How Riot Games built buzz around the 2019 League of Legends World Championship

And why Louis Vuitton sponsored the event.

Photo credit: <a href="" target="_blank" >Louis Vuitton</a>
Photo credit: Louis Vuitton

Company: Riot Games
Campaign: World Championship (#Worlds2019)
Agency partner: Weber Shandwick (PR, media relations)
Duration: September 23 to November 10, 2019 

In November, Riot Games hosted the League of Legends World Championship, a culmination of a five-week tournament in which teams from 13 regions around the world competed for the title. The company wanted to showcase the excitement and interest around the game to non-video game fans.

League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle game developed by Riot Games. Going into the 2019 World Championship, in which teams around the world compete in a series of tournaments, the game developer aimed to "re-establish League of Legends as the premier esports property in the world," said David Higdon, Riot Games’ global head of esports communications. 

Riot Games also wanted to showcase the event’s scale, as well as the excitement it generates from fans, by drawing direct parallels to traditional sporting events. Despite its popularity, esports is still sometimes stigmatized by traditional sports reporters and fans who "don’t understand why people would watch other people play video games," Higdon said.

The goal was to illustrate that, just as with the Super Bowl or World Series, the World Championship allows fans to come together to watch and celebrate elite, incredibly talented players.  

For the first time, Riot Games deployed a traditional PR strategy to build momentum going into the event.

Planning for the campaign began last summer, as the team and agency partner Weber Shandwick worked to draw up a multi-event media strategy.

The campaign kicked off on September 23, 2019, with the announcement that Louis Vuitton was sponsoring the championship. Louis Vuitton specializes in creating trophy gear for sporting events, so it collaborated with Riot on a one-of-a-kind Trophy Travel Case to hold the Summoner’s Cup, which goes to the world champions in League of Legends.

From there, the tournament moved from city to city, starting in Berlin, moving to Madrid, and culminating in Paris.

A week prior to the Louis Vuitton press event, Riot Games flew Naz Aletaha, head of global esports partnerships, to New York for a media tour. 

The game developer also invested in an elaborate opening ceremony, which featured a holographic performance by the virtual hip hop group True Damage, to generate interest from publications like Mashable, Billboard and Rolling Stone.

"Our overall pitch was: You need to take a look at what we are doing," Higdon said. 

While Riot Games reached out to a wide range of outlets, it worked with the Washington Post on an in-depth piece, arranging interviews and providing access. 

Over the course of the five-week World Championship event, Riot Games facilitated more than 350 player interviews for the media. After the finals, in which FunPlus Phoenix, a Chinese professional esports organization owned by video game developer FunPlus, beat G2 Esports, both teams were brought in to the press room to take questions from reporters. In previous years, only the winning team made an appearance. 

Higdon, who has a background in traditional sports, wanted to make press interviews "part of the responsibility of the players," win or lose.

The Louis Vuitton partnership announcement generated 95 U.S. earned media placements, along with a significant global reach. For example, there were 50 stories in Korea alone. 

Coverage of the final, which was measured over a four-day period, was a truly global affair, resulting in 937 English-language, 587 French-language and 263 Spanish-language articles. 

The campaign also generated in-depth pieces about the state of League of Legends and esports more broadly. According to Higdon, earned coverage was "100% positive or neutral."

On Twitter, #worlds2019 was the number one worldwide trending hashtag for five hours the day of the final. The championship also reached the top spot on Reddit. 

The World Championship Finals drew in a global average minute audience of 21.8 million, a metric Riot Games was careful to emphasize this year, as it's one frequently used in traditional sports. 

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