Esports and 'harmful' advertising

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 11 September 2019

More regulation is needed to keep pace with the growing gaming and esports sector to protect consumers from harmful advertising, says a health industry group.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) released its latest report saying that the sector has become a space for “covert, ungated marketing” to reach vulnerable children.

The report looked at publicly available material and found that 600 new esports sponsorship agreements have been signed since 2016, including with big brands such as Doritos and Red Bull.

“Esports is rapidly becoming the largest entertainment industry in the world, with an audience of 500 million globally and more than $1 billion in revenue annually,” says Associate Professor Sarah Jane Kelly.

“And although competitive online gaming is still emerging in Australia, with an audience of four million people, our study has found esports is already a highly successful environment for alcohol companies to reach minors and young adults.”

Of the categories FARE looked at in the report (alcohol, gambling, junk food and energy drinks), junk food accounted for 60% of sponsorships, followed by gambling and alcohol at 15% each.

Another cause for concern is the behaviour of esports and gaming fans, with the study finding addiction is a problem in the space. A majority of those studied, 53%, were categorised as addicted gamers.

The study also found that “heavy gamers”, those who played or watched games for 3-4 days or more a week, are more likely to purchase alcohol brands that sponsor an online game they engage with. It also found they drink more alcohol when gaming.

FARE, along with the End Alcohol Advertising in Sport campaign, is presenting the findings to lawmakers and public health advocated in Parliament House today and is calling on the government to bring esports regulation in line with that of traditional sports as a starting point.

“Our digital environments, which now include esports, are inundated with covert, ungated marketing, giving alcohol companies unrestricted contact with children and adolescents,” says FARE CEO Michael Thorn.

“Alcohol marketers are capitalising on high-tech advertising models, trickery and tactics that target Australia’s love of sharing cultural and sporting moments, in life and online.”

It comes as interest in gaming and esports is ramping up from brands, signalled by the announcement last week that Melbourne is building the largest esports precinct in the Southern Hemisphere.

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