Riot LoL Esports Partners Value Digital Media in the Absence of On-Site Activations

While many traditional sports had to have tough make-good conversations with sponsors this year due to spectatorless games, Riot Games is benefiting from how most of its partner value is already derived from digital media.

Riot’s League of Legends property is starting its annual World Championships this month in China, with an event that has been greatly scaled down from its original ambitions because of the coronavirus pandemic. While Riot is still working on having a limited crowd for the final, the earlier rounds won’t have crowds and there will be no on-site experiential activation.

Nonetheless, Naz Aletaha, Riot’s head of global esports partnerships, told  Sports Business Journal that the company has largely been able to just add more digital assets to partners’ pre-existing deals to make up for some of the missed assets they won’t get in person this year. That’s because the global digital viewership for Worlds is so significant and makes the size of the in-person crowd pale in comparison.

This underscores yet another example of how esports has been advantageously structured to thrive despite the pandemic.

“For us, so much of the value of working with us is actually already delivered through the digital side of those rights and benefits,” said said. “That’s not to say I would discount the importance of live-event attendees and wanting to create some really awesome and compelling experiential activations, but what we ended up going with this year is doubling down on the digital aspect of the sport, broadcast, and event.”

Global sponsors for Riot Games includes Oppo, Alienware, Spotify, and the newly unveiled partner from earlier this week, Mercedes Benz.

Aletaha added that “part of reason we were able to so nimble is we’ve always been a digital-first sport and again not to discount the live-event experience, but so much of our focus is on creating experiences for fans all over the world … no matter where you’re watching from, whether that’s in the stadium or at home.”

Riot has benefited from how it was already creating new advertising products like the in-game Summoner’s Rift Arena Banners because now that there are issues with in-person attendance due to the pandemic, it can use those new assets to help get sponsors their value.

 Meanwhile, on bringing in a luxury automotive partner in Mercedes, Aletaha noted that the German company first dabbled with League of Legends esports by working as a regional partner in China during the 2017 Worlds. Mercedes then became a league-level partner of the Chinese league, the LPL, and now it is a global partner. She said she’s been negotiating with Mercedes on this deal for about a year.

On top of developing League of Legends content, Mercedes will be the presenting partner of the trophy ceremony at major events. Honda is the automotive sponsor of the North American LCS series.

“We all keep referring to [Mercedes] as a luxury auto brand but it really is just a truly iconic luxury brand,” she said. “We’re happy to have them on board for those huge moments for our sport.”

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