LOS ANGELES — Honda is deepening its marketing efforts in esports by becoming the exclusive automotive partner of the League of Legends Championship Series, building on its sponsorship of the dominant team in the video game league.
Honda is the first automaker in North America to sponsor both an esports team — Team Liquid — and an esports league, giving it marketing reach into millennial and Gen Z audiences that are the primary viewers of the fantasy battlefield competition.
Esports is a form of competitive video gaming with multiple players battling one another, usually in teams and often in matches that are streamed live online.
The Japanese automaker is partnering with Riot Games, a major figure in North American and global esports since launching the "League of Legends" game in 2009, Honda said in a press release. The game has ranked as No. 1 in North American esports viewership over the last four years, with 1.1 million average daily unique viewers during the 2018 season, the company said.
Honda's league partnership launches with the Summer Split playoffs that begin Saturday in Los Angeles and continue in Detroit for the finals Aug. 24-25. Honda began its sponsorship with Team Liquid and the streaming platform Twitch in January, the company said.
"Through this partnership with the [league], Honda will continue to forge a strong connection with the next generation of car buyers," said Phil Hruska, manager of media strategy at American Honda. The automaker began its partnerships in esports starting in 2014 across various gaming platforms to reach such buyers.
Global esports revenue has been projected to hit $1.1 billion this year, up 27 percent since last year, amid ballooning revenue from advertising, sponsorship and media rights to competitive video gaming, according to a February report from Newzoo, a gaming industry analytics firm. Revenue is expected to grow to $1.8 billion by 2022, Newzoo said.
Esports has burst into the mainstream, with its own superstars and leagues, celebrity athlete owners and tournaments that sell out stadiums and award prizes worth millions of dollars. For example, last month 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf of Pennsylvania won $3 million in the Fortnite World Cup. He was one of at least 100 players competing for $30 million in total prize money.
"League of Legends," "Dota 2" and "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" are some of the most popular esports. The total audience — made up of both enthusiasts and occasional viewers — is expected to grow 15 percent to 454 million.
North America will generate $409 million of esports revenue in 2019, the most of any region, Newzoo's report found. China will generate 19 percent and South Korea 6 percent, with the rest of the world contributing the remaining 38 percent.
Other automakers see the marketing potential in esports and have inked sponsorship deals across the globe.
- Toyota has a deal with Activision Blizzard Inc.'s Overwatch League.
- Kia sponsored the League of Legends European Championship.
- Audi formed a three-year strategic partnership with Danish esports company RFRSH Entertainment.
- Mercedes has purchased a stake in Germany's SK Gaming.
Reuters contributed to this report.