Riot Games says it'll accelerate during Covid-19 to bring joy through gaming

Riot’s business is about getting gamers to play and watch esports more, and that has not changed during the pandemic.

Riot Games says the difficulties faced by the Coronavirus pandemic has brought out the best in its business, as it commits to game launches and accelerates activity to bring "a little bit of fun" to people in tougher times.

Having publicly made a commitment in October 2019 to launch games this year, as part of its 10 year anniversary, Riot pushed ahead with launching Runeterra and Valorant in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was launching games as countries went into lockdown and brands stopped paused their marketing activities. Another game, the League of Legends: Wild Rift, is also on track to be released this year.

“At Riot, we phrase it as, 'Why did the pandemic decide to launch while we were going to launch games?'” jokes Chris Tran, the brand’s head of esports for South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, during The Drum's Can-Do Festival.

“2020 would have been the most exciting period for a Riot fan without knowing what would happen in 2020, right?”

“Here we are midway through the year and we have been lucky enough to launch them despite a world that is not quite the world that any of us wants it to be nowadays. As a company that really strives to be player-focused, we saw our commitment made in October 2019 as a promise to our fans that we would launch new games.”

He continues: “We continue to push despite working from home, despite being stressed like everybody else is. We hope that in this awkward difficult time for everyone that they can have a little bit of fun and enjoy our new games.”

Has Riot’s marketing changed during Covid-19?

Competitive sports leagues and major sporting events like the Tokyo Olympics 2020 have come to a halt or be postponed because of the pandemic. They have pivoted to esports, which means the line between traditional sports and esports has blurred.

For example, racing giants Formula One and Nascar are taking their events virtual, featuring celebrity drivers, and broadcasting on Sky Sports and Fox.

This has seen a rising swell of players in the first weeks of lockdown. Telecom giant Verizon said US domestic peak-hour online gaming was up 75%, a trend that is consistent across the world.

According to Tran, Riot’s business is about getting gamers to play and watch esports more, and that has not changed during the pandemic. What has changed, however, he says, is the brand’s partners in the region have prioritise talking to the brand during this period about further opportunities.

Riot has also seen increased interest from brands and government organizations to work with the brand, which opens more doors and allows it to create more value by change some of its marketing strategies.

For example, he points out that it was not that long ago that gaming was seen as a negative thing by the World Health Organization (WHO). Now, Riot is partnering with the WHO to help people who are staying at home.

“We get to help change the way the world sees gaming. Our gamers love to spend their time playing our games. We are very lucky for that, but we also understand that there are some difficulties for them,” he explains.

“We have the opportunities to now be able to get better distribution with broadcast platforms, being able to bring more value through brand sponsorships and being able to work with the WHO. We have not changed, and honestly, the WHO has not changed, but the world has changed, and how people prioritize what is important has changed. We continue to be player-focused and try to recognise the way the world works to add value to our players' lives.”

He adds: “We have also worked with Singapore’s National Youth Council via Reddentes Sports to come up with cool tournaments for Valorant and Runeterra so that the youth of Singapore can stay home and play a bit more and be a little bit safer in these complex times.”

How will esports grow post-pandemic?

Reiterating his belief that crises and pandemics tend to accelerate development, Tran believes esports is one of those industries that will be accelerated as post-pandemic, Riot will have already opened new doors and started new partnerships that will be hard to close.

That being said, he concedes it will depend on long the pandemic is going to last as the shorter the pandemic is, the more opportunity that traditional sports and our competitors in that space can recover.

“We will have new partnerships that we hadn't thought of before. If you asked me two years ago, if you asked that Riot would have a global sponsorship with Louis Vuitton and MasterCard, I would have said that you're crazy. We also work with BMW in some countries, Mercedes in other countries,” he says.

“This was before the pandemic and between now and the end of the year, who knows what other amazing sponsorships and partners we will be able to talk to you about.”

Tran spoke with The Drum’s Shawn Lim as part of The Drum's Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full can do schedule here.

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