In one of the biggest sponsorship deals for the e-sports industry, Mastercard is now a global sponsor of Riot Games’ League of Legends e-sports division.
The partnership, announced in late September, is Mastercard’s first foray into e-sports, or video game tournaments that can draw thousands of spectators and millions of viewers online. Given that Mastercard already sponsors traditional sports like Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the Australian Open tennis tournament, the move into e-sports is natural, said Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer.
“E-sports is very global, and we’re a global company with a global network,” he said. “Secondly, we are a technology company, and e-sports are absolutely technology-driven. So we decided we have to be in e-sports. Once we started looking at e-sports we said, ‘Which is the best part of e-sports we have to be associated with,’ and League of Legends jumped out at us.”
E-sports is a tricky space for companies to wade into. E-sports fans have a largely negative attitude toward corporate sponsorships, according to TV measurement firm Nielsen, and instead prefer more organic and authentic marketing. As a result, Rajamannar said Mastercard considered sponsoring e-sports for two years before ultimately finalizing its deal with Riot Games, which publishes League of Legends.
“We as Riot aspire to be the most player-focused company in the world and when it comes to e-sports, that translates into the events, tournaments, and how we bring partnerships to life,” says Naz Aletaha, head of global e-sports partnerships for Riot Games. “When we go and look for partners, we’re really looking for partners that share that philosophy.”
Under the current arrangement, Mastercard will sponsor League of Legend’s Mid-Season Invitational, its All-Star Event, and the World Championship in South Korea. Mastercard will give attendees who are Mastercard cardholders access to VIP events at the World Championship including the opening ceremony rehearsal, watch a game with a professional League of Legends player from VIP seats, and try out the computers that the professional players use to compete during the tournament.
Mastercard told Fortune that it may add more e-sports sponsorships in the future.