Level Up Licensing: BLE will demystify esports

Anna Knight, VP of Global Licensing Group, the organiser of next month's Brand Licensing Europe, digs into the show’s focus this year on the video game sector and how best to tackle esports

Written by Rhys Thomas

Posted 20.09.2019 | Events

Level Up Licensing: BLE will demystify esports thumbnail

Anna, video game companies have been a growing fixture of BLE for some years – so why was this the right year to spotlight the sector?

They have, yes. We had our first video games activation two years ago and it was so popular among brands and visitors that we decided to shine a light on this sector of the industry again. The difference this time, is that we are also incorporating esports into the mix.

How much has the sector grown in terms of representation at BLE?

It was growing steadily until about the three years ago, and then it really took off in terms of pure-play video game brands exhibiting and other entertainment companies showcasing one or two video game properties in their overall roster.

As gaming has grown in popularity amongst consumers of all ages, more and more licensees and retailers have started to wake-up to the opportunity and we’ve seen that reflected in our exhibitor and visitor numbers with, for example, a 50 per cent rise in exhibitors since 2016. There are still some myths surrounding the opportunities, hence why we continue to focus on it.

Tell us a little bit about this year’s The Arcade interactive activation. What is it and who is it for?

We are hosting The Arcade in collaboration with our official partner PowerStation Studios. Activision, Sybo Games and Bioworld are among the participating exhibitors.

As well as exhibiting some of the most influential players in the industry, there will also be a selection of gaming memorabilia and a 14-metre long timeline celebrating the evolution of gaming. Icons and key milestones from the last 40 years will be featured, including Pong to PSVR and everything in between.

In the spirit of a true arcade, there will also be multiple opportunities to get hands on and play some of the latest games, as well as reminisce over some of the classics. PowerStation Studios will also be arranging retail tours each day of the show, with representatives from each sponsor brand being on-hand to talk through their carefully curated content.

READ MORE: For more of our Level Up Licensing series on video games and esports licensing CLICK HERE

Games are an interactive medium, so it makes sense for visitors to get hands-on – but, bluntly put, it would’ve been easier to simply leave this for exhibitors' own stands. Is the investment in the activation an indication of the importance video game brands play in the growth of the licensing industry?

Absolutely. Despite the size of the games market, which is worth more than music and film in the UK, it has been a relatively untapped sector in the licensing world for many years, but this is definitely changing both from the point of view of gaming brands harnessing the power of licensing for brand extensions, and from the point of view of retailers understanding the selling power of games related merchandise.

By creating The Arcade, we are increasing the discoverability of this category at the show and making it as easy as possible for visitors to visualise the brands and product opportunities it presents.

Would you say we’re at the start of a ‘land grab’ when it comes to video game brand extension?

I think that’s always the perception when any major trend comes into the market, but the beauty of gaming is the inclusivity and the breadth of IP. Yes, there are very popular games that could be deemed ‘mass market’, such as Mario or Call of Duty, and they have played a really important part in the rise of gaming licensing. But you also have games like Hearthstone, Zelda and indie titles that find their own audiences and drive licensed merchandise. The special thing about gamers is their passion for the property and their willingness to purchase product.

Esports is the buzzword of the year, but from your experience interacting with the licensing community, have you found there’s confusion as to what esports actually is, and how to extend the various teams, leagues and games surrounding it?

I think that, up until a couple of years ago, there was certainly a lot of confusion as to what esports actually is, but it’s grown in popularity stratospherically since then. Esports is a truly global spectator sport now with nearly 400 million viewers worldwide. As a form of entertainment, it’s growing at a rapid pace. Live events are getting bigger, their frequency is increasing, and events are even now televised. I think awareness outside of the games industry shot up thanks to its alignment with massive household names like Fortnite – we now have a Fortnite World Cup.

