Sponsorship, ESports & Digital Sport, North America, Global

‘Just the beginning’: Inside League of Legends’ landmark Mastercard deal

Following its ground-breaking partnership with finance giant Mastercard, SportsPro delved into the deal with Naz Aletaha, head of esports partnerships at League of Legends owners Riot Games.

by Stephan Georgiou
‘Just the beginning’: Inside League of Legends’ landmark Mastercard deal

League of Legends (LOL), the Riot Games esports series, recently struck its first global partnership with Mastercard.

The deal, which sees Mastercard become the league’s first global partner, marked a significant step for LOL and more broadly the esports – a sector that is becoming an increasingly popular avenue for brands to tap into.

Esports, with estimated audience figures of roughly 400 million viewers worldwide, has quickly evolved into a profitable sector for brands and businesses.

Riot Games’ head of esports partnerships Naz Aletaha spoke to SportsPro on the significance of the deal with Mastercard, what the future holds for esports and an insight into Riot Games’ approach to maximising the commercial potential of its franchises.

What does the Mastercard deal bring to LOL and its fans?

Mastercard has a long history of bringing sports fans closer to their passions as you can see through their partnerships with major sports properties like Major League Baseball (MLB), the PGA Tour, and the Uefa Champions League to name a few.

This just the beginning of this landmark partnership, and we’ll be working side-by-side with Mastercard to dream up the most exciting experiences for the LOL esports community.

Do you sense an increasing commercial competition between your rivals in esports such as Overwatch, for example?

We’re excited about the growth of esports overall and the meaningful commitment that globally respected and recognised brands, like Mastercard, are making in the space. As a globally integrated sport, with 14 regional leagues across 5 continents that feed into multiple major global tournaments, and viewership that continues to grow, the LOL esports ecosystem is primed for partners who want to get involved in impactful ways.

Our focus has been and will continue to be growing our sport in ways that keep the fan experience as the top priority, and we look forward to combining our efforts with partners to innovate on and elevate those experiences.

A healthy franchised league is built on co-operation and the aligned interests of both teams and league

League of Legends events continue to attract millions of fans and online viewers

How much has the changing model of LOL influenced your commercial strategy?

Changes like moving to a franchised model in some of our regions makes us even more excited about growing the commercial future of our sport, because we now have partners in our pro teams, and the sum of our parts makes for stronger partnership opportunities for sponsors.

When identifying opportunities for partnership, our guiding principle is to align with brands who share our fan-first philosophy and commitment to driving long-term value for the overall ecosystem. This new partnership with Mastercard is a prime example of that approach coming to life, and we’re thrilled to have a best-in-class partner alongside us for our major global events over the next few years.

How closely will Riot be working with its franchises on commercial deals?

In our franchised leagues, we want to work very closely with teams to grow the economics of the league. This means not only collaborating with them to support league-wide partnerships, but also finding opportunities for them to build their own sponsorships. A healthy franchised league is built on co-operation and the aligned interests of both teams and league. We think partnerships like this are a win for the ecosystem as a whole.

This is the first global League of Legends esports sponsorship and is a significant moment in the continued evolution of LOL esports and the esports industry as a whole.

What does a partnership with a brand such as Mastercard say about where Riot Games and esports are in general – are these partnerships to become the norm in the future?

Our community -- through their dedication and passion -- has helped transform LOL into the global sport it is today, and it is that fervour at scale that has made long-term partnerships with world-class brands like Mastercard possible.

We see a bright future for how LOL esports can connect our players to brands they know and love, and we welcome partners, like Mastercard, who share our fan-first focus to join us in providing meaningful value and experiences to our fans worldwide.