Alberto Guerrero, director of esports, Europe & MENA at Riot Games discusses the experience of this year’s League of Legends European Championship, and how it appeals to fans and brands.

Given the ongoing Covid-19 situation how has the LEC been organised in 2021? What plans are there for live events this year?

With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, we were always prepared to continue with online tournaments in 2021. Last year was such a massive learning curve for us, particularly with the situation and all regulations changing quickly and often. We learnt a great deal about how to navigate the situation and I’m proud to say that the team has continued to deliver a product our fans really loved.

For the upcoming Spring Split finals, we will have players competing from the studio, but don’t expect live events to fully open for fans any time before the end of the Summer Split. While our goal is to return to live events as soon as it’s possible and safe to do, it’s too early to make those decisions right now. We’re keeping a close eye on government recommendations and will act accordingly.

On what media platforms has the LEC been shown and would you consider exclusive deals in the future?

Fans of the LEC can watch on Twitch, Trovo and YouTube and our European broadcast is available in nine languages. We have no plans to change that at the moment.

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What has been the level of viewership for events to date in 2021?

We have continued to see viewership growth in all regions this year. At the end of the regular LEC Spring Split 2021, 29 million hours of gameplay had been watched, a 52 per cent increase on 2020. Peak viewership was also up, at 588,000, a 24 per cent YoY increase. This is an incredible achievement for our ecosystem.

How does the LEC look to connect with fans with supporting content as well as the competitions?

Engaging with fans through excellent content has always been a priority for us but, with tournaments moving online, it’s been even more important to keep them engaged at all stages of the broadcast. We continuously strive to innovate and add value for our fans through activations that are fresh in creative approach and engaging and exciting in execution – an approach that I’m proud to say was recognised at last year’s Esports Awards, when the LEC Content Team was named the Content Team of the Year.

The most recent example of this is our 8 Bit Rift activation – a fully digital, tailored for use on mobile devices experience that gives fans a 360-degree virtual tour of our Berlin studio and seamlessly weaves our partners into the experience. This is the first-of-its-kind activation. Designed not to mimic an offline experience, but to invite the fans to a completely new virtual world, it gives access to places fans otherwise wouldn’t be able to enter and offers mini-games and quizzes as they embark on a journey that takes them all the way to the Split’s finals.

Who are the major sponsors involved and in what ways do they engage with the LEC? Is there increasing interest from non-endemic brands?

We’re proud partners of many great endemic and non-endemic brands around the world and the level of engagement and the type of activations we’ve been working on through the years is truly astonishing. Esports is not a one-size-fits-all solution, we always tailor our approach to a couple of things: Who are you, what do you have to offer, and what do you want to achieve?

This has allowed us to really think outside the box and come up with ideas ranging from the ongoing content series like the LECtronic for Kia, through the fan-focused activations for KitKat, all the way to streamed live acts from music artists in partnership with Warner Music. We’ve definitely increased interest from non-endemic brands fuelled by the fact that our sport has professionalised over the years and, while we’re still growing, now better than ever we are able to identify and measure the relevant to those brands KPIs, which make an investment in esports for them a very, very interesting strategy for reaching that valuable Gen Z and Millennial audience.

LoL Esports boasts a sponsorship portfolio that rivals those of traditional sports that work collectively to expand the visibility of our game, as well as improve the players’ experience. Global sponsors including Verizon, Cisco, Spotify, Bose, Mercedes-Benz, Mastercard, Louis Vuitton, SecretLab, Red Bull, Unilever’s AXE, OPPO, and State Farm represent a mix of both endemic and non-endemic brands that allow us to continuously innovate and create best-in-class fan experiences.

Given the experience of 2021 so far and the line-up for the Spring play-offs, what are the hopes and expectations in terms of media exposure and interest going forward?

We certainly don’t see any signs of the appetite for the LEC slowing down, so my hope is that we keep growing with double digits consistently, as we have for the past three years in a row. The LEC is one of the most exciting leagues to be a part of, for fans and competing teams alike, and that is due to the talent.

“We’ve always said that we’re committed to nurturing talent and, as a result, each year we see new, promising players coming through the ranks, setting a new standard of competition and at times, causing upsets – it’s not always the top team that makes it through. This year, we have more rookie players than ever before in the LEC, and the level of competition, fan engagement and viewership have never been higher.