Since being launched in 2009, League of Legends has evolved in a way that other games have not, becoming a “full sports vertical” that supports professional leagues and attracts brands in much the same way that regular sports do.

“We are one of the truly globally integrated sports in the world,” Naz Aletaha, head of e-sports/global business development at Riot Games, told a recent London conference. (For more, read WARC’s report: How League of Legends became a global e-sports phenomenon.)

That wasn’t always the case, however: early on, publisher Riot Games had attempted to bring some structure to the chaotic world of gaming by running its own competition rather than leaving it to random third parties.

The light bulb moment came in 2011 when the first League of Legends world final in Sweden was livestreamed on Twitch and two million people watched. It was at that point that some bigger ambitions began to take shape.

“We dreamed of building an ecosystem where gamers could compete as e-sports professionals for a living, where pros play for diehard fans who are going to follow their every move, a sport that could span generations, in a league that would attract top tier partners from all over the world,” Aletaha explained.

And that’s pretty much what Riot Games has done in the eight years since, creating a “full sports vertical” (with sports operations, broadcasting, live event production, commercialisation all in house), establishing a governing body and launching leagues in five continents.

“We’ve seen an influx of investment from traditional sports properties,” she added. “When we franchised our North America league, we saw NBA teams like the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors come in and purchase a team.” That strategy is now being applied in Europe where Bundesliga team Schalke 04, for example, has invested in a team.

Having laid the groundwork in building its gaming ecosystem, League of Legends is now well-positioned to open up more opportunities for partners; a multi-year deal with MasterCard points to the future.

The payments card provider already has partnerships across the sports and entertainment landscape, including with MLB, the PGA Tour, the Australian Open, the Grammys, so League of Legends has hit the big time in this regard.

It’s a partnership, she said, that “becomes a force multiplier for engaging League of Legends fans and elevating their experience”.

Sourced from WARC