Mastercard enters e-sports scene via global deal with Riot Games

Mastercard has inked a multi-year global partnership with Riot Games to become the global sponsor for League of Legends global e-sports events. The move signifies Mastercard's support of the e-sports community and further diversifies its sports and entertainment portfolio, which currently comprises the UEFA Champions League, Roland Garros, Major League Baseball and the GRAMMYs.

As the exclusive global payment services partner for League of Legends, Mastercard will focus on three annual global tournaments - the Mid-Season Invitational, the All-Star Event and the World Championship.

Activation plans will be rolled out in support of the World Championships, one of them being a trip for lucky Mastercard cardholders across China, South Korea and Taiwan to head to the World Championships in South Korea this October. Mastercard will also launch co-branded League of Legends products in selected markets next year. The first live-event activation will take place at the League of Legends World Championship, offering fans the chance to view the opening ceremony rehearsal and watch a game with a League of Legends pro player from the VIP seats. Fans will also get to test the gaming PCs used by pro players during the World Championship final.

The partnership will also see Mastercard running several promotions for cardholders. For example, if gamers make in-game purchases with a Mastercard and save that card for future use, they will potentially be surprised with an opportunity to head to the World Championships in Seoul.

During the press conference in Singapore, Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer, Mastercard said it decided to collaborate with Riot Games because it understands the e-sports audience "very well". He added that League of Legends is currently a global phenomenon, which fits well with Mastercard's image as a global brand. He declined to comment on the monetary value of the partnership and the exact number of years the partnership entails.

Meanwhile, the move into e-sports is a logical one for a payment-enabling technology company such as Mastercard, as many players make in-game purchases, Rajamannar said. Also, this partnership ties in with the company's "Priceless" campaign which has been running for approximately two decades.

"When we launched the campaign, it was all about identifying priceless moments in people's lives and shining a spotlight on them. There are things which are truly priceless in your life that matter more than the things money can buy," he said. It took Mastercard two years to fully understand and thoroughly analyse the e-sports scene.

Rajamannar said the company found it "fascinating" that e-sports is growing in a "sustainable fashion" year after year, and noticed it appealed to the Millennials and Gen Zs. Mastercard also found that players and e-sports fans prefer brands to connect with them in an authentic and organic fashion. As such, the company had to figure out a way to target consumers without being intrusive. He added:

This strategy lets us create and curate experiences for consumers as opposed to simply just showing advertisements.

"The approach is that we are here for the long term. We want to connect with this audience and establish that link with that, so that when the time comes, when they have to make a choice, they will choose our brand over something else," Rajamannar said.

According to Rajamannar, Mastercard believes Singapore is the best place to launch the global sponsorship deal from due to the popularity of e-sports in Asia, and the fact that its regional Asia Pacific headquarters is based in the country. He also described Singapore to be "efficient" and "very well-organised".

Naz Aletaha, head of esports partnerships at Riot Games, described the partnership as "groundbreaking". “Mastercard is among the first of world-class brands to take such a big step into esports at the global level, and we’re proud to have them support League of Legends esports events alongside their other premier sports and entertainment sponsorships," Aletaha said.

“We’ve long been impressed with Mastercard and their fan-focused approach to partnerships. Our community has made League of Legends the biggest esport in the world, and we’re excited to work with Mastercard to bring them new and innovative experiences for years to come," Jarred Kennedy, co-head of esports at Riot Games, added.

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(Photo courtesy: League of Legends Facebook)