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Kia’s League of Legends Championship Series sponsorship demonstrates its long-term outlook toward esports

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After a year of skepticism surrounding esports, Kia — an automobile brand — still believes that competitive gaming is the sports of the future.

In recent months, Kia has reinvested in esports, signing sponsorship deals with a slew of teams, influencers and gaming leagues in the space. As of today, January 11, the automobile brand has announced its latest investment in esports, and arguably its most prominent thus far: a multi-year partnership with Riot Games’ League of Legends Championship Series. The financial terms of the deal were not made available.

As a sponsor of the LCS, Riot’s premier North American “League of Legends” league, Kia will gain access to digital banners inside the “League of Legends” gaming environment, in addition to presenting annual player awards including the LCS MVP award and Rookie of the Year award. Kia is also going to be the first-ever sponsor of the league’s multi-lane camera view, a picture-in-picture product that allows viewers to watch multiple gameplay moments simultaneously.

“The business team was picking out things that we think fans will like seeing — so, for example, the multi-lane thing was something that we initially just created as a broadcast,” said LCS Commissioner Mark Zimmerman. “Fans really liked it, and now we get to say, ‘hey, now this is a partner deal thing.”

Kia is no stranger to esports. The brand is also an official sponsor of the League of Legends European Championship, Riot’s European “League of Legends” circuit, as well as several esports teams, including LCS participants NRG and Cloud9. Kia also has a sizable hand in traditional sports, sponsoring sporting leagues and events such as the NBA and FIFA Women’s World Cup. “This is certainly managed by the same team,” said Kia America director of brand experience Brad Mays.

The Kia announcement is the latest in a series of sponsorships or sponsorship renewals signed by Riot Games in the early days of 2024. On January 10, the company announced a three-year renewal of its sponsorship deal with KitKat, as well as a new partnership with HP. At a time in which some brands are pulling away from esports, Riot’s success in drawing new sponsors is evidence that the company’s long-term vision for esports is becoming increasingly appealing to gamer-oriented brands.

“We always want partners who have an understanding of sports, and who have long-term investments in them, knowing that there’s ebbs and flows with environments and ecosystems, but that Riot is very much long-term committed to esports,” Zimmerman said.

While Riot and Kia representatives declined to share more specifics about the financial details and duration of their latest deal, past multi-year brand sponsorships of major esports leagues have reportedly gone for between $17 million and over $144 million.

“This was a natural extension for us, looking at the U.S. and building on our NBA partnership and all that we’re doing there,” Mays said. “Through our research, we realized that half of the audience that we’re going to be able to reach with esports don’t watch other sports — and so it just made sense.”

As they jockey for multi-year brand partnerships, esports companies are taking note of Kia’s long-running commitment to the NBA. The esports organization NRG, which signed a sponsorship deal with Kia last year, is expanding its relationship with the brand today by announcing a naming rights deal that will see the team’s name officially change to NRG Kia.

“They’re super loyal; they’ve been partners with the NBA for a long time, way more than a decade,” said NRG CEO Andy Miller. “And that’s what they said: that once they’re with you, they’ll be with you for a long time.”

As for Kia, the automotive brand is comfortable letting esports companies know that it will be around for years to come, a commitment it hopes to make clear by sponsoring both the LCS and two of its constituent teams. Fans of Riot Games’ esports properties can expect the brand to be a consistent presence at Riot events and on Riot broadcasts — for the next few years, anyway.

“We don’t just go in for a single year here or there. We build for multiple years, and we try to bring that to every partnership that we have,” Mays said. “So it’s been a great way for us to try to apply some of that knowledge that we have from an NBA perspective into a new category.”

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