Riot Games’ John Needham talks about the future of esports

Riot Games’ John Needham talks about the future of esports

John Needham at the League of Lengeds Worlds event. Join gaming leaders, alongside GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming, for their 2nd Annual GamesBeat & Facebook Gaming Summit | GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse 2 this upcoming January 25-27, 2022. Learn more about the event.

This week Riot Games promoted John Needham to president of esports as it doubled down on its investments in esports titles like League of Legends, Wild Rift, and Valorant.

In this new position at Los Angeles-based Riot Games, Needham is leading the organization under which all of Riot’s esports titles and operations will now be unified. The promotion elevates Needham to be one of the senior-most executives within Riot Games, now reporting into CEO Niccolo Laurent along with Riot’s four other presidents.

Needham will be in charge of 11-year old industry pioneer League of Legends Esports (LoL Esports), the rising shooter esport Valorant Champions Tour (VCT), Wild Rift Esports (which concludes its first global tournament on Sunday), and multiple other games under a new Organized Play umbrella at Riot Games (Teamfight Tactics, aka TFT; Legends of Runeterra, aka LoR; and future games). Event

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While League of Legends esports is not profitable yet, Needham said that the company has grown esports revenues 70% a year in the past four years. Outside of China, more than 4 million people watched the latest League of Legends World Championship that concluded on November 5.

On top of that, the company has launched Valorant and Wild Rift esports. Needham said his mid-range goal for esports is to breakeven and then invest more in the larger ecosystem of teams. Above: John Needham, right, is president of esports at Riot Games. Needham said that the company will further professionalize esports, driving toward making its leagues and team ecosystems sustainable. That means that Riot wants esports to hit breakeven results but also have the teams and athletes hit sustainability too.

To date, Riot’s global esports partner roster includes Mastercard, Verizon, Mercedes-Benz, Bose, Unilever, Red Bull, Spotify, Bose, Louis Vuitton, YouTube, Twitch, Cisco, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and State Farm. Red Bull, Verizon and SecretLab are among the first global partners to support multiple titles or events within Riot’s esports portfolio, an opportunity that will be more readily available in the years ahead. Through activations known as “drops,” Riot is delivering brand benefits directly to fans at events.

Needham joined Riot in 2017. He previously served at roles at Microsoft, including running Lionhead studio, and he held positions at Cryptic Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Telemundo, Gazillion Entertainment, and Sony Online Entertainment.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. Above: Riot Games and Mercedes Benz have teamed up. GamesBeat: How might things change for you as you go into this new title and position? Do a lot of your job responsibilities change?

John Needham: It’s a bit daunting. I can start with the bigger picture of what’s happening at Riot Games. I’m not sure anyone’s talked to you about this, but our ambition, our vision as a company, is to become a 21st century entertainment equally rooted in games. Games will always be the core of our company, but we want to expand the experience of being a player of Riot to esports and now entertainment, with the launch of Arcane.

What’s happened with esports specifically–esports started as an engagement tool for the games division to keep players engaged in League of Legends when they weren’t playing the game. But over the past four or five years we’ve actually proved out that esports can be a sustainable business on its own. We’ve grown revenues around 70 percent a year for the last four years. We continue to grow viewership. I just saw numbers for Worlds this year. It’s by far the biggest, most viewed Worlds we’ve ever done, which is exciting. We’ve made great strides in continuing to grow the fandom around League of Legends esports.

We’ve launched two new esports this year. We launched Valorant, which had its first full year of esports. It’s off to the races. We’re already generating a lot of fandom around that. And we’re in the midst of our first esports event for Wild Rift and mobile esports. That’s going very well. The game is doing super in China and across Asia. We’re excited. We’re going to have three top esports, hopefully, in the next year or two. I’ll continue to build out this business for Riot as a separate unit within the umbrella of all the businesses at Riot.

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