Riot Games Rejects Expanded Betting Sponsorships in Esports, Maybe

A recent report seemed to indicate that Riot Games was relaxing its stance on sponsorships in eSports. However, the gaming company has since refuted the report, but eSports fans – and sports betting operators – don’t need to see this as the end of the line.

The Valorant logo shines on an eSports tournament stage
The Valorant logo shines on an eSports tournament stage. Riot Games has denied a rumor that it will allow sports betting sponsorships in Valorant. (Image: Riot Games)

The information about the change came from Turkish eSports media outlet Esporkilik. It reported on Wednesday that Riot was going to allow sports betting companies to sponsor teams and events in its Valorant ecosystem. They’re already found, although limited, in CS:GO and FIFA.

It’s not true, according to inside sources. Riot has reportedly rejected the report, but there’s more to the story that has to be considered.

Betting Brand Baloney

Esports teams have recently experienced significant reductions in their investment funds, particularly in Europe and the US. This has led to a struggle to find new revenue, which could potentially be mitigated by allowing more sponsorships by bookmakers. Sports betting and gambling operators are often willing to pay more than other segments.

If the media outlet’s report were true, it would have marked the third time in the past few years that Riot has dealt with controversy over its sponsorship policies. Three years ago, its own eSports division even accepted financial support from Saudi Arabia. However, that deal fell apart after community pressure.

That same pressure could be at the nucleus of the current sponsorship rumors. Esporkolik asserted that it had received details directly from Riot about the new sponsorship policies, despite the gaming company later refuting the claim.

Dot Esports, a media outlet that focuses on gaming and eSports, received confirmation from Riot that there haven’t been any changes to its sponsorship policies. This means that deals with sportsbooks remain off the table. At the same time, though, Riot stated that it will “continue to evaluate all opportunities…”

Dropping a hint about possibly expanding sponsorship options would be a great way to evaluate new opportunities. Given the previous backlash Riot faced with its Saudi deal, allowing the eSports community to respond to a rumor would offer a lot of insight into how well sports betting sponsorships would be received.

That’s not to say that Riot has taken this route – perhaps Esporkolik misinterpreted the information it received. However, if Riot were looking for feedback, it got it.

Gauging Market Sentiment

The eSports community apparently didn’t like the idea that sports betting operators could sponsor events and teams. There were more than a few negative comments on social media channels about the possibility, despite the ongoing presence of betting in eSports.

Dignitas’ CS:GO team, for example, is sponsored by eSports betting operator VIE.gg. DraftKings became the sponsor of Faze Clan in 2021.

However, most gamers don’t like the idea. This is primarily because the demographic is young. The average gamer in the US is between 18-25, while 24% of the segment is under 18 years old, according to Statista.

It’s also because of the negative connotation many people still have about gambling. Some still don’t understand that sports betting is not a game of chance or luck. It requires a thorough understanding of the target game and the ability to properly analyze all available data.

That doesn’t mean that luck doesn’t play a part – the number of underdogs winning NFL games this last season proves that. However, sports betting and gambling are still two completely different activities.

eSports Needs Money

In 2022, Riot struck a deal with FTX to promote the cryptocurrency exchange. That ended in disaster when the exchange collapsed later that year. Team SoloMid, an organization founded in 2011, also had an agreement with the exchange’s inept leaders at FTX.

The eSports ecosystem remains strong, but is losing ground. Viewership of some events, like the final of last year’s League of Legends Championship Series, has dropped by as much as 33%.

Recently, the Valorant Challengers League in Europe had to reduce its content and broadcasts after its organizer, Promod, lost several sponsors, according to Dot Esports. Promod is now “operating the league at cost,” which puts into question its survivability.

As a result of the significant drops in eSports sponsorships, Riot may not have a choice but to open its arms wider to the sports betting space. It admits it wants to “unlock revenue streams” for leagues and teams, but doesn’t want, as one eSports gamer put it, to dance with the devil.

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