In a move that harkens back to in-game advertising attempts a decade ago, Riot Games has decided to open its leading esports product, League of Legends, to in-game sponsor banners. While gamers have seen in-game ads as obtrusive and a distraction from the experience, esports is taking a page out of the traditional sports playbook. Sports fans and athletes are perfectly comfortable with sponsor banners across real-world fields of play – will the esports ecosystem be as accepting?
MasterCard and gaming PC firm Alienware will be the first two League of Legends esports sponsors to sign up for the in-game branding opportunity. The banners will debut during the Summer Split portion of the current season and be called Summoner’s Rift arena branding. Riot is enabling each of its 12 regional leagues to have different sponsors in the game, and crucially for players, the banners will only be visible to viewers of the esports competitions. Riot believes that in-game signage will become one of its most valuable deliverables and noted the parallel with traditional sports. “For the first time in League history, SR Arena Banners put our partners’ brands directly on the field of play, creating an immersive experience that echoes the energy found in major sports arenas,” said Head of Global Esports Partnerships Naz Aletaha.
Advertising and brand sponsorship remain the two biggest sources of revenue for the esports industry. Goldman Sachs data does point to a large discrepancy between ads and brand sponsorships, however. In traditional sports, advertising revenue for leagues is usually twice or triple sponsorship revenue. Esports seems to be following the reverse of that, at least at this early stage in the ecosystem’s development.