Some familiar brands will begin making an appearance during League of Legends matches. Developer Riot Games announced it will add customized arena banners in League of Legends that will allow brands to advertise during professional matches of the popular multiplayer online battle arena game. The banners will mimic the ads seen at traditional sporting events.
Fans will start to see in-game banners featuring actual ads on the Summoner’s Rift map on June 20 during the 2020 Summer Split events, and they will continue through the League of Legends Championship Series’ World Championship later this year. The change will also come to League of Legends’ regional e-sports leagues.
Riot Games approved 50 brands to appear on regional and international matches, including Mastercard and Alienware.
League of Legends is no stranger to sponsorships. Its 2019 World Championships featured a Louis Vuitton trophy case for the winners, as well as cross-branded merchandise. It’s also implemented other sponsorships with big-name brands like MasterCard in the past.
The latest strategy is a collaboration with Nielsen, which sees in-game banners as a lucrative asset for e-sports. The NBA 2K League and Rocket League already use their virtual gaming venues for advertisements, both in-game and during e-sports competitions. However, those games come with playspaces that more closely resemble real-life sports venues.
“Nielsen’s experience as our trusted metrics partner, as well as for professional sports, has allowed us to fast-track the valuation of Summoner’s Rift Arena Banners,” Doug Watson, head of Esports Insights at Riot Games, told Digital Trends. “At various points throughout the development process, Nielsen advised on best practices that would unlock additional value for our brand partners.”
Watson believes the in-game banners will allow e-sports to achieve parity with professional sports leagues when it comes to advertising, citing the NFL, NBA, and Union of European Football Associations’ use of branded stadiums and arenas.
However, unlike players on the field, League of Legends players won’t see the ads that spectators do.
“This was largely a consideration to avoid impacting the competitive integrity of matches,” Watson said. “Professional League of Legends players are highly attuned to the layout of the map, and it was important for us not to impact their existing strategies with the release of this product.”
League of Legends is the most-watched e-sport in the world, and the 2019 World Championship saw viewers tune in for over 137 million hours. Its popularity continues to grow, with the league showing a 66% increase over 2018. Official broadcasts stream on over 30 distribution platforms worldwide, and ESPN2 aired five matches of the Spring Split playoffs in April.