Esport's giant Riot Games adds its first global sponsor, even if the company is fighting behind League of Legends with claims that it has promoted a sexist culture.
Riot announced Wednesday that Mastercard has registered as the first global advertising partner for League of Legends, the most viewed in the world. It is a crucial step for Riot in a year in which competitors such as Overwatch and Fortnite have taken a larger share of the esports pie. It also comes about a month after the company came under fire because of the treatment of female employees.
Kotaku published on 7 August a story about a sexist culture at Riot Games in which women were passionate about promotions, unwanted sexual advances and men questioning women about the legitimacy of their video game. Other former employees have since filed similar claims, leaving some worried about an esports community struggling with sexism long before the #MeToo movement started a national settlement.
Riot published a statement on his website later that month, apologizing to fans and employees and detailed plans to improve the company culture. It has formed a team to address diversity and inclusion and recently brought together Frances Frei, a professor at the Harvard Business School, who has also worked with Uber to improve inclusiveness. It is planning to evaluate "core culture principles", research process and recruitment.
Mastercard is encouraged by what Riot has outlined, enough to make progress with a partnership that has been in the making for two years. But MasterCard Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Raja Rajamannar said he will keep an eye on Riot's efforts and will not hesitate to break the ties if the corporate culture does not improve.
"It's very simple for us," Rajamannar told The Associated Press. "It is not just Riot, a partner we work with, if there are fundamental ethical issues that are the order of the day, we will not hesitate to walk away."
Rajamannar said he spoke frankly about concerns about Riot's culture during negotiations with Naz Aletaha, head of esports partnerships at Riot, and convinced him that Riot made a serious effort to improve inclusiveness.
"Things like sexism and all those things, we have no tolerance for it, not only within our own company, but also with the partners we work with," he said. "So we had open conversations with Riot and said," How are you planning to tackle these things? "These concepts are bad, they have explained both to us and to the public what steps they are trying to take, how they are focused, etc. That gives us comfort, these guys are serious and will concentrate on trying to get these things on the right way to get done. "
Aletaha has been with Riot for almost seven years now and believes that the company is very dedicated to refurbishing the ship & # 39 ;.
"Personally, I did not experience the things I read in that article," she told The Associated Press. "However, as a woman in this space I was very sad and disappointed that my female colleagues did not have the same experience as I did, but I am very optimistic about the future and I am confident that Riot will transform into the long-term. term. "
The multi-year partnership with Mastercard is a big advantage for League of Legends. The game has more than 100 million players worldwide and attracted more than 80 million viewers for its World Championships 2017, but its competitors have had a strong year. The Overwatch League made its debut with global ad partners in HP, Intel and T-Mobile, and then closed the season by broadcasting its championship match live on ESPN in prime time, a first for esports on the traditional sports channel. In the meantime Fortnite has reached 125 million players in the first year and quickly builds its own esport structure.
Aletaha said that the collaboration "validates" the space of Riot in the esport ecosystem.
It is also a first step in the space for Mastercard, which have been spit for years before the leap with League of Legends. The content of the multiplayer online battle arena video game was a swinging factor. Rajamannar said the company was worried about excessive violence in other titles, something that could hamper the push to get esports to the Olympics.
"It's more fantasy-based," Rajamannar said about League of Legends. "More strategy, team spirit and sportsmanship It is something different than just killing and shooting and the blood, blood that spills, it is not such a thing, so it fits very well in terms of the character it has, fits much better with the way on which we wanted to go. "
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