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The LEC – an inspirational deep dive


2019 saw esports grow to another level, with prize pools reaching new heigths and more people starting to accept this once niche pastime as the norm. This can also be seen by the increasingly professional approach organizations are taking with regard to their teams and players. The structure of esports started off very sporadically, with tournaments originally taking place as a side show at conventions. These days, esports events are enormous gatherings of gaming enthusiasts who come along to cheer on the professional players that they idolize. These structures have fallen into place in most esports and games over the last few years.

Esports has grown into an actual spectator sport.

A tremendous accelerator for this development has been the gaming title League of Legends (LoL) and the subsequent establishment of the LEC, a professional league system built around LoL by Riot Games, the game developer and publisher.

Let’s deep dive into a comprehensive analysis regarding the LEC and LoL!

THE BIRTH OF LEAGUE OF LEGENDS

RIOT GAMES AS SMART AND EARLY ADAPTOR

Riot Games quickly adapted to the early demands of esports. It launched its world-famous game League of Legends in 2009 and, following its release, thousands of fans began organizing their own tournaments. In 2011, Riot held the first ever League of Legends World Championship in Sweden during Dreamhack.

This small event at Dreamhack has grown to become one of the largest annual esports events, with the 2019 World Championship taking place in the Accor Hotels Arena in Paris.

REGIONAL LEAGUES ALL OVER THE GLOBE

RIOT GAMES AS SMART AND EARLY ADAPTOR

The growth of League of Legends esports can be attributed mainly to the solid seasonal structure. Instead of having many larger events spread throughout the year, League of Legends focuses on regional leagues with seasonal structures.

Riot Games created regional leagues in some of the biggest markets in 2013, expanding into smaller regions over the following years. Unlike other esports, where operations are handled by a third-party organizer, Riot Games oversees the whole structure.

This easy to follow set-up makes it more accessible to fans who know when their favourite teams are competing. Much like in traditional sports, where enthusiasts know that matches are played either Friday, Saturday or Sunday, League of Legends esports fans also know which days of the week they have to tune in to Twitch.

In League of Legends, each season is split into two halves, the Spring Split, which usually takes place from January to April, and the Summer Split which takes place from June to August. These dates are the same for all regions.

OTHER PUBLISHERS FOLLOWING RIOT’S LEAD

RIOT GAMES AS SMART AND EARLY ADAPTOR

League of Legends has had leagues mirroring those of the early Korean Starcraft leagues for over 6 years and, during this time, has perfected the system. So much so that even other esports which previously relied solely on larger events are now changing over to a league structure.

Activsion, the publisher of Call of Duty, launched in 2020 their new franchise “Call of Duty League (CDL)”. To be part of the new league – according to public sources – teams had to pay 25.000.000 US-Dollar for their starting slot. With London Royal Ravens and the Paris Legion only 2 out of the 12 teams in the CDL coming out of Europe, the other 10 teams are from the NA-region. 

Blizzard’s Overwatch League also has its own league structure, with teams representing cities and, as of 2020, even has them playing in the towns they represent with weekly ‘homestands’.

The ‘seasonal’ benefit for brands

This system enables brands to see whether their money is being put to good use and if the publisher is adhering to all the agreed upon aspects of the partnership. It is also easier to reach fans consistently compared to larger events that are spread out more sporadically over the year. In the long run, having constant visibility to a slightly lower number of viewers is better than having a few larger events.

THE SUCCESSFUL BLUEPRINT: THE LEC

RIOT GAMES AS SMART AND EARLY ADAPTOR

One of the best examples of a well-structured league, with regard to both teams and partnerships, is the League of Legends European Championship, or LEC for short.

In 2018, Riot Games announced that the European League of Legends Challenger Series (EULCS) would follow in the footsteps of its North American counterpart and have 10 franchise slots for the upcoming season. Creating a franchise model, with each slot costing around 13 million US dollars, will ensure the longevity of the league, which had been lagging behind with regard to viewers.

