Why Riot Games Is Out-Marketing You

This week, I heard Kara Swisher from ReCode say that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t changing trends, just accelerating what was already happening. A few minutes later, I heard Professor Scott Galloway from NYU Stern say the same thing on his podcast.

It’s happening in grocery pick up and delivery. It’s happening with plant-based meat. And it’s happening in eSports. NOTE: If you don’t know exactly what eSports is, just think of it as competitive gaming, with teams like NASCAR that have sponsors and multiple team members trying to win a tournament.

I was talking with my son about this yesterday. I said something like, “…eSports will become the biggest type of sports in the world now.” He quickly corrected me and said, “Dad, it already is.”

And he’s right. Riot Games’ “League of Legends” championship already draws more viewers than the Super Bowl. That’s 100 million people plus. And that was before the virus. eSports and gaming were already exploding. Now it’s gone absolutely crazy (they can continue while other sports are not playing).

And you know what? They are pretty amazing at marketing as well.

Riot’s new launch, Valorant, a first-person shooter game, debuted on April 7th. That day they hit 1.7 million concurrent views. Since then, the game has set the Twitch record for 34 million hours watched in one day (just think about that for a bit).

The scary part? It’s still in beta and hasn’t been released to the public yet.

Here are some tips about how they made it happen.

One platform – Instead of making the Valorant feeds available on all sharing channels, they focused on Twitch only. Riot put all their energy into one channel.

This is exactly what you should do with your content creation and distribution. Focus on being great on one channel first.

Long-term influencer relationships – Riot Games has been focusing on their influencer relationships for years. It’s maybe the most important thing they do (besides the game). For the launch, they reached out to influencers with large audiences and also ones with small, loyal subscribers. They offered no payment, only the chance to play the game early.

So many companies focus on their influencers only when they need them. Riot communicates with them consistently and truly tries to build a relationship with them. Also, biggest isn’t always best. They focus on smaller influencers as well. I love this.

Access for watch time – In order for non-influencers to get a beta key to play the game, they had to log a certain amount of watch hours of Valorant on Twitch. Apparently my son watched for over 50 hours and finally got his key (Don’t judge!).

This is from my son: “Riot Games partnered with multiple hundreds of streamers to have them stream the closed beta, and then after watching for a certain period of time, one could be eligible for a beta key themselves, though pretty random. So the top streamers will keep streaming this game, because the viewers are watching to get a key, and you can flip that around. The game broke a ton of records and the game feels relatively exclusive to play as well. It’s pretty interesting.”

What a reward for your best customers? Those that watched the most got access to the game. Any company could do something like this for loyal subscribers.

I’m hoping some of this can help your marketing…but as for eSports…2020 will be the year eSports becomes the most dominant series of sporting events in the world (if not already). I grew up watching baseball and football. My kids have grown up watching this stuff. I can’t imagine how big this is going to be. The next sports’ superstars will, most likely, have little athletic talent.


The following was an excerpt from Joe’s newsletter. Only subscribers receive the full version.

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