How Riot Games’ partnership with Jackson Wang highlights music’s role in driving esports fandom

Illustration of a gaming metaverse.

Riot Games has announced a partnership today with prominent musician Jackson Wang, inviting the Hong-Kong-born singer to perform in the opening ceremony for the company’s League of Legends World Championship on Nov. 5.

Wang, a 28-year-old singer and member of the popular K-pop group Got7, is the latest artist to join the star-studded line-up at Worlds. The event will also feature a performance by Lil Nas X, whom Riot temporarily dubbed its “President of League of Legends” in September, as well as artists Louis Leibfried and Edda Hayes. Wang’s song, titled “Fire to the Fuse,” will be an original track written and produced by Riot Games Music.

The announcement is the latest example of Riot’s use of music to drive fandom around League of Legends. In addition to opening Worlds, “Fire to the Fuse” will serve as the theme song for “Empyreans,” a new line of in-game character skins available for sale in League of Legends.

“Music feels like a force multiplier for the IP,” said Bob DeBelina, Riot’s music supervisor at Worlds. “You go back all the way to the first login screen Riot’s done, and there’s just something about when a composer sits down and really understands a champion in the game.”

In addition to helping promote in-game items, Riot’s event organizers hope to use Wang’s performance to highlight the value of the company’s live esports events to both viewers and potential brand partners. The opening ceremony for Worlds will take place on Saturday, Nov. 5, at San Francisco’s Chase Center arena.

“This is our first truly live filled arena since 2019, so we had that added pressure and added impetus on ourselves to deliver something incredible in the room at the Chase Center,” said Worlds creative lead Carrie Dunn. “We’re creating something tangible in the space that acts as this intersection between sports, entertainment, music — to really kind of plant our flag and say this is our cultural moment.”

Riot is well aware that the majority of the Worlds audience will be viewing the action online, rather than in the arena, and so Wang’s performance will include interactive aspects for online viewers such as giveaways of exclusive in-game cosmetic items for users watching via The Los-Angeles-based company has put on fully virtual concerts as recently as last year, and DeBelina said that Riot plans to keep experimenting with ways to expand its live music performances beyond annual events such as the World Championship.

“We’re always trying to look to the future and find ways for our virtual artists to grow and be connected more to our audience, because for the most part, we’ve only really ever been able to activate them at Worlds,” he said. “Which has been fantastic, but we feel like there could be so much more there — so there’s tons of research and exploration going into all of that.”

The involvement of a K-pop star at Worlds also shows that Riot is looking to expand its music footprint beyond North America. Although League of Legends boasts a worldwide fan base that dwarfs its domestic audience, Riot’s Worlds theme songs have, thus far, all been in English.

By partnering with Jackson Wang, Riot is sure to please its fans in Korea — and given that four of the eight teams that qualified for this year’s World Championship quarter-finals were Korean, this is a fanbase that Riot cannot afford to neglect.

“It was a perfect creative fit, but an added benefit on top of that was that Jackson brings such a strong fan base from the East, so that we can have that truly global point of view,” Dunn said.

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