In terms of business performance, video games are putting up some high scores. Last year, the industry saw record revenue of $43.8 billion in the U.S., up 18 percent, while the global market is expected to top $180.1 billion by 2021. That prodigious growth has in turn help create a massive market for competitive esports and related properties like livestreaming website Twitch, which boasts more than 15 million daily active users.
The growth of video game culture has also opened the doors for beverage brands able to supply the demand for functional drinks that appeal to the specific needs of gamers. While major brands such as Mountain Dew and Monster Energy have paid attention to the space — tailoring product innovation around gamers and sponsoring esports leagues — a handful of smaller innovative energy drink brands have seized on the space to offer authentic, better-for-you options tailored for long, intensive gaming sessions.
G Fuel Launches RTD, Aims to Bring Gaming Drinks Mainstream
Founded in 2004, Gamma Labs is no stranger to building brands for competition-minded consumer bases. According to founder and CEO Cliff Morgan, the brand initially launched with a “micro niche” testosterone booster product for athletes seeking a legal performance enhancing supplement.
The company’s direction first changed course six years later when Gamma Labs released PTF (or Pre-Training Formula), a powder pre-workout beverage. But it was in 2012 when a marketing partner recommended to Morgan that the brand sample its products to gamers waiting outside GameStop stores for the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. According to Morgan, the demo covered just 11 Los Angeles area GameStop locations, but the event created such strong word-of-mouth that Gamma Labs’ fledgling ecommerce sales jumped from single digits to more than 300 purchases overnight.
“These kids believe in each other,” Morgan told BevNET. “None of them were influencers, so to speak. They did not have big online followings, they were just an authentic part of the gaming community. Twitter was like one big long text message for them and just on their word other people came to our site and bought the product. Immediately within the next two weeks we hired 19 YouTubers and influencers and we started cutting the athletes and influencers.”
Shortly thereafter G Fuel launched as a powdered product in three flavors available exclusively through ecommerce on its website and Amazon. According to Morgan, the name was chosen to be purposefully vague; “the G could be for Gamma, or it could be for Gamer,” he said. Recognizing the growth of the gaming industry, Morgan also registered several trademarks, including the phrases “The Official Energy Drink of eSports” and “The Official Energy Drink of Drone Racing,” even though at the time the brand had no official ties to any gaming or drone racing leagues.
Last month, the brand launched its first RTD line with four flavors: Blue Ice, Sour Cherry, Rainbow Sherbert, and FaZeberry (developed in partnership with eSports organization FaZe Clan). Six more flavors are expected to be announced in the next 90 days, Morgan said. In addition to 300 mg of caffeine, each 16 oz can contains L-theanine, L-tyrosine, B vitamins, ketone body goBHB, and S7, a specialty blend of plant-based ingredients that the brand says can increase nitric oxide by 230%. The line contains zero sugar and zero calories.
According to Morgan, the flavors were developed in part based on consumer feedback. While the RTD product is currently only available online, G Fuel plans to roll both lines out into convenience and independent retail accounts before the end of the year. While he hopes a brick-and-mortar presence will help expand the brand’s consumer base — noting that the rise of performance energy brands like Bang have shown consumers are willing to embrace new brands — Morgan said he intends to continue marketing toward the gamer community, including through influencer partnerships with high profile YouTubers like PewDiePie and Roman Atwoods.
“The industry is growing so big,” Morgan said, noting that the popularity of events such as the Fortnite World Cup have brought more spectators into the esports market. In recent years, dedicated esports arenas have opened across the country, and professional sports leagues have sought to partner with esports organizations.
“Unlike a lot of other companies, I feel like my brand is really strong and I want to take my time breaking into retail and get the best relationships possible,” he said. “If that means going into a bunch of independence until we find somebody we’re comfortable marrying, then we’re okay with that. I’m not in any huge rush, I don’t need to take over the world tomorrow. I just need to take over the world.”
