Mastercard and League of Legends Are a New Kind of Sponsorship Deal

September 19, 2018

By Carlo Versano

Riot Games, the developer of the ever-popular "League of Legends," is partnering with Mastercard in a new kind of sponsorship deal that could become the vanguard for legacy brands that want to reach a younger demographic of gamers who have all but dismissed traditional forms of advertising.

For Riot, which has benefited from skyrocketing interest in its flagship game ー 90 million hours are watched on average during the regular season ー Mastercard was an ideal fit for a "global sponsorship for our global sport," Naz Aletaha, head of esports partnerships at Riot, said Wednesday in an interview on Cheddar.

Aletaha said "League of Legends" is proving to be a phenomenon. The company operated 14 leagues on five continents and has broken esports streaming records. Its semifinal match was held at the Oracle Arena earlier this month, on the home court of the defending NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors.

None of that was lost on Mastercard, which sees the fervor and fandom around esports as an untapped market made up of largely young people who have eschewed traditional media and its ads for interactive online worlds, which include "League of Legends."

The financial giant will debut as a sponsor at the League of Legends World Championships in South Korea on Oct. 1.

Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer for Mastercard, told Cheddar in a separate interview that this deal represents a high-level example of the "experiential" marketing that companies now crave.

"Storytelling is dead," he said. "It's all about story-making."

To that end, Aletaha explained that the first pieces of the sponsorship will include opportunities for fans to watch rehearsals in Korea and even "step in the shoes of a pro gamer" and play a live game from the championship stage and sit in a VIP section alongside the pros.

That kind of partnership, debuting at World Championships ー "the pinnacle of esports events," as Aletaha put it ー helps validate the industry as it faces obstacles, from sexism to stereotypes.

But Aletaha is undeterred.

"We think our future is so bright," she said.

Terms of the sponsorship were not disclosed.

For full interview click here.