How Major League Gaming has taught me to love advertising again

How Major League Gaming has taught me to love advertising again

Advertisers want to sell you a lifestyle just as much as a single product. They succeeded at doing that to me last weekend while I watched the MLG Spring Championship and, surprisingly, it was a lot of fun.

By the second day of the weekend, I was slipping into daydreams about being on stage playing StarCraft 2 at MLG wearing my Gunnar glasses, my SteelSeries headphones, and my officially branded team jersey while sipping a Dr. Pepper. Then, after I win, I would do a backflip and thank my sponsor: Flipz chocolate-covered pretzels.

Thanks for your support, Flipz

The last time I can remember enjoying marketing material was when I was a kid, and the Christmas shopping inserts would come in the newspaper. Keeping up with the gaming and toy world was a lot more difficult back then than it is today, and this was my main source of information about what cool new toys and video games would be available during the Christmas season.

It was more effective than it sounds. Many people would probably assume that using advertising to inform my purchasing decisions would inevitably result in me getting terrible junk games foisted upon me by overzealous advertisers, but it was mostly the contrary.

This was how I discovered games like StarCraft: Brood War, Ocarina of Time, Wave Race, Age of Empires and Shogun: Total war. It was effective, because this was advertising that was meant to speak directly to people like me, and it was beneficial both to me and the companies that paid for placement.

But somewhere along the line, presumably once I started investigating gaming products for myself, I lost faith in advertising. For a decade, I was resolute in the idea that marketing was a sleazy trick meant to psychologically dupe the weak into giving up their hard-earned cash on products that can't speak for themselves.

There's an element of truth to that, but over the past 18 months that I've been watching the Major League Gaming seasonal championships I've begun to remember that advertising can also be a legitimate way of reaching out to potential customers. I realize this might sound obvious, but it was a revelation to me.

No thank you, Garden Weasel

I've spent the last 5-10 years in the difficult to reach late-teen, early twenties demographic bracket. Without an obvious means of getting my attention, I never heard from the companies I'd actually be interested in buying from. Instead I got nothing but TV commercials for the Garden Weasel and website ads for porn/strategy hybrid game, Chivony.

But now advertisers have the perfect venue for reaching my retinas. When I watch MLG or other eSports events like Dreamhack, I'm practically drooling at ads for SteelSeries Siberia headphones, the Logitech G600 gaming mouse (which comes with the particularly alluring tagline “Science wins” considering my StarCraft 2 name is “Science,”) and Razer's Blade gaming laptop. That last sentence sounds like I was bribed by MLG to shill for their sponsors, but it's just excitement about some of the cool products I learned about.

I can't imagine I was the only one who had trouble keeping my credit card in my wallet during some of those commercials, and it got to the point where I was hoping they'd show certain commercials again just because they were so damned gorgeous.

Sure, it makes me feel a little guilty, like I'm one of the psychologically weak people I'd derided in my slightly younger years, but sometimes it just feels nice to be a part of the in-group once in a while. Especially with mass market things like advertising, that's not something video gamers experience very often. Outside of the big AAA games, most products don't have a budget large enough to justify advertising to large television audiences, and the big budget games that do have the budget are usually being sold in such a way that isn't meant to resonate with hardcore gamers.

That doesn't mean there aren't some issues though. During the championship match of MLG's StarCraft 2 tournament the same ad for Flipz pretzels was played over ten times within the span of 10-20 minutes as they sorted out technical difficulties. I now hate Flipz chocolate covered pretzels. And yet I've now been craving chocolate covered pretzels for days. My mind is a battleground.

Apart from some hiccups, MLG and the wider eSports movement is still a great opportunity for advertisers to reach the most dedicated gamers, and I can't believe I'm saying this…that's actually a good thing for discerning gamers too.