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The League of Legends World Championships has for the majority of its nine-year history been sparse in terms of sponsors. Despite being one of the largest esports properties, Riot Games only signed its first global partner, Mastercard, in 2018, yet it was also one of the esports’ most high-profile and lucrative deals to date. Now seven commercial brands lend their logos to the competition broadcasts, with Louis Vuitton offering additional support in the music and media surrounding the tournament.
Naz Aletaha, head of global partnerships for Riot Games, said that the company had been deliberately strategic over the years in when and how it brought in partners. The brands it ultimately chose to work with needed to prioritize the fan experience. “Period, full stop, that is the most important thing to us when it comes to partnerships,” she told The Esports Observer.
The Mastercard deal, which was the first to cover not just the World Championships but all international competitions for the game, was two years in the making. “We wanted to get it right, and we’ve not done a partnership at a global level and at that scale and scope before. We knew the first one would set a precedent.”
That precedent has cascaded beyond simple logo placements. Each global partner not only bought commercial inventory in this year’s World Championships broadcasts, but nearly all of them delivered physical experiences to fans as part of the “esports village” located next to the Hôtel de Ville (city hall) of Paris.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of all partners and activations:
Broadcast: Rotating logo placement, presenting partner for finals opening ceremony, and “Gold Difference” in-game moment.
Pop-Up Experience: Naming rights to “Mastercard Nexus,” wristband for fans to collect points through event purchases to later redeem for League of Legends in-game currency.
“We are a technology company, rather than a financial services company, as such, we are always looking for digital-first properties,” Jeannette Liendo, Mastercard’s SVP for marketing and communications Europe, told The Esports Observer.
“With esports, we invested time to truly understand what drives the fans’ engagement so as to add value to their experience, at the right time and in the right place. For example, we created a new, bespoke handle (@MastercardNexus) for our League of Legends fans so they can find content, news, and offers quickly and efficiently.”
Broadcast: Rotating logo placement, commercials, naming rights to analyst desk on English-language broadcast.
Pop-Up Experience: Not present.
Broadcast: Rotating logo placement, commercials, presenting partner for “Champion Select.”
Pop-Up Experience: Booth offering one-versus-one showcase matches for attendees (using same PCs as pro competitions), and giveaways.
Broadcast: Rotating logo placement, commercials, limited edition gaming chair with Worlds branding.
Pop-Up Experience: Booth offering photo opportunities with tournament trophy and Secretlab products. Fans who tag photos on social media can have them printed out at the booth.
Broadcast: Rotating logo placement, commercials, presenting partner of the MVP award, OPPO Cam (behind the scenes footage filmed on OPPO mobile phones), and Welcome to the Rift team spotlight segment.
Pop-Up Experience: Booth encouraging attendees to take selfies at various Parisian landmarks; photos tagged on social media will enter them into a prize draw.
While this is the first League of Legends specific deal for the Chinese phone brand, OPPO is also a sponsor of the 2019 World Champions FunPlus Phoenix and works with Tencent Games to set up events related to mobile phone games PUBG Mobile, Arena of Valor, and Honor of Kings.
“OPPO is a global brand, to meet the demands for our global users,” an OPPO spokesperson told The Esports Observer. “OPPO’s long-term commitment to the industry allows us to better engage with the growing player base of the world’s top esport.”
It should be noted that OPPO’s partnership does not yet extend to the upcoming mobile games from Riot: Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra, and League of Legends: Wild Rift.
Broadcast: Rotating logo placement, commercials, presenting partner for the “Baron Power Play” in-game moment.
Pop-Up Experience: Booth with the Red Bull Player One branding—a one-versus-one amateur tournament series.
Broadcast: Rotating logo placement, commercials, presenting partner for competition replays.
Pop-Up Experience: Booth with 3D digital scanner—allows fans to load a digital version of themselves into Summoners Rift.
As well as these activations, there was an event-specific partnership with Louis Vuitton. Not only did this include a bespoke trophy travel case for the Summoners Cup, but Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of women’s collections, created a set of in-game character skins, based around a fictional hip-hop group in the game’s universe, called True Damage.
While Epic Games has partnered with Marvel and the NFL to create events and downloads in its Fortnite title, League of Legends’ expansive story and lore has held back such in-game collaborations. “There is a line, I think,” said Aletaha, speaking specifically to brand integration within the game. “We really want to create ownable moments in our content, and in our broadcast that can be completely attributed to our partners.”
“This year, for the very first time, we did work with a third-party brand to put their branding in the game itself, and that brand was Louis Vuitton,” she added. “They value creativity and design just as much as we do. [True Damage] takes our champions into the real world, so to speak. Because of that, it makes sense intuitively that there could be real-world brands that those champions are wearing.”
Speaking of clothing, the merchandise booth was stocked with exclusive items made for the World Championships. However, it was missing one key item. Fans could buy jerseys for finalist G2 Esports and fellow European team Fnatic—both of whom had pop-ups booths of their own in the esports village—but the new champion, FunPlus Phoenix, was not to be found.
“We really try to thread the needle when it comes to merch at global events, and what I mean by that is we want to make sure we’re not blocking teams from being able to commercialize their apparel,” said Aletaha.
Each of League of Legends 13 regional competitions has different business models for apparel around their teams. For example, Nike is locked in a four-year sponsorship deal with China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL), while the North American League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) produces merchandise with esports-brand We Are Nations.
“I think we aspire to eventually have a merch offering at the team level at global events. We’re not there yet, but we hope to work up to that,” said Aletaha.
Esports Rising – Nov. 14 | Who Is Attending?
Esports organizations in the likes of Team Liquid, 100 Thieves, Gen G. Game developers, including Riot Games and Blizzard. Non-endemic sponsors such as adidas, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Jack in the Box and more. Sponsored by Lagardère Sports, and presented by Sports Business Journal / Daily, with support of The Esports Observer.
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