If you thought esports weren't growing at an exponential rate and becoming more and more accepted as part of the mainstream sports and business world, then think again. American Express (AE), one of the world's biggest financial institutions, has just signed a sponsorship deal with Riot Games for the LCS Season 3 and its finale at the end of the year.
This is the first time a company of this magnitude has entered the esports arena, dwarfing even Riot's parent company Tencent, by a factor of more than 1,000:1. AE sees it as a great investment however, as according to VP of enterprise growth, Ian Swanson, you can't argue with 32 million active players – and the fact that those players play for so long.
“We want to reach the male millennial audience on a consistent basis,” he said while speaking to GamesIndustry. “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 sponsors many major sporting events, including the US open and NBA finals, making its announcement for LCS sponsorship a huge one, as it brings the esports world firmly in line with more traditional, real world sports. But all it took was a short video showing fan excitement and player enjoyment, to bring the financial firm on board.
“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.”
Swanson hopes that by bringing American Express into the esports fold, that more companies will see it as a cue for them to get involved. There will also be those that see this as a chance to get in on the ground floor, as the esports realm is only going to grow as more money gets involved, players step up their game and knowledge of the game increases the numbers of fans around the world. In turn that should bring more players, in a cycle of improvement that could one day say League of Legends and other esports rival traditional sporting pursuits in numbers of fans.
It's the reason I said earlier this year, that to me, Esports are better than real sports – except maybe MMA – and it seems companies are beginning to somewhat agree.
And it's even surprising Riot. VP of esports at the League of Legends developer, Dustin Beck, said that he can't believe the rate esports are growing.
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.”
KitGuru Says: This is massive, massive news for Riot, Tencent and the esports gaming community. There is such huge money behind a company like American Express, this could change the whole scene. I really doubt it will be long before someone steps in and begins buying teams up.