At the beginning of 2019, the EULCS was rebranded as LEC and it became one of the most viewed and popular leagues. Through the franchise slots, money also flowed into the league for the process of building a whole new product that wasn’t just the ‘little brother of the NALCS’ and, with the new look and feel of the broadcast, it soon overtook the North American league. Watch the video below for more insights!

A PLAYGROUND FOR CREATIVITY AND BRAND PARTNERSHIPS

RIOT GAMES AS SMART AND EARLY ADAPTOR

The LEC worked together with its on-air talents to bring new and exciting content to the fans. The organizers gave the casters artistic freedom to try out new segments and entertain those watching the LEC on a weekly basis.

Generating high viewer numbers with the help of the LEC talent as well as providing entertaining broadcasts cemented the LEC as one of the most popular leagues. Another step the LEC took was to integrate its partners completely into the broadcast, making the sponsorships seem natural and not feel out of place.

For example, the main partner of the LEC, KIA, created an ad that presented its vehicles while also integrating League of Legends characters into the mix. This commercial was shown several times each game day, exposing the fanbase to the product in a fun and unique way.

This drove brand preference and attracted attention on websites like reddit, where the community is usually rather critical. Besides KIA, endemic brands like Alienware and Logitech also partnered with the European League.

The LEC took major leaps in terms of branding and partnerships, creating interesting and unique integrations of various brands.

The league structure enables this type of long-term partnership that provides ongoing messages. It allows the brands to build a continuous storyline that fans can follow. It also makes it is easier to create a good communications strategy, which other esports have now discovered and explains why they are going down the same route.

TALKING NUMBERS

RIOT GAMES AS SMART AND EARLY ADAPTOR

LEC has been the landmark in the professional esports landscape for years now and is still growing in terms of popularity, whilst forming a very unique and valuable platform for brands – but the key for brands is to understand how and why to utilize it! So let’s take a closer look at why brands should engage with the LEC and why these arguments provide at least the same impact as an engagement with “traditional” sports such as football or tennis.

Together with consulting agency C.SIGHT, the global sports business agency SPORTFIVE took a deep dive into the sociodemographics of LEC fans and their product preferences. A quick comment in advance: think new in terms of brands partnering with sports! This is big, this is different and unique!

Whilst comparing the data and viewership of this year’s LEC Summer split 2020 with figures of football assets such as Champions League and Europa League, Basketball EuroLeague, Rugby Champions Cup and Wimbledon Grand Slam Tournament 2019 (incl. characteristics of each target group, customer potential  and viewership, e.g. average minute audience), the arugmentation in favor of LEC developed quickly – summarized into the four reasons below.

The LEC demographics are - as stated before - highly specific and therefore very different to those regarding other sports fans.

LEC sponsorships enable brands to communicate to a highly unique target group which is difficult to reach via traditional sport sponsorships. Via an authentic way of communication you can essentially reach the "unreachables" in an emotionally positive environment, where they accept and welcome sponsors and brand partnerships.

LEC is one of the quantitatively most efficient platforms regarding AMA (Average Minute Audiences) of under 29 year-old’s and the platform reaching out to the highest number of potential buyers throughout European premium sport sponsoring opportunities. Sponsoring activities in the LEC environment also deliver the comparatively highest accuracy and lowest scatter loss compared to traditional sports!

With better partnerships, esports can generate higher profits and, as a result, attract even more sponsors to their leagues and create better content for the fans, which will entice them to tune in each weekend.

It’s a positive circle of growth that players, organizations, brands, publishers and fans can only benefit from – and enjoy.

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By ticking the box above, I agree that SPORTFIVE may use the data provided by me to contact me and send me further information and interesting insights as well as offers for sponsoring and sports marketing. I am aware that I may revoke my consent at any time with effect for the future by clicking on the link at the bottom of any e-mail sent by SPORTFIVE or by sending an e-mail directly to newsletter@sportfive.com. SPORTFIVE will collect, process and store my data with the utmost care and in accordance with the relevant data protection regulations. | Further information can be found in our data privacy policy at the end of this website.