Verizon inks 3-year pact with ‘League of Legends’ esports league

Dive Brief:

  • Verizon signed a three-year pact to serve as the official 5G and network services provider of Legends Championship Series (LCS), the North American professional gaming division of Riot Games’ popular “League of Legends” title, according to a news release.
  • The esports partnership launched on June 12 with Verizon sponsoring the kick off to LCS’s summer season. Through the tie-up, Verizon will work on developing innovative applications of 5G and deeper content collaborations with LCS.
  • Verizon will additionally serve as the first-ever presenting partner for Academy Rush, a platform that shows simultaneous matches from LCS’s minor league and is modeled on the NFL RedZone content package. The telecom giant is also a partner on post-match LCS interview segments.

Dive Insight:

Verizon is deepening its esports playbook as streaming viewership of professional video gaming surges — a trend bolstered by the coronavirus pandemic — and as it looks for larger venues to show off new capabilities around wireless 5G technology. The cancellation of most live sporting events and subsequent drop in TV viewership due to the novel coronavirus means that major marketers like Verizon could be looking at more experimental or digitally oriented sponsorship models for the foreseeable future.

Riot Games’ LCS and “League of Legends” are among the most closely-watched brands in esports, and Verizon has seen traction grow for its own bets in the gaming space. The company debuted a Pay It Forward Live streaming series in late March that broadcasts weekly live music and gaming sessions focused on supporting COVID-19 relief for small businesses. The programming drew 90 million viewers over 10 weeks, with 40 million specifically tuning in for esports content, Verizon said.

Beyond esports viewership, gaming has broadly seen a spike with people stuck inside under shelter-in-place orders. Verizon has recorded a 75% increase in gaming on its networks since March, when the coronavirus first hit the U.S. in force, per company data shared in late May.

The LCS tie-up shows that 5G remains the big-ticket item on Verizon’s marketing agenda, even as the pandemic creates new hurdles to implementation. Gaming is one of the categories primed to benefit from the wireless upgrade that promises faster, more seamless processing of data and higher-quality streaming. Verizon has previously made gaming a part of its 5G pitch.

Last year, Verizon opened the Verizon 5G Lab in Los Angeles, the first esports training facility equipped with 5G in the U.S. The location serves as the headquarters for the West Coast division of Dignitas, an organization known for its “League of Legends” competitive play and ownership by the Philadelphia 76ers.

The length and depth of Verizon’s new partnership indicates esports continue to mature, and could soon command the types of long-term, high-dollar sponsorships typically inked in the traditional sports realm. Other marketers have used the pandemic and its impact on streaming as an opportunity to increase their gaming investments. BMW in mid-April signed on to sponsor five of the world’s leading esports teams in what was billed as a “major expansion” of its ambitions in the category.

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