The League of Legends World Championship 2019—the biggest event in esports—will play out in the global capital of fashion, so it’s fitting that developer Riot Games has linked up with Louis Vuitton to bring some new style to the game.
The fashion house has designed a trophy case for the online arena battle multiplayer game’s coveted Summoner’s Cup, as well as in-game “skins” or costumes, with more collaborations coming as part of the multi-year deal. It’s the latest move in what’s been a year of fashion for League of Legends (LoL), which is the most-played PC title in the world, following League of Legends Pro League (LPL) becoming the first Chinese esports team to have an apparel sponsor after signing on Nike. The Oregon-based athletic giant recently released new kits for the 16 teams in the LPL.
“Continuing to push those boundaries is really what motivates us year-over-year,” said Naz Aletaha, head of global esports partnerships for Riot Games. “You’re going to see us double down on the blending of technology with entertainment and music, and now fashion, to bolster the spectacle that is the World Championship.”
When it comes to esports, few events can match the spectacle of the League of Legends World Championships. Yes, the Fortnite World Cup and Dota 2’s The International have larger individual prize pools, but comparing those events to League of Legends Worlds is like comparing Wimbledon to the Fifa World Cup. The money may be impressive, but the audience for LoL Worlds nearly reached Super Bowl levels, with 100 million unique viewers in 2018.
It wasn’t always this way. League of Legends was released in 2009, and over the past decade has risen to become the largest esport on the planet. Riot Games held the first world championships in 2011, and the game’s growth has mirrored the growth of esports in general. In 2017, the production team won the first sports Emmy for an esports event for their use of an augmented reality dragon. In 2018, they topped that by releasing a special K-Pop crossover called K/DA which grabbed an absurd 265 million views on YouTube.
The LoL championship rotates host countries much like other perennial sporting events. This year, the tournament will travel through Europe starting Oct. 2, leading up to the grand finale in Paris on Nov. 10. That made for a perfect entry point for the famous French fashion house, which will unveil a Louis Vuitton trunk at the Eiffel Tower to carry the League of Legends trophy known as the Summoner’s Cup.
“The League of Legends World Championship is not only the climax of the tournament; it’s where the world of sports and entertainment come together in celebration of new legends to be born,” said Michael Burke, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton. “Louis Vuitton has long been associated with the world’s most coveted trophies, and here we are today, alongside the Summoner’s Cup. We are thrilled to be part of such an iconic event.”
For fans of soccer, the partnership may trigger deja vu. Just last year, Louis Vuitton also made a case to carry the Fifa World Cup trophy; it has also created cases for the America’s Cup and Rugby World Cup. It’s smart branding from the luxury suitcase department, as few items can match the prestige of these awards. Over the coming years, the partnership will continue expanding in ways that are unique to esports, according to Aletaha.
The partnership will also grow beyond the game, with Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of women’s collections Nicolas Ghesquière dressing some of the in-game champions in limited-edition styles.
Selling costumes for in-game characters makes up a large percentage of revenue for many esports games. League of Legends is free to play, so Riot Games relies on those purchases to make money. The crossover also makes sense for apparel companies: Louis Vuitton’s in-game skins can be sold for a higher price, making it a status symbol in the virtual world much like it is in real life. Nike’s Jordan brand made a similar deal with Fortnite last spring.
The digital generation is engaging with esports at rates that outpace some traditional sports, and companies that pride themselves on being at the cutting edge have found esports investments a necessity to stay ahead of the curve. With tech, music and now fashion all investing heavily in the space, esports are becoming an integral aspect of effective marketing for many companies.