Full send: How is Gen Z changing the future of gaming and esports?

Deborah Ko / December 2020

Generation Z — people born between the mid-90s and early 2000s — is a progressive demographic of digital natives whose cultural influence is reshaping traditional beliefs about online entertainment, travel, shopping, news, and education.

In our latest three-part series, we spill the tea on Gen Z’s relationship and attitudes toward brands, how digital technology fits into their lifestyle, and how their online influence is moving the needle for industries in India and Southeast Asia (INSEA).

There’s nothing sus about the way Gen Zers game. Not only do they enjoy playing games for entertainment, to escape into new worlds, and to unwind, they’re also switching on their favorite games to connect with new players and bond with their friends.

Here, we grab the controller and jump in to discover the latest attitudes and behaviors of Gen Z gamers, and learn how expanding your audience, building communities, leaning into influencers, and offering ways for people to monetize their hobby can help create memorable experiences for players.

Multiplayer mode: Rethink the people that make up your audience

If there’s one thing that Gen Zers do well, it’s breaking down gender and racial barriers to ensure an equal playing field for all. In fact, 80% of Gen Zers say gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to.

That also applies to gaming. In SEA, the gaming gender gap is closing rapidly. In 2019, 100M female gamers made up 40% of the region’s gaming community. In some markets such as Thailand (50%) and Singapore (46%), females who say they play games online are almost at parity with their male counterparts.1

With a larger user base and a more diverse gaming offering, this growing gang of gamers is challenging the traditional idea of what it means to be a gamer. In Thailand, 62% of Gen Zers are into gaming, with 50% of females in that group choosing to play games on their mobile devices alongside males (75%).2

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Similarly, in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in Indonesia and India, gaming is breaking down barriers by removing any hierarchy that might be associated with class or hometown. In these cities, gaming is democratized, meaning where you grew up doesn’t necessarily determine your level of gaming engagement. The gaming audience is expanding into new audiences outside of the metropolitan areas. To lean into this trend, some game developers focus on games inspired by local culture, traditions, and folklore to reach new audiences.

Mine to craft: Help build a community

Many Gen Zers seek a sense of belonging and growth. Whether connecting with others across the country, region, or globe, Gen Z gamers are finding a way to socialize through a shared, collaborative interest.

In particular, viral mass movements, fan clubs, and gaming communities match the need to nurture a collective identity and bring Gen Zers together over a familiar and shared platform. Some like to socialize with people from other countries to understand different languages and cultures, and many play games and have friends who are gamers from other countries.

Users can also learn from experts in online communities like YouTube and Twitch, where they can subscribe to channels that teach them about the latest game or tips and tricks on how to beat a level or boss.

Stream team: Gaming influencers are the new athletes

Gen Z gamers (62%) are engaging on YouTube to be entertained, such as by watching gaming influencers for their reviews, as they play walkthroughs, and when they take part in gaming tournaments.3

YouTube houses a lot of elite gamer channels where viewers can watch, learn, and aspire to be like the best. Gamers such as zbing z, ViruSs, and Titan Gamers transcend countries, languages, and skill levels to appeal to gamers from all over the world.

60% of Gen Z gamers agree that YouTube is a source of entertainment, while in Thailand, even non-gamers are turning to popular YouTube channels to watch a walk-through of a game.4

Open the loot box: Gaming is fueling a gig economy

Gen Zers also see gaming as a way to make money simply by doing the thing they love. Particularly for more serious gamers, obtaining and selling in-app purchase items such as mods, weapons, or skills provide secondary engagement (and sometimes secondary incomes) for players as additional motivation to master a game.

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Live streaming, made popular through the rise of esports, is seeing a new generation of streamers who can turn their expertise into income. For example, Singapore esports team Chaos Theory was the first team to offer full employment contracts to its players, including a full salary and health insurance.

As the world of gaming continues to gain popularity, Gen Zers’ influence is set to be the driving force behind this growth. While it wasn’t the first generation to start playing games, Gen Z was one of the first to start making gaming an integral part of their lives — in the way they socialize, find entertainment, and make a living. Achievement unlocked.

Vibe check: How is Gen Z influencing the future of retail and services?