Russian esports audience surpasses 10 million

A Nielsen Sports survey of Russian esports fandom, with 1,450 participants aged 13 and older, has shown that Russia’s esports audience size stood at 10.2 million people in 2017. Its annual growth of 23–25 percent is only slightly behind the 29-percent 2017 growth in the U.S., which is the world’s largest esports market. The survey defined a fan as someone who had watched broadcasts, attended events, followed news, or participated in esports competitions for a year.

A steady annual growth of loyal audience has been increasing esports’ attractiveness as an avenue for business expansion and communicating with young consumers. In Russia, the core of this audience is made up of millennials (ages 18–34) with an average personal income of over 42.7 thousand rubles a month. Despite esports still being a predominantly male form of entertainment, there have been more women among new fans over the past year, and the share of female esports fans now stands at 23%. Shortage of free time and scarcity of locally-held esports events were named by the survey participants as the main barriers for growth in this sector.

Sergey Glamazda, new verticals director, Nielsen Russia: “In recent years, the gaming industry has become one of the most dynamically growing segments of the IT and media market. Esports is, in a way, a unique case since 90 percent of fans are players themselves, and this is a constant source of emotional experiences for them. No other, traditional sport has the same degree of involvement. Besides, as a tool of communication with audiences, esports offers a multitude of points of contact: match highlights, educational videos, broadcasts. Initially, this industry was regarded with a certain degree of skepticism, due to a lack of understanding of how this tool worked; these days, an increasing number of FMCG industry players are unafraid of investing in it.”

Audience preferences

Just like traditional sports enthusiasts follow their favorite types of competitions, esports fans follow certain genres of games. Among esports titles, the top two spots are held by Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (37%) and Dota 2 (30%).

YouTube (57%) and Twitch (46%) are their preferred platforms for following industry news and spectating professional players. According to the Nielsen survey, is the most popular team whose playstyle is judged by fans to be the most successful one. It is the preferred team of nearly half (49%) of the participants. M19 is the most popular team among the female audience, with four times as many women as men (20% vs. 5%) following their progress.  

Loyalty to partner brands

Over 45% of Russian esports fans use AdBlock (a browser extension that blocks online advertisement). This limits the potential for audience outreach via customary advertising vehicles, which is why sponsorships and brand logo placement in broadcasts are becoming a powerful tool for engaging viewers. The audience has a more positive perception of brands that interact directly with players and fans.

Almost a quarter of participants (24%) are loyal to brands that invest in esports, and willing to prefer their products to those of other brands. Drinks, games, and electronics brands were named as the most recognizable among tournament sponsors: 34% remembered Nvidia as a sponsor of competitive events, followed by Red Bull (29%) and Asus (26%). 91 percent of survey participants named technology and gaming brads as the industry’s most relevant advertisers, followed by apparel brands (60%), ISPs, and mobile network operators (59%). In the FMCG sector, energy and carbonated drinks brands are perceived to fit in the most organically, at 63% and 59% respectively.

Alexander Kim, commercial director at ESforce, commented: “This is the first serious survey of esports in Russia that covers the majority of fundamental aspects of the esports market, including audience size and solvency, its preferences and behavioral habits. This market has been actively shaping itself in the past few years, and has reached a ‘critical mass’ both in terms of esports audience reach and media investment by advertisers.

Considering that in 2017, the audience broke the 10 million milestone at a 23–25 percent growth rate, there will be over 12 million consumers of esports content by the end of 2018. And this audience’s high emotional involvement makes it especially attractive to brands, thus further stimulating the growth of the industry. As the chief player in the Russian market, we are clearly seeing a transformation towards consuming esports content, especially in the audience sector aged 18 to 30.”

About the survey

The Nielsen survey was held online among Russia-based esports fans. A total of 1450 respondents, aged 13 and over, participated in the online poll. The participating Russian fans were selected based on a wide representative sample of Russian consumers aged 13 and over. This selection was informed by Nielsen’s worldwide study of esports audiences, which had demonstrated this to be their core age group. The methodology used allows comparing between indicators for different countries.

About Nielsen and Nielsen Sports

Nielsen Sports, a global division of the Nielsen company, is an independent provider of analytics and consulting related to the study of fans, sports marketing, and sponsorship.

Nielsen Holdings PLC (NYSE: NLSN) is a global measurement and data analytics company that provides the most complete and trusted view available of consumers and markets worldwide. Our approach marries proprietary Nielsen data with other data sources to help clients around the world understand what's happening now, what's happening next, and how to best act on this knowledge. For more than 90 years Nielsen has provided data and analytics based on scientific rigor and innovation, continually developing new ways to answer the most important questions facing the media, advertising, retail and fast-moving consumer goods industries. An S&P 500 company, Nielsen has operations in over 100 countries, covering more than 90% of the world's population.