Tech Co. Turns to Beverage with RESPAWN
Technology company Razer has modeled itself as a “leading lifestyle brand for gamers,” producing specialty laptops, keyboards, and performance-boosting applications to create smoother gaming experiences. But since 2010, the company has repeatedly joked (usually on April Fool’s Day) about releasing a nanobot-infused energy drink that would be injected directly into the consumer’s bloodstream to allow gamers to keep playing for hours on end without needing to take a break.
After nine years of teasing, this June Razer finally launched RESPAWN, a powdered “mental performance drink mix” that, though it must be consumed orally, helps make good on that promise.
RESPAWN debuted at E3, the gaming industry’s leading trade show that is visited by both industry professionals and consumers. According to Sean Driscoll, product manager for RESPAWN, the drink was “uniquely positioned” to use Razer’s brand equity within the gaming industry to immediately appeal to their existing consumer base.
“We know, as gamers, that there could be better options out in the marketplace,” Driscoll told BevNET. “There’s a lot of energy drinks out there that we felt weren’t conducive to sitting stationary and staring at a screen for extended periods of time. They all promote a lot of physical energy. That was a lot of the motivation for building this product from the ground up as something for gamers by gamers.”
Currently available through ecommerce, Driscoll said Razer intends to roll RESPAWN out into retail in the near future, with a focus on college and university accounts. The goal, he said, is to make RESPAWN “the Gatorade of the eSports world” by promoting it as a healthy, functional sports drink.
RESPAWN contains green tea extract, choline, B vitamins, and 95 mg of caffeine per serving, and is promoted as increasing focus, reaction time, and mental stamina. The line includes Pomegranate Watermelon, Blue Raspberry, Tropical Pineapple, and Green Apple flavors and sells for $24.99 per 20-pack box of 0.22 oz single-serve sticks. Each flavor contains zero sugar and 20 calories.
“It’s great to see big food and beverage brands investing in this space, because gamers really need something different than a professional basketball player,” Driscoll said. “But there are a lot of similarities and crossovers — everyone wants to be healthy. So brands are targeting a health factor because you realize if you’re sitting stationary for long periods of time you don’t want these products that are full of sugar. I think that’s kind of in the past.”
Sneak Drives Growth with Casual Gamers
While G Fuel and RESPAWN have paid close attention to the rise of esports and the ‘gamer athlete,’ Manchester, England-based Sneak has sought to position itself for appeal to the “casual gamer.”
Launched in March 2018, Sneak is currently worldwide available via ecommerce; However, the U.S. makes up about 50% of the brand’s sales. Founder Jonny Teeling told BevNET that Sneak’s average consumer is between 23-34 years old and isn’t as likely to self-identify as a “gamer.”
“They have jobs and they’re not watching the esports tournaments, though they may play those same games,” Teeling said. “They’re a bit more of a casual gamer who play on the weekends and evenings.”
However, Teeling said, this demographic can also be more suspicious of “big brands” such as Mountain Dew that seek to “tack onto” gaming trends through marketing promotions. To create an “authentic” message for these particular gamers, Teeling said Sneak has enlisted a roster of “micro influencers” comprised of amateur gamers — such as users of the popular game streaming platform Twitch — to promote the brand. So far, this approach has resulted in brand loyalty with a strong repeat purchase rate.
“What we’ve found with the gaming community is that they can be quite fickle and can tell when a brand is making an authentic proposition or just trying to take advantage of a new market,” Teeling said. “So our whole approach was how can we approach this market not as a money grab but from a place where we can bring value back to the community.”
like G Fuel and RESPAWN, Sneak is also a zero sugar product; it contains 12 calories and 150 mg of caffeine per serving. Each 14 oz tub contains 40 servings and is available for $39.99 per tub. According to Teeling, the product is intended to improve “mental performance,” energy, and vision and contains ingredients such as L-Tyrosine, L-Taurine, Carnitine, and B vitamins. The line features Strawberry Watermelon, Blue Raspberry, Cherry Bomb, Tropikilla (pineapple, mango, orange), and Stealth flavors.
According to Teeling, Sneak plans to roll out new flavors over the next year and to drive growth by increasing its event-based marketing. While retailers have shown interest in the brand, he said, the focus will remain on ecommerce for the immediate future.