Papa John’s runs eSports promotion, but gets mixed reception


Papa John’s are offering eSports fans 50% off if they order using the promo code “PIZZAGG”, and major eSports organizations like Evil Geniuses, Team Liquid,, and ROOT Gaming are all participating in the chain’s eSports initiative. It’s clearly a significant moment for eSports, since Papa John’s is a massive pizza chain and exactly the kind of mainstream brand that many eSports stakeholders want to attract. Over on TeamLiquid, a statement from EG, Liquid, and ROOT suggests, “If you feel like eating a pizza (or two or three or ten) this week, please consider using Papa John’s and help us show them what we can do!”

The reaction from other members of the eSports community, however, has not been quite as universally enthusiastic. What’s interesting is that the objections aren’t about “selling out” or the highly debatable quality of Papa John’s pizza, but about values. It’s a debate that may have ramifications for how eSports culture differs from that of traditional mass-entertainment.

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter was an outspoken opponent of the controversial Affordable Care Act, which aims to extend healthcare to previous uninsured Americans and reduce overall healthcare costs. In public statements, he explained the law would raise his costs for doing business and that he would find ways to keep from having to insure Papa John’s employees (like cutting hours).

The funny thing is that a lot of people in eSports actually remember this, and are still turned-off by it. John “TotalBiscuit” Bain was quite pointed in his criticism of the sponsor.

You could find some of these same points in the thread over at Team Liquid, and other people working in eSports raised similar concerns. Community Director Rhea “Ashelia” Monique called the company “scum” for how they treated the issue of healthcare for their employees.

Now the US healthcare battle is a bruising and ugly one, but what I find interesting about the reception Papa John’s is getting in eSports is the way people are judging the company by its stated values and behavior as a corporate citizen.

Marketing in traditional sports is often about faking a consensus. Beer ads are celebrations of an increasingly antique view of masculinity and culture, but they are trying to sell cheap lager as a rejection of complexity. Papa John’s just wants to be what you think when you’re trying to have a party around a sporting event.

What’s striking here is that a lot of people in eSports are explicitly rejecting the notion that there is a division between business and politics, or entertainment and values. While there are surely a ton of eSports fans who ordering pizza tonight to show their love of the game and appreciation of Papa John’s support, it’s striking to see so many people raising the question of whether you can or should separate what a company’s executives believe from the decision to order a pizza and enjoy some eSports. It’s a small thing, but a marked difference from the passive consumerism that characterizes traditional sports.