League of Legends’ osmosis into mainstream culture continues today with the sponsorship and endorsement of the US’s foremost invisible money people. The deal is exactly the kind American Express typically strike with traditional sporting organisations.
“Just as you see American Express at the US Open or LA Kings hockey games at the Staples Center,” says the company’s vice president of Enterprise Growth, Ian Swanson, “you’ll see us at LCS.”
American Express are signed up as sponsors for both LCS Season 3 and its envelope-busting finale in LA’s Staples Center later this year – the same venue the NBA and NHL use to host their finals. Just so you know: neither of those acronyms begin with the word ‘Niche’.
“American Express is also a US Open sponsor,” Swanson told GamesIndustry. “What this means for eSports is that we’re stepping up and saying this is no longer niche. This is a large audience that’s strategic to our goals as a company to reach.
“We told [American Express execs] that Riot would sell out Staples Center in a day, and then we were able to go back and tell them they sold out in an hour, so it was clear we made the right choice,” he went on.
Swanson and his team streamed an LCS Season 2 championship game at the USC Galen Center to company bigwigs, and managed to shock their bosses with the unadulatered enthusiasm of the crowd and the pride of the winning atheletes.
“Our participation will hopefully help legitimize eSports and help bring in other brands and other sponsors,” continued Swanson. “The real testament goes to the players and quality of the game Riot has produced. We’re almost on the ground floor of eSports. In the next two to five years this thing is going to be much bigger than it is. And it’s already tens of millions of people watching around the world.”
Swanson said Riot made the perfect partner “from an engagement perspective” – not only because of the numbers pulled in to watch big LCS games, but the time viewers subsequently spend rewatching those matches to research and perfect strategies themselves. In short: they’ve discovered a sport in which fans will watch the matches they sponsor not once, but potentially several times.
“We want to reach the male millennial audience on a consistent basis. These millions of gamers aren’t just watching things live on Twitch, but many times afterward to learn from the pros. And they’re also actively talking about it.”
Riot boss Dustin Beck agreed that the developers were in a “unique situation where we have a global sport that is tough to benchmark outside of any sport except maybe FIFA or the Olympics”.
And he’s not exaggerating even a little. League of Legends pros lately became the first eSports players to be recognised as proper athletes in the eyes of the US authorities. Hooray for not being deported during tournaments! And for eSports in general, of course. Where will you be watching that Staples Center final from?