In the middle of a show at the Golden State Warriors game against the Toronto Raptors on November 21, Riot Games new esports president John Needham parachuted League of Legends t-shirts over a stadium packed with sports fans as a trailer announced the return of one of the world’s biggest esports tournaments to North America.
It was the culmination of a day when dozens of journalists from around the world gathered to tour the state-of-the-art Chase Center in San Francisco, the location of the 2022 League of Legends World Championship Final next November.
“We haven’t been to North America with major international events since 2016 and haven’t been able to return in recent years due to travel restrictions around COVID,” Needham told TechCrunch. “We’re just really excited to be doing live events again and want fans to know they can look forward to an exciting production like the Super Bowl halftime one.”
It’s been over a decade since Riot hosted their first world championships in 2011, known as Worlds. The multiplayer online fighting game has over 180 million monthly active players and 10 League of Legends franchise teams, each with NBA ownership ties. All of the NBA stars like Steph Curry, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are team investors, with others from the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards. and Charlotte Hornets.
With 73.8 million fans watching the Worlds finals in 2021, up from 46 million in 2020, according to Needham, League of Legends esports tournaments have become big business, attracting big brands like Louis Vuitton, AX by Unilever, Spotify, Bose, Mercedes-Benz, Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Fenty by Rihanna.
“We partner with brands to bring value to our fans and have found that when we do, there often happens a common brand lift. Brands have access to our valuable and hard-to-reach Gen Z demographic, as we gain credibility by partnering with them, ”said Needham. “When Louis Vuitton created its first digital fashion line for us, it enriched the gaming experience for our fans.. These types of skins are so popular that they form the foundation of our business model and generate by far the most revenue for us.
Riot’s huge fan base has also proven to be an asset in the company’s pursuit to become a global entertainment powerhouse.
On November 6, the trailer for Riot’s first Netflix series Arcane was played in the World Championships final with nearly 74 million fans tuning in. She also promoted Arcane in Fortnite, a game with over 350 million registered players, partly owned by Riot’s parent company, Tencent. In a matter of days, Arcane rose to the top of the Netflix charts, reaching second place for the week of November 8, with over 34 million viewers.
Having a larger presence in Europe and Asia than in North America, Needham sees the 2022 Worlds tour as a way to spark renewed interest in the game.
“We have had over 600 million players around the world who have enjoyed the League of Legends universe since its inception. For those who have wasted time and are not currently playing the game, we hope to reactivate them as we travel across North America, from Mexico City for the play-ins, to New York for the quarter-finals, to Toronto for the semi-finals, in San Francisco for the final.
Despite Riot’s interest in venturing into new platforms, Needham says there are no plans to launch into the Metaverse.
“We have a lot of partners who want to do NFTs with us that we are analyzing right now, but there is no NFT or blockchain strategy yet that we can talk about. Collectibles just haven’t been a big part of eSports, not like traditional sports, ”he said. “I want to see the NFT market mature a bit more before I dive into esports.”
He added that Riot also had no plans to partner with Netflix Gaming or Roblox.