Electronic Sports, or eSports, has been riding the success of Riot Games' League of Legends over the past few years. Thanks in part to the explosion of livestreaming through Twitch and the global appetite to watch pro gamers compete, and even practice, playing the world's number one game; Riot has attracted its first blue chip sponsor with American Express. And more are sure to follow as the company has over 32 million active players.
"From an engagement perspective, Riot Games is a great partner because League of Legends isn't just about these huge live events, it's also about the time spent playing the game and watching others playing the game for research and strategies," said Ian Swanson, vice president of Enterprise Growth at American Express. "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."
American Express is a sponsor of LCS and the upcoming World Championship at Staples Center. "American Express is also a US Open sponsor, what this means for eSports is that we're stepping up and saying this is no longer niche," explained Swanson. "This is a large audience that's strategic to our goals as a company to reach. Just as you see American Express at the US Open or LA Kings hockey games at the Staples Center, you'll see us at LCS."
"We told them 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"Ian Swanson
"We showed a video from the LCS Season 2 championship game at USC Galen Center to a bunch of execs at American Express and they were shocked at the fans and how excited they were and how proud the athletes were when they won," said Swanson. "We told them 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."
"Our participation will hopefully help legitimize eSports and help bring in other brands and other sponsors," said 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."
Dustin Beck, vice president of eSports at Riot, adss that the company is leaps and bounds ahead of where they thought they'd be in the eSports arena.
"All we can do is guarantee fans we have a focus on delivering high-quality, engaging experiences and that's our first and foremost attribute," said Beck. "We're going to start doing more global experiences with fans. We have five distinct leagues in China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and we just launched in countries like Brazil, Russia and Turkey. It's 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 it's also unique in that most mainstream companies, which are struggling to connect with millennials, have yet to capitalize on this gaming audience. American Express is the first, but certainly won't be the last.
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