Open playing field: Innovators vie for poll position in untapped esports industry

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

getty | gorodenkoff
getty | gorodenkoff

Related tags eSports nootropics Cognitive function

The $150 billion global gaming industry is set to double in value by 2025 (Lonza) and with gamers focused on ensuring they maintain peak performance, there is plenty of white space for nutrition brands to innovate with products offering cognitive and physical health benefits.

This is the message of the third and final episode of NutraIngredients' Sports and Active Nutrition Online Broadcast Series, which aired on Wednesday (October 14th, available on demand now​).

Hosted by NI's Will Chu and joined by experts in the industry, the webinar discusses the industry's huge sponsorship deals spanning across the nutrition, fashion and music industries, plus prize money in the multi-millions, giving esports players plenty of reasons to ensure they stay in peak mental and physical shape. 

Eric Bakkers, Innovation & Marketing Director at vaneeghen, notes G-Fuel was one of the first brands to tap into the market with its energy drinks and that brand grew 214% between 2015 and 2018, and has gained 4.1 million followers on social media with little competition from other brands.

Koen Schobbers, an esports athlete turned presenter, coach, founder of Parents of Play and Koenz esports industry strategy consultancy, points out that the esports industry is much like the 'normal' sports industry in that the fans look up to professional athletes who are in optimum cognitive and physically shape.

While there has previously been a stigma that suggests esports players live on junk food, don't get enough sleep and generally have a very unbalanced lifestyle, as the esports industry grows so does the time and energy put into esports athletes.

“Esports athletes have a team of people to ensure they are at their optimum health," ​he told listeners. "They have a nutritionist, a fitness coach, media training, a chef, they have someone to work on their posture in the chair. They have their meals planned out for them and they have a regime of exercise to keep themselves physically fit.

“At the end of the day, if an athlete is going to be the face of your game, or your brand, they have to be someone that others will admire. Sponsors don’t want to be associated with someone who isn’t physically and psychologically healthy.”


With COVID-19 forcing people indoors, Bakkers says the figures for the key gaming viewing platforms showed a spike in activity during the first quarter of 2020.

“This was one way for people to continue to connect with other people during the pandemic. Looking at the stats for the number of hours people were watching games, there was a quick peak of growth in the first quarter of the year, and the number of hours live streaming also showed an extreme growth.”  

But it wasn't just amateur gaming that saw a spike in interest during the lockdown. Schobbers points out that the esports world became the only option for other sporting worlds. “During COVID-19, the espoorts world has become important to other sporting worlds. Nascar, in the US, was cancelled but they hosted it virtually, all the drivers participated in the online event and that was viewed by more than one million viewers.

“Many F1 drivers are also gamers too and they also took their race online. Many athletes get involved in this industry and form a connection with fans in that world.”

Beyond log on/log off

Joris Dewit, Business Development Director Pharma Capsules, Nutrition & Animal Health, EMEA at Lonza, points out that three quarters of esports athletes say they are willing to take supplements to look after their eyesight (Kemin European Consumer and Attitude Survey 2019), while other key health concerns include: reaction time (60%), alertness (47%), and general energy (62%).

Mariko Hill, Product Development Executive at Gencor, says the majority of gaming focused nutrition in the market right now focuses on acute pre- and intra- gaming nutrition, with 90% of products in the market focusing on the ‘log on’ effect, using ingredients such as caffeine and taurine for focus.

But she points out there is also an opportunity for nutrition targeting the post-game period, for those chronic health concerns.

“There are health concerns around brain, eye, immune and joint health. Players play for long durations of five to 10 hours a day and neck and wrist pains are some of the most prevalent pains seen in gaming.”

She, and the other panellists, agree they see botanicals as being the next big thing in esports nutrition as they see consumers moving away from caffeine, taurine and sugar, and towards more healthy options which will help them with their long-term health goals.

Tony Gay, Head of Technical Sales & NPD, Nutrition at Prinova, notes that demand for nootropics in general has risen sharply, with the number of nootropic new product launches increasing by 70% per year globally between 2017 and 2019 (Innova Market Insights) and Europe is by-far leading the way in this trend.
This, in addition to the fact that 55% of gamers aged 18-24 are looking to buy food and rink specifically for gaming (The Grocer), leads Prinova to believe there's a big demand for convenient-to-consume nootropic products for gamers.
"The format matters because ease of consumption is appealing. People playing games say that a top purchase driver for buying a product is ability to consumer it easily, followed by: great flavour, value for money, easy to open, not messy, and not sticky (The Grocer)."


While some big partnerships have been made between nutrition brands and the industry - Nordavind and Bodylab, GHOST and XSET, Crown Esports Nutrition and MAD Lions - the size of this market is made most apparent when looking at partnerships taking place across other industries, most notably fashion and music, with partnerships happening increasingly frequently.

Catwalk powerhouse Gucci has even integrated itself into the community with the launch of a premium, limited edition Fnatic (esports organisation) dive watch, costing $1,620.

This is an example of the amount of spare cash available to some of those in this market.

Looking to the future

With the egaming audience being younger than the general sports nutrition audience, Schobbers points out that there is a big opportunity for brands to gain long-term consumers.

"Younger consumers haven't yet got specific brands that they think of when they want to buy certain items. By developing a relationship with them at this early age, you can become the brand they think of when they think of an energy drink, or a nootropic capsule. This can lead to a very long term consumer."

Speaking about the direction the market is moving, Schobbers notes that virtual reality gaming is growing in popularity and as the price of these games comes down, the number of gamers will increase.

“These games require the gamer to be mentally and physically active and they will require a different set of nutrition for their needs. If brands can get ahead of the game and develop innovations for this market then they will be ready to hit the market running when the demand is there.”

When he’s consulting with companies on the best strategy for targeting this audience, Schobbers says he advises they follow the five strategic I’s: Inside (look inside your own company and check your ethos and values will fit in within the esports industry), investigate (understand the market and the consumers’ mindset), impact (partner with those in the industry), inspire (with engaging content online), and invite (invite the views of the customers).

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