Miller Lite is jumping into the world of competitive video gaming, an international phenomenon that’s amassing millions of players and fans — enough to make it larger than ice hockey and on par with baseball in terms of popularity among millennial males.

The brand is launching this fall a multipronged approach to enter the industry known colloquially as “eSports,” a space that’s growing so large, so quickly, that it can no longer be considered niche. It represents one of the biggest opportunities Miller Lite has seen in years.

The campaign kicked off last week with Miller Lite becoming the first alcohol beverage sponsor of HQ Trivia’s gaming-themed trivia event that drew nearly 500,000 players. The free live game show where players can win cash prizes is hosted twice daily on HQ’s app. It commands the largest live daily mobile audience in history and boasts more than 6 million weekly active users, 82 percent of whom are age 21 or older.

Leading up to the Thursday evening show, two Miller Lite video ads featuring animated versions of its new gaming illustrations aired on the app as well as in other social and digital channels.

The billion-dollar industry’s fan base has grown 65 percent since 2014 to 41.7 million, giving it the fifth-largest in the U.S., according to third-party data analyzed by MillerCoors. That figure is projected to continue to expand. What’s more, some 75 percent of players and fans are age 21 and older. Two in three consider themselves beer drinkers, and most choose American light lagers as their beverage of choice.

“There’s this stigma that it’s just people sitting in mom’s basement playing Fortnite, but it’s not,” says Katie Milligan, senior manager of media and partnerships for MillerCoors. “It’s everybody – groups of mixed-gender 20-somethings, a good amount of women – these are your average, everyday people.”

Multipronged approach

Gaming is a natural target for Miller Lite, a brand built for sessionability that already has a strong presence in traditional sports.

Miller Lite is taking a methodical approach to entering the space, partnering with gaming influencers and livestreamers by sending them Miller Lite swag. It also is making custom Miller Lite-branded products that nod to the eSports culture, such as custom posters and coolers, a wooden Miller Lite stein and a Miller Lite-branded mini-refrigerator designed to fit on gamers’ desks next to their gaming setups, Milligan says.

Gaining adoption by gamers is key to breaking through in the space, which is known for its advertising-averse consumers.

Buoyed by streaming services and televised live events, gamers have transformed into bonafide stars, some of whom pull down millions of dollars in earnings and endorsements. The best-known gamers have considerable clout among fans, just like in traditional sports.

And gaming has become as big as some of the traditional sports — and as pervasive in culture. Universities are now offering scholarships for eSports and gaming. Stadiums and arenas are being built around the world to host gaming events and tournaments and a chain of sports bars was developed specifically for gaming. More than 80 million viewers watched the 2017 League of Legends World Championship, and this summer, ESPN and Disney XD inked a multiyear deal to broadcast the Overwatch League, which features 12 franchises playing the multiplayer game.

Which makes it the new hotbed for marketers, which are projected by market-research firm Newzoo to invest $694 million in eSports ventures this year.

“If we can associate the brand in a space that people are so passionate about in an organic and authentic way, it’s a really big opportunity to enhance the relevance of the brand and get people to think about Miller Lite differently,” Milligan says. “Right now we’re seeding, and then you’re going to start to see us start to engage more with the everyday gamers and the everyday fans to show them we’re fans of gaming just like them.”