There’s less of an understanding of how it can be monetised, certainly in relation to licensing and merchandise, and that’s precisely why we’re shining a light on it – because it’s a massive opportunity for brand owners, licensees and retailers. Consumer products based on esports IP have until now only been available at the events themselves or online. With a global audience that is both engaged and hungry for consumer products, that’s now changed, and esports has huge licensing potential.

How will visitors be able to get a better grip on these opportunities at this year’s show?

Through the The Arcade and also through our conference content. Esports is the focus of our Thursday keynote panel (11.45 am). The Gaming Counter-Culture - The Rising Brand of Esports keynote will feature GAME’s Head of Esports and Partnerships Mary Antieul, Difuzed’s Head of Esports Daniel Amos, and David Yarnton, Founder and Executive Chairman of Edge.gg.

The keynote is just one of three gaming sessions on Thursday, BLE’s unofficial gaming day. In addition to our esports keynote, visitors will be able to hear an amazing Tinderbox panel featuring Fashion UK and Microsoft called Console to Consumer – Retail Activation in the Gaming World at 10.15, and GfK’s Dorian Bloch tackling the Theatre of Gaming in 2019, with predictions for the industry’s future at 11.00.

With the exception of GAME and few smaller chains, the UK lacks a dedicated specialist gaming retail trade – and in fact that’s the case in most markets across Europe. So how can retailers make the most of this by getting on board – and what opportunities will there be at the show for them to learn about them?

No, it doesn’t. But it does have a nationwide network of brilliant independents combined with a very successful digital economy, which is pretty much identical to the music industry. What you have to remember is, you don’t need to be a specialist retailer in order to sell games-related merchandise; you have to have a customer base with the right demographic for the category.

Look at Uniqlo: it’s been selling gaming collab t-shirts for years. And Primark has just launched a menswear range in association with PlayStation, which featured in a massive Instagram story from Lewis Capaldi. In terms of opportunities at the show for learning, I refer back to my previous answers about The Arcade and the conference content – they will both be really valuable opportunities for retail to get under the skin of this exciting industry.

Are there any new names at BLE dedicated the video games that attendees should keep an eye out for?

Oh yes. We are very proud to announce our biggest ever collection of gaming exhibitors, including first-timers Nintendo (E220) and Difuzed (E280) as well as Activision-Blizzard (D300), Sega (A281), Pokémon (D260), Capcom (C321), Ubisoft (B241), Bandai Namco (C202), Sybo Games (C302) and Rovio (B140).

Activision-Blizzard's Overwatch

More broadly speaking, there seems to be a greater number of new features planned for this show than in previous years. Is it fair to say this year will be the blueprint for the future of BLE - a modernised and refreshed event to go along with the new venue?

Absolutely. A key reason we moved to ExCeL was because it provides BLE with the space to grow and the flexibility to create better experiences for our visitors, including themed installations and interactive activations. Experiential is huge – brands have been attuned to this for years and you can see it more and more at retail – and we’re really keen to reflect this at BLE.

Can you tell us a little more about the Heritage X Interiors activation? How did this come about?

The Heritage X Interiors Collab is being introduced to BLE to offer inspiration to anyone who is interested in designing and/or selling high-end licensed products, whether interiors or otherwise, and has been curated specifically to help them visualise how licensing can both translate into the luxury market and more than hold its own.

Heritage institutions curate and maintain centuries of creativity, from archives of textiles and designs to individual artefacts, world landmarks, historical milestones and iconic works of art. Generating more than $1.17 billion in 2018, the heritage sector stands as one of the most exciting and authentic sources of inspiration for licensees and retailers.

There are four amazing brands participating in the activation: The Natural History Museum (who will be showcasing a new wallpaper collection), The V&A (displaying a collection of key home interior licensed product, featuring furniture from Sofa Workshop, furnishing fabrics from Arley House, interior decoration from Surface View, rugs from Flair Rugs, paint from The Paintmakers, and home accessories from Royal Selangor), Van Gogh Museum and Style Library, which has an award-winning global licensing programme.

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