wofford, Digital Brand Manager of Bud Light, to ESPN.com at the E3 video gaming conference in Los Angeles. "We kind of got into the space how a lot of brands first get into it: [we see] esports is a thing, let's look into it, it's big, what do we do? And I spent the next six, seven months really deep-diving into the industry, connecting with as many people as I can to make sure I understand it."
In what Wofford describes as the "wild west" currently in esports with new sponsorships and brands entering the space each week with teams and tournaments, he wanted to do something different with Bud Light. Instead of simply backing a single team or league, the company started the Bud Light All-Stars program, letting the fans of the competitive gaming world vote for its favorite players throughout various titles to become ambassadors of their specific games under the Bud Light banner.
"Thousands came out to vote," said Wofford when asked how the turnout was for such a unique idea. "The response on Twitter was great. A lot of positive responses excited Bud Light is coming into the space and doing something, so it was phenomenal to see."
What Bud Light sees from esports is similar to what they experience with their sponsorships of the NFL and NBA. While online games might not be taking place in a physical space, Wofford explained how the difference in the crowds is marginal.
"It's what is exciting for us, being the first beer brand in the space, and coming in and recognizing -- we're in here first -- that we're being authentic," he said. "These fans are super passionate, but they'll call you out if you're inauthentic."
One of the biggest roadblocks, if not the biggest, for Bud Light coming into esports is the notion that competitive gaming is centered around the youth. Kids in high school and just graduating into college are seen as the key demographic, and those adolescents can't partake in anything alcoholic until they're 21-years-old in the United States. However, with the expansion of competitive gaming in the west, the demographics begin skewing towards an older audience as the original generation of esport fans grow into adulthood.
"How do we harness [the online viewing experience of esports] that's new and unique for us and the industry?" He said, detailing what Bud Light is looking to do in competitive gaming in the upcoming year besides another All-Stars campaign. "We can bring some of the things we do in other sports, whether it's our celebrities or music contacts, or whatever it is, leverage that and help the industry in esports."