The next time you tune into a League of Legends esports event, you might see advertising — not only in the commercials you get between rounds of the broadcast, but in the actual game itself.
Riot Games has announced that, starting with the Summer Split, Arena Banners in Summoner’s Rift will show branding from Riot’s partners. The announcement lists all sorts of reasons for this move, saying that it “will more deeply integrate our partners to engage local and regional fan bases,” “build a richer viewing experience around esports,” and “create an environment that exudes the energy found in traditional sports” before finally getting to the heart of the matter:
We see this as an important next step to help our leagues and teams reach their next stage of growth.
In other words, it will give the leagues and teams money, which is what they really want/need. That’s not an unreasonable ask for esports organizations — many of which operate on tight budgets, even at the highest levels — and I suppose that you don’t want to put that fact front and center in your announcement, but I wish it could have been a tiny bit more transparent.
The players themselves won’t see the sponsorships, instead seeing the base Summoner’s Rift during official matches, so as to ensure that different visuals don’t impact their ability to compete.
Despite my snark at the wording of the announcement, I’m actually OK with this. Several years ago, I remember opining that such branding might be something we’d see in MMOs in general, especially free-to-play games set in a modern world, where, say, a Coca-Cola billboard wouldn’t seem out of place. I suppose, however, that might lead to players defacing or doing rude emotes near them and potentially being a negative for the sponsor, so maybe putting them in the “safe” environment of a professional match is a better idea, at least